I once asked a senior board member of a leading US insurance firm for his top piece of career advice. He paused for a moment, then remarked, “It is all about people and purpose. Make sure they know why they’re there, work daily with them, and make sure they can make a difference. The rest will follow.”
He was highlighting that we cannot underestimate the important role that people managers play within an organisation to communicate purpose and help teams to catch it. And how important the act of making a tangible contribution to that purpose is to all employees.
I call this combination of communication and making a difference, activation. And it’s something that we should spend more time on.
In my travels, I have learned that the biggest factor in great employees leaving an organisation is an avoidable result of poor people management. People management that doesn’t link us to the bigger picture and let us contribute to it, has failed.
Granted, there are probably many reasons for people choosing to leave. Typically it is a result of multiple push and pull factors, for example better pay, poor work conditions, or other exciting job opportunities.
But these things are just table stakes. You need to get these things right, but the big ticket is when we feel that purpose is missing from our work. It makes us question why we bother to invest in a work place that fails to connect us.
OK – so let’s double down on the problem by looking at big teams! Scaling successful teams across organisations is a continual challenge. And if a lack of purpose is leading to high staff churn, then combining that with talent acquisition challenges, office politics, busy agendas and shifting strategic priorities means that it can be incredibly challenging to repeatedly execute and deliver positive outcomes at scale.
At scale, it’s often easier for good staff to become disenfranchised, ineffective or demotivated because their real purpose is actually only articulated 2 or 3 levels above them in the hierarchy. The 'how' does their daily role fit into the bigger corporate agenda can be the missing link and can lead to key staff choosing to move on.
This is where your people managers at all levels of the organisation have a responsibility to activate purpose in all of their staff. This generates a shared sense of purpose and contribution. It builds affiliation and support networks. It puts more focus on outcomes than process. Collaboration takes place naturally as office politics get ripped up. It creates a culture than can supercharge your teams' stickiness and productivity.
The more successful teams I train and work in, the more my belief is affirmed; that teams deliver exceptional outcomes when they understand the bigger strategic purpose and can draw a clear line from this purpose to what they do day-in day-out. These teams feel more energised and motivated by the fact that their work is adding value.
If we can all create a culture where our leaders start with people, and invest daily by communicating purpose and contribution, we will create healthier workforces within our organisations who will stay for life.