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Communicationg purpose and meaning to employees

Regardless of the industry sector or the size of the company, every business enterprise, at some level, has a purpose. How well an organisation is able to communicate its purpose to its workforce can have a direct impact on the effectiveness of its all-important talent engagement strategies, according to Richard Veal, Willis Towers Watson (WTW) global leader of Communication and Change. “The way in which employees perceive ‘purpose’ is far more important than previously considered, especially among the millennial generation,” says Veal who explains that without a sense of purpose, it can be difficult for employees to connect with their work and the organisations they work for. “Compared to just a few years ago there is compelling scientific evidence that identifies just how important the fundamental human desire to have meaning in our work endeavours really is,” says Veal.

However, while research findings, including LinkedIn’s global Purpose at Work study highlight how a sense of “purpose” can contribute to heightened employee motivation, productivity and overall job satisfaction, Veal notes it is an area where many organisations tend to struggle to move the communication needle in a positive direction. “There is a lot of room for improvement,” observes Veal, who adds that communicating “purpose” involves more than putting together a well-intentioned mission statement or posting uplifting words on a website. “Employees need to be convinced by an organisation’s authentic vision and purpose,” notes Veal.

To forge a stronger connection with their employees, Veal suggests that employers should look for ways to link their organisation’s “purpose” and “meaning” to their employees’ definition of “purpose” and “meaning”. “When organisations manage to achieve this they have something credible to build on,” says Veal who advocates the use of similar techniques companies deploy to create consumer-grade experiences for their customers. The strategy includes tapping into employees behavioural and emotional preferences. For example, empowering and inspiring employees through entrusting them with projects that reflect their passions and values. In addition, employers can use employee feedback to refine systems, policies and practices. In the same way that companies seek ways to continually update the customer experience, Veal says it is a matter of listening to employees and keeping engagement activities fresh and interesting. “The process is ongoing,” Veal says. “Consumer brands don’t simply do a one off customer engagement exercise and then forget about it,” he adds.

He also explains how recent developments in neuroscience and data analytics can provide insights which organisations can utilise to better understand their employees’ motivations and sense of purpose drivers. Recognising that engagement and meaningful workplace experiences mean different things to different employees, Veal points out that technologies are available with the capabilities to personalise employee aspirations and preferences, which in turn can help to create a better individual employee experience.

Preferring to use the term “talent engagement” instead of “employee engagement” — because the principles apply across the entire ecosystem from recruiting potential candidates to on-boarding and employees leaving an employer, Veal believes employers that successfully combine human emotional human dimensions with their organisational strategy are heading in the right direction of establishing a strong platform for talent engagement. To benchmark and measure their talent engagement effectiveness, in the same way as consumer brand research measures customer satisfaction levels, Veal suggests employers use virtual focus groups, artificial intelligence (AI) data gathering techniques and social media brand scans to build up a comprehensive “talent engagement” picture. Acknowledging it would be naïve to believe that all employees are going to become more engaged simply because their work motivation is better understood, Veal says an increase in engagement levels of even a small percentage of the workforce can make a difference. “Every motivated employee means a happier employee which represents a competitive advantage for the organisation they work for,” says Veal.

With many organisations facing the triple challenge of identifying the most effective ways to attract talent, build a workforce for the future and retain top employees, Veal believes another area where employers can boost their competitive advantage, is through proactively helping employees manager their careers. Often, he says, when it comes to career opportunities it is a case of employees “not knowing what they don’t know”. In other words, employees seeking new career opportunities or career advancement are unaware of the opportunities their organisations can offer. A straightforward starting point is finding out about employee’s career goal aspirations and matching to the forward needs of the organisation.

Often, Veal says, such a pre-emptive move can indicate to an employee that they are valued and their employer is willing to invest in their career. “It is an area that employers are getting steadily getting better at, but there is still a lot more they could do,” says Veal. For example, as with everything else within the world of business, the digital revolution is creating new realities and different expectations within the work environment. As different applications of technology stimulate the evolution of work in new and faster ways, Veal believes that employers could benefit from being more open-minded with their career development strategies. He says while academic credentials remain important, more emphasis could be focused on employees’ empathy, social intelligence, adaptability and workplace impact as career mobility drivers. “These topics are rising to the surface, and the more they are understood the more they are likely to grow in sophistication and importance,” notes Veal.