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Does purpose resonate with your team?

“That business purpose and business mission are so rarely given adequate thought is perhaps the most important cause of business frustration and failure.”

This Peter Drucker quote is a driving force in my work with clients to identify, instill, and reflect purposeful actions and behaviors that will attract and retain engaged employees and loyal customers. To assess the effectiveness of our efforts, clients use a variety of mechanisms, including employee and customer satisfaction surveys.

Most large, sophisticated organizations conduct ongoing customer satisfaction surveys and employee pulse checks. Frequency aids in responsiveness, which is why many companies collect and review customer feedback on a weekly or even daily basis. They also poll their workforce to gauge satisfaction levels but, because of the need to communicate survey results together with corresponding plans and actions, it becomes impractical to administer these surveys at the rate of customer surveys. For this reason, most employee surveys are conducted annually.

Employee surveys

Employee surveys cover a range of topics from compensation to opportunities for career advancement. In this post, I will focus on employee engagement. And while there are several factors that contribute to an employee’s engagement level, from contributions being recognized to having the tools and resources to do the job, I will highlight the link between employees’ daily work activities and the higher purpose of their job role.

Some companies outsource employee surveys to firms like Gallup that have the expertise to craft questions, obtain metrics and verbatim comments, interpret the results, and make recommendations to leadership based on the findings. Others devise their own surveys using in-house specialists and disseminate them across locations and business units. Except for tailoring to account for cultural nuance, the format and questions are the same—although most surveys allow for supplemental questions to be crafted at the local level.

Increasingly, items related to mission, vision, or purpose resembling “The company mission makes me feel my job is important” appear on employee surveys. This statement is effectively worded because affirmative responses signal that employees believe their job matters—that their contributions make a real difference. When workers see the relationship between WHAT they do and HOW they do it (e.g., job functions, processes, assignments, protocols, policies, procedures, standards, forecasts, budgets, and quotas), and WHY they do it, this inspires them to reflect job essence (i.e., the actions, behaviors, and decision-making emblematic of and aligned with mission, vision, purpose, and core values).

Do employees know the WHY?

Of course, the above survey item presupposes respondents are familiar with the company mission statement. I assure you that, at most companies, the vast majority of employees AT ALL LEVELS OF THE ORGANIZATION are challenged to recall their company’s guiding statement (whether it’s referred to as a mission, vision, purpose, or something else). They may have an idea of what it is based on their recollections of the onboarding experience, latest all-employee rally, or most recent corporate press release, but most will draw a blank. Undeterred, they will dutifully rank the survey item and move on to the next question.

If you think that’s a harsh assessment and doesn’t apply to your team, simply ask them—but not together as a group or as a public Mentimeter poll where individuals can mold their responses to conform to those of their peers. Instead, ask them individually to record on a sheet of paper (without the aid of a smartphone or laminated wallet card) the organization’s guiding statement and core values.

I’ve conducted this activity numerous times and the results are predictable. On average, less than 10 percent of people can recall their organization’s guiding statement or core values. The message I tend to receive from participants who struggle with this exercise is that it really doesn’t matter as long as they can perform their job duties well. The implication is that meaning and purpose (WHY) take a back seat to delivery and execution (WHAT and HOW).

While I disagree with this assessment, I can’t fault their logic. Although corporate tenets are often framed and mounted in the executive corridor, trumpeted on the company website, and referenced in performance reviews and employee surveys, in their words and actions, leadership often defaults to job functions. This priority reveals itself in questions, conversations, and feedback dominated by references to job assignments, budgets, quotas, productivity metrics, and the like. When the way to win with your boss is tied to job functions rather than job essence, it seems naïve or idealistic to prioritize corporate mission and core values.

Purpose-driven leadership requires a shift in mindset. Supervisors, managers, and leaders must validate both job functions and job essence. It’s not zero-sum. Attending to both dimensions of employees’ job roles is necessary to foster engaged employees and loyal customers. It’s critical that company leaders lay the foundation in support of job essence well ahead of administering the next employee survey. Otherwise, the ratings that result from these mission- or purpose-related questions will add little value.

Purpose Resonance Score

If you’re involved with the development of an in-house employee survey or a part of a leadership team responsible for devising supplemental questions to include in an existing survey, consider this original survey item:

“The work I do is connected to the organization’s purpose.” (0-10 scale*, with 10 being highly connected)

© Steve Curtin LLC

The scoring methodology resembles Bain & Company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) where the percentage of 0-6 ratings is subtracted from the percentage of 9-10 ratings (7-8 ratings do not factor into the equation) to yield a score. The resulting number is your team’s or company’s Purpose Resonance Score (PRS). This number reflects the extent to which respondents are aware of and experience the connection between their daily work activities and the higher purpose of the organization and job role (i.e., the link between WHAT they do, HOW they do it, and WHY the work is being done).

When analyzing the results, respondents offering ratings of 9 or 10 are “on board” with respect to the link between their job duties and the greater purpose of their job role. Those offering ratings of 7 or 8 are neutral, and respondents offering ratings of 0-6 (as opposed to being “on board”) are “just bored.” They do not see the connection between their daily contributions and the WHY of the organization and their job role. In most cases, these employees are unaware of their job purpose. They may know WHAT to do and HOW to do it, but not realize WHY they are doing it. These employees come to work each day with a task to work on, but nothing to work towards.

Including the PRS survey question presupposes that employees are aware of organizational and job purpose. This compels leadership to be intentional about articulating and revealing employees’ single highest priority at work. It also nudges them to be conscious of making the link between the job role’s higher purpose and employees’ real world of work. This can pay off in improved business results and will also yield a credible survey metric (PRS) that can be used to manage employees’ performance and engagement.

*While this illustration uses a 0-10 scale, you may be set up to use a 5- or 7-point scale. Adapt accordingly.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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