When you think of a business, what comes to mind? An office, cubicles, computers, raw materials, machines, inventory, etc.?
While these elements play a role in every company, they are not the most critical asset: the single most important part of any business is its staff. Employees are the fuel that drives your company forward—without dedicated employees, your business will never thrive.
You can certainly survive with clock-punchers, but you will never create something truly great. The most successful businesses in the world are the ones that have found the secret ingredient to employee motivation: a shared purpose.
A sense of purpose is an intrinsic yearning to create something larger than ourselves: a big-picture idea and goal. When your employees have a sense of purpose, everyone—even those in the most entry-level positions—is focused on how their job moves the entire company closer to its vision.
Consider what it means to have a sense of purpose and how you can foster one within your team.
Very few jobs are glamorous all of the time. While the chef in a restaurant gets credit for the food and the bartender can create exciting new drinks, both still do hours of cleaning, prep work, and grunt work. Plus, additional team members like waitstaff, dishwashers, and bussers are all essential to the customer experience, even if they are rarely appreciated.
A shared sense of purpose can guide the entire team, from the head chef to the hostess, which drives up customer satisfaction and growth.
“Purpose can help set a north star not only for the company as a whole, but also for departments, groups, and teams,” Guusje Bendeler writes at thinkPARALLAX. “Informed by the big aspirational north star, setting smaller, more tangible, and achievable goals can help subsets within the company grasp how their work matters to the bigger picture.”
If you have ever struggled to motivate employees or tie their day-to-day work to the benefit of the company, they may have lacked a sense of purpose. Purpose is the “why” that employees answer when doing their work. Why should they care? Why should they do their best? It all ties back to purpose.
Several companies deliberately cultivate a sense of purpose—and one brand that goes above and beyond is Kiva, an international nonprofit that strives to bring financial services to those who cannot access them.
Kiva uses its platform to form partnerships with brands like Bobbi Brown, Pure Leaf, and eBay. It facilitates opportunities for companies to instill a sense of purpose within their employees. These large brands donate money in the form of Kiva credits to their customers or employees. Whoever receives the credits can support a cause they care about by funding Kiva borrowers.
For example, Hewlett-Packard and Kiva launched Matter to a Million, which set aside $7
million to provide each of Hewlett-Packard’s 275,000+ global employees with a $25 credit.
These credits helped borrowers in 82 different countries and came with a 97% repayment rate. This program improves the global economy while giving HP employees a sense of purpose within their organization. HP employees work hard knowing that the more profitable the company is, the more it will likely contribute to communities in need.
You don’t need to operate a nonprofit to lead employees with a strong sense of purpose. Every company can encourage team members to take pride in their work.
One of the most famous examples of employees finding their sense of purpose came from Yale School of Management researcher Amy Wrzesniewski. She interviewed hospital janitors who found a strong sense of purpose in their work.
They didn’t see removing trash and mopping floors as “just a job”—instead, they believed it an essential part of supporting patient healing. Not only did the janitorial staff work hard to create a clean and welcoming environment, but they also talked to patients while they did so (even when those patients were in a coma) and changed the art in the hospital rooms frequently. When a patient made a recovery, the janitors took pride in knowing that they contributed.
It can be easy for employees to feel like their work goes unnoticed or is less important than others’ work, which is why companies need to work hard to communicate and build a shared sense of purpose.
A sense of purpose can help companies improve employee morale and increase customer satisfaction. This shared organization-wide mission creates a motivated and empowered ecosystem that pushes growth and success forward.
If you can build a shared purpose in your company, you’ll see happier and more productive employees who genuinely enjoy their work. This mindset will not just improve the success of your business—it’ll also help you to retain quality talent and mitigate turnover.
Give your team something to care about, and the results might surprise you.