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Should organisations furlough their current Purpose for a greater Purpose?

Posted on April 15, 2020 | Categorised in:

“Change the purpose of the organisation?” “Surely that changes the whole reason for an organisation existing?” And I have to say, in the past I would have questioned this as well.

An organisation’s purpose should be their ‘north star’ to focus everyone within the organisation. As Simon Sinek says, the purpose is ‘why’ the company exists. It is not about being the biggest, fastest, smallest or best. It is the beliefs that your organisation represents which employees and customers can connect with. Employees are more engaged when working for companies that believe what they believe, or value what they value, as are customers.

A purpose is key, as every action and behaviour of an employee should be aligned to an organisation’s purpose, otherwise you could question why were they doing it?

Covid 19 and all the changes that are sweeping the world have thrown out all the previous norms. We find a large number of companies on pause as their employees are furloughed. Where companies can continue trading, many are working from home, whilst the NHS and a new, more clearly defined, group of keyworkers are trying to continue as best as possible to support their communities. And it is through this lens that organisations away from the front line of healthcare should take time to reflect on whether their current purpose is still relevant for these unprecedented times.

Employees who continue to work, either from home or in a workplace as a key worker are being asked to take on roles that they have not undertaken before. As with any element of change, for some this is causing uncertainty and anxiety. Maybe their role was office based with a team and they now find themselves in a front line operational roles which they have little or no experience of, or vice versa. Or maybe the organisation is reskilling from making high quality fashion to face masks, or from brewing alcohol to making hand gel.

For organisations that had a purpose focused on ‘what’ (biggest, fastest, smallest, best), in these unprecedented times these purposes could potentially be furloughed too, as it is likely they are not currently relevant to the concerns of employees and consumers. There are many other basic issues and concerns for employees and consumers that need to be addressed which will be consuming a significant proportion of their headspace and thus be distracting.

Where organisations have a purpose focused on ‘why’ (an established belief that your employees and customers share with you) these may still have relevance for the longer term. The country and the economy are going to need large organisations in the private and public sector to be ready to function when this is over. However, for now, there is a bigger challenge that the country and the world are uniting together on to allow the normal times to return.

The country is focused on the mantra of ‘stay home, save lives’ and to focus on anything else currently would be out of step with a nation and the world that is in lock down.

Employees are now looking to leaders to understand how their organisation can align to this mantra and ensure that they are safe. Whilst some leaders may think we are three weeks into this and employees must be getting used to it, the reality is this is undoing a generation worth of habits which will need some guidance and understanding to help adapt to. The nation is aligned with staying safe and employees are looking for leaders and managers to demonstrate that this is being recognised in how they work.

Organisations can easily adapt their purpose to address this by considering what is important to their employees. Are employees safe? Is the work they are undertaking helping to keep others safe? Is the work they are undertaking helping to keep people at home and reduce the need for them to go out? It may therefore be possible to look to add some of the following ahead of your current organisational purpose:

– Keeping all employees safe whilst…
– Keeping employees and the community safe whilst…
– Helping employees and customers stay at home and stay…
– Keeping employees safe whilst helping customers / community stay at home…

Or ultimately:

– Keeping employees safe whilst helping customers / community stay at home to save lives.

Note that the new part comes before the current purpose, as until we are through these current challenges, surely nothing trumps any future business aspiration when we are prioritising safety of employees and customers?

These newly adapted purposes need to lead all conversations that leaders and managers are having with employees. During these conversations, leaders and managers need to ask employees what more can be done to help the organisation achieve this new purpose. Leaders and managers also need to share examples of stories of how these new purposes are being demonstrated within organisations. And for many, as they are working remotely, they will be looking for more frequently scheduled discussions and communications. Together, this will create a newly aligned focus for employees, boosting their understanding and acceptance of the changes and ultimately their ability to deliver the new purpose.

Alongside the change in employee’s focus, a recent report showed that in the FMCG market, nearly 40 % of customers have recently tried brands they would not have done before; clearly evidencing that customer needs are changing. Whatever normal was, it is unlikely to be the same again. As Arundhati Roy said, “This is likely to be a portal from one world to the next”.

The organisations that are able to respond now and recognise how their purpose needs to adapt will be creating a community of employees and consumers who believe what they believe, not just during Covid 19 but also for the long term.

To find out more about the tools that help managers create this level of engagement contact us here.

About Frazer Rendell and e-trinity

Frazer has spent 9 years delivering consultancy and training on employee engagement. The success that Frazer has had in delivering this within the UK has also been replicated in Ireland, Taiwan and Spain. Prior to this, Frazer spent nearly 25 years gaining senior operational experience in Hospitality, Retail and Healthcare Industries.

Frazer now runs ‘e-trinity consultancy’ which delivers practical and measurable tools to improve employee engagement throughout organisations.

Frazer is also the Founding Partner of ‘Yellowblue Partners’ which brings together 7 businesses who are all passionate about putting employees at the heart of an organisations success and achieving both the employee’s and the organisation’s full potential.

Frazer has written articles on employee engagement in People Management, The Telegraph and Thomson Reuters amongst others. He also speaks regularly at events, including the CIPD Conference on Employee Engagement and the Applied Research Conference. Frazer was also nominated as one of the top 30 HR Influencers. In addition, Frazer is heavily involved with ‘Engage for Success’ in the UK, where he chairs a subgroup researching ‘The Impact of Performance Management on Employee Engagement’ supported by Cranfield Business School.

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