1. Merging Social Impact and Communication to deliver on purpose

It’s no secret that in recent years, society has radically re-thought the role of corporations in the broader world. More and more every day, customers want to know about more than price and quality before they make a purchase. Prospective employees want to know about more than compensation and benefits. Stakeholders across the spectrum are seeking brands whose values authentically align with their own, and whose commitments to impact are authentic. To rise to the occasion, forward-thinking organizations are reorganizing to bring Social Impact and Communication disciplines together to lead with purpose.

At McDonald’s, the newly created Global Impact Team is designed to deliver on the company’s purpose. It brings together Government Relations, Communication, Corporate Relations, ESG & Sustainability and oversight for the company’s corporate philanthropy. At Clif Bar & Company, new senior vice president of Impact and Communications, Roma McCaig, will oversee sustainability strategy, community initiatives, corporate brand and employee communications.

We’re seeing more companies create combinations like these. Their emergence reflects a growing recognition that for successful companies of the future, purpose and values will not be a nice-to-have or a box to check. They won’t be relegated to sub-sections of “About Us” pages. They will be at the center of business strategy. To thrive as a business in today’s socially responsible landscape, you need an authentic reason the world should want you around. You also need to be able to tell the story of the positive impact you drive in the world. The most sophisticated organizations understand that they need to deliver on their purpose with action. Communication helps drive that action as well as galvanize stakeholders.

As McCaig of Clif put it: “We alone can’t redesign the business of food. We need our peers, our suppliers, our customers, our consumers, all to join us on that journey. The only way we’re going to be able to do that is if we’re out there, actively telling our story and sharing very specific examples of what we’re doing.”

This trend is exciting. It illuminates an ever-growing consensus that Love in Business is Good BusinessTM, and that delivering on purpose as well as profit is vital to business success. The companies that practice this are the ones who will succeed in the ever-changing business world.

 

2. Yet, there’s something more important to employees than purpose…

A new study in the Journal of Happiness Studies found that over the course of the pandemic, the top drivers of employee happiness changed dramatically. In the past, employees’ sense of belonging was the most powerful predictor of employee happiness — followed by their senses of flexibility, inclusivity and purpose in their work. Today, having a supportive manager is the number one predictor of workplace happiness — “nearly twice as important,” the study found, as purpose, which now comes in second place.

On many levels, this shouldn’t be surprising. Yet, it runs counter to many of the structural changes businesses have made over the past 30 years.

As companies have shifted to lean, flat, agile and efficient structures, many businesses have chipped away at their middle management. Now, as organizations are losing people at record rates, they’re recognizing the importance of their middle managers in creating an environment of trust and well-being.

At Gagen, we’ve long known the differentiating value of a strong employee experience, and we believe middle managers are due for a powerful resurgence. You can’t truly value people without valuing people management. And as we think through our purpose statements, values, EVPs and other levers to improve culture, we must remember that human connection — or lack thereof — is the most important factor. Often, we can make great progress in those other areas if we start by ensuring every employee knows they have an advocate.

 

3. Being true to who you are is your greatest protection

In their December 2021 book, Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home, Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson explore the nature of the employee-employer dynamic and how remote work can be harnessed to benefit both sides. In it, they use the term “monoculture” to describe “the unofficial set of expectations that all employees must follow to fit in.” They note that there is no one type of culture that succeeds over others. However, in cultures that struggle, there is frequently tension between the stated culture — the documented values and expectations — and the actual culture. We’ve certainly seen that to be true.

We find this insight to be even more important in today’s business world. Amid an unprecedented talent war, companies are thinking hard about how their cultures and internal brands can help them better attract and retain talent. It’s tempting to paint a picture of an ideal culture, or your culture in its best moments and gloss over the less appealing aspects. However, if you don’t strike a balance between aspiration and reality, you end up aggravating the problems you’re trying to solve.

Our Let Go & Lead podcast guest, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., emphasizes the value of transparency when creating an Employee Value Proposition. Cultures don’t need to be a fit for everyone; they just need to work for the people who choose to join. Still, far too many businesses fail to convey what truly defines and differentiates their culture. As Johnny puts it: “[If] you sold them on X and you deliver Y,” you will end up struggling to find and keep the best employees.

It’s not always easy to identify your true culture drivers, but you can start by talking with employees, and assuring them that you are genuinely inviting honesty. Don’t just ask them if they would be likely to recommend the business to a friend; ask them what advice they would give a friend who was about to join.

For example, if employees highlight a culture where people like to work independently, don’t promote the company as collaborative. The key is being candid about who you are and trusting people to self-select. In the end, that’s the greatest mutual protection.