Engaging employees and instilling a sense of purpose has never been more important

A strong and connecting sense of purpose has always been essential for maximising business potential. But the pandemic has thrown into sharp relief just how crucial it is in uniting teams and empowering them to navigate uncharted territories and achieve the best results.

Articulating purpose to employees – a motivating drumbeat that can be felt at every level from the shop floor to the c-suite – can go a long way to creating the sense of energy and commitment that is needed to nurture employee-employer relationships and drive growth. Yet building a culture of purpose and positivity is so often overlooked when we’re overtaken by the day-to-day.

What the pandemic has done is highlight the importance of internal communications to effectively contextualise purpose, shared values and goals. It has also provided the ultimate stress test, and a chance to see whether existing messaging still holds true.

The power of purpose in a pandemic

Recent events have witnessed a sea change in many people’s working lives and amplified just how important a purpose-driven communication strategy is.

For some businesses, Covid-19 has had an unexpectedly galvanising effect. Take the British Business Bank, a state-owned economic-development organisation established by the government to increase the supply of credit to UK businesses. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the bank’s role in providing businesses with support has increased enormously in recent months.

The pandemic gave clarity to the bank’s brand proposition and instilled in staff a renewed sense of purpose. When lockdown hit the switchboard lit up as worried business owners sought advice and financial help to secure their futures. Because team members understood their mission – ‘To help your business find a way’ – they were able to take up their position on the front line and do their bit, ensuring a better outcome for the whole country. Much as JFK’s visit to NASA illustrated employee understanding of their broader purpose – to put a man on the moon – so the pandemic has brought to life and made explicit the absolute objective of the British Business Bank.

Survival tactics

For those businesses that have been almost poleaxed by the pandemic, there have been some surprising developments, and for many purpose has provided a lifeline.

Transport for London’s communication strategy, ‘Every journey matters’, made little sense in an environment where people were being encouraged not to use its services. But by explaining to employees that only ‘every journey that really matters, matters’, it became an empowering clarion call and created a new sense of purpose. How do you keep people safe and stop them from using the tube? By encouraging them to do the right thing.

As Max Weston, director of Panthea, which serves as a consultant for TFL, explained during a recent webinar hosted by us on the subject of purpose, creating a culture in which people feel proud to come to work and use their judgement, where values are aligned and they feel connected to their organisation, makes sense and is extremely profitable.

Keep calm and carry on

Where a business has all but ceased to function, its purpose can create a cohesive set of values to inform its treatment of people in a crisis. We’ve seen some wonderful examples of how purpose has reassured people in such difficult circumstances – and bolstered businesses’ reputations at the same time. Hospitality company Whitbread furloughed its staff on full pay rather than letting them go, opened its hotels to NHS key workers, and the leadership took a pay cut. In an era where businesses’ values are under increasing scrutiny, those actions speak volumes.

Another important role for purpose-driven comms is to motivate people when the fruits of their labour seem far off or intangible.

This can be especially true for start-ups and scale-ups that have had to press pause while all this plays out. Clarity, honesty and explaining what employees can do to help (even if that’s just sitting tight and looking after themselves so they’re ready when business resumes) creates a more purposeful, contented workforce.
Olga Skouteli, head of culture and engagement at electric aeroplane scale-up Lilium, which isn’t expecting roll-out for another five years, told blue goose at our recent webinar that purpose-driven communication has played a big role over the past quarter. Reiterating business values while operations have slowed down, and keeping the lines of communication open is how Lilium continues to look after its team members.

None of us knows whether or not the recent pandemic will become a recurring problem. But what the past few months have demonstrated is that purpose has the power to galvanise and strengthen teams and businesses, and to throw a lifeline where needed. Covid-19 has brought purpose to the top of the agenda and demonstrated that to be fit for whatever the future holds, we can’t afford to overlook its importance.