Purpose, employee engagement and profit – what’s not to love?

Purpose, employee engagement and profit – what’s not to love?


“Let’s just tell our people what they need to know. 

Give them some clear KPIs and measure them on productivity, performance and getting the job done.

We pay them for the work they do – they should be happy with that.”

Sounds ridiculous right?  I mean, who, other than David Brent would say that?

And yet according to Gallup, 85% of companies worldwide (employing a permanent workforce) do behave as if they think this way. (1)

When William Khan in 1990 defined employee engagement as “the degree of psychological identification employees experience with their job role or work persona.”, he theorised a direct link between how employees felt at work and their productivity that we now know today to be just the tip of the iceberg.

With ethical purchasing on the rise, it’s no longer a good idea to ensure your team feel connected to a higher purpose, it’s imperative.

Harvard Business Review reminds us that: “A higher purpose is not about economic exchanges. It reflects something more aspirational. It explains how the people involved with an organization are making a difference, gives them a sense of meaning, and draws their support.” (2)

Of course, becoming a purpose-driven organisation is a difficult path to tread, and the identification of a purpose must result in significant operational and cultural shifts if it is to be seen as authentic.  In fact, should an organisation be found to have created a purpose purely to lure an audience through marketing, it will do harm as social activists call them out to the masses (3).

No-one wants to be on the receiving end of that meme.

Whilst tough to navigate, an organisation’s purpose should be clear and present on the balance sheet.    If you had an asset continuously bleeding the company at an opportunity cost of 17% (4) everyone on the board would be called upon to have a view, an action plan would be formed quickly, and the business would immediately course-correct.

Yet, as the title suggests, the fewer employees that are engaged in the organisation, the less productive it becomes. And if the Radiators themselves are not excited about what they do, then you can expect exponential reduction in productivity as they influence those around them.

So what do the most successful organisations do to make the most of the tremendous opportunity in their teams.


  1. Recognise their people as an opportunity for the organisation to support them, not the other way around.

For a moment, consider how much easier meetings would be, operations would run and clients would feel if everyone sought out consensus through positive creative friction – believing that their individual role was a force for good in steering the company to growth.

Seeking out ways to make things easier – physically tearing down partitions, allowing people to own their space.  Being first to talk about flexible working rather than await the nervous application of sleep-deprived new parents.  Encouraging more face to face, even if video, and less email.


  1. Find their Radiators.

Every company has them.  The people who are relentlessly positive – seeking out good news stories and lifting the morale of those around them.

Asking them what they think about how the organisation works and empowering them to work with you and the leadership team on raising engagement could build a robust path to growth.  Seeking the opinions of those less enamoured will give a balanced view of the task at hand however, since the radiators may be reluctant to dwell on the issues they know exist, but they will be key to (and excited to be part of) the transformation.


  1. Listen more than they talk.

Companies doing engagement well, ask the provocative questions – of people at all levels and sensibilities.  Actively listening to the answers and looking for ways to improve.  Even through the lens of the shared values found when people choose the same place of work, they unearth different views, hopefully challenging ones.

Hearing them all may just equip you to encourage everyone to feel vested in the purpose you unearth.


  1. Show vulnerability.

They welcome failure as long as it’s accompanied by intelligence.

These companies show their people that they’re people first and leaders second.  As a direct result their people take more risks, unearth new ideas and new opportunities for the business and the team, to grow.


Many of you will have happy, productive and engaged teams already, but if a company is only as strong as its least engaged employee it may be an idea to check in with them all, if for no reason other than to reinforce your belief in your people.

Those who understand and feel connected to a purpose will make decisions aligned to it. That drives organisational performance and efficiency with people more invested in strategy, more accountable for cost control and more inspired to lead and differentiate in the market.

If you’d like some help identifying, articulating or activating your authentic purpose, would like to conduct a listening programme with your people, or engage them in your strategy, give us a call (5) – we love to listen.


1. ‘Worldwide, the percentage of adults who work full time for an employer and are engaged at work are highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace — is just 15%’. State of the global workforce report, Gallup, 2017.
2.  https://hbr.org/2018/07/creating-a-purpose-driven-organization
3. More than half criticise brands for using societal issues as “marketing ploys” Edelman, 2018.
4. Gallup goes on to tell us that  ‘…business units in the top quartile of our global employee engagement database are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.” State of the global workforce report, Gallup, 2017.
5. You can find us at thelisteningpeople.com or drop us an email at hello@thelisteningpeople.com and then we can arrange to grab a (virtual or otherwise) coffee. Face to face all the way.

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