Want to increase Employee Engagement? Don’t bother. Instead, focus on purpose.

Shahzeb Irshad

It is no accident that innovation and disruption in any industry seldom come from established players. Big companies neither have the incentive to change nor the inclination to fix something that is not yet broken. Growth is stable, resources are abundant, however the real challenges in these companies include increasing employee engagement.

Compare this with their much smaller counterparts that are struggling just to survive; In these small companies, employee engagement is never even thought of as a goal to be achieved because the team (not employees) is struggling to survive and is engaged, in every sense of the word, as a result. Survival, quite simply, is a purpose and purposeful organizations don’t worry about employee engagement because engagement is the fuel and not the destination.

At Training Impact, it is our belief that employee engagement is a byproduct if the organization is purpose-centric as opposed to profit-centric. In a meeting with the Head of Supply Chain for a national food brand there were some interesting revelations. By all accounts, this quadragenarian is successful. He has had a fast-paced career, been regularly promoted, is doing well financially. Yet he is unsatisfied and dreams of leaving it all behind pursuing his passion projects. What he calls passion, we call purpose.

When organizations have a purpose and are serious in its pursuit, the ABC of peak performance comes into play. Autonomy, Belongingness and Competence together drives employees to achieve something bigger than themselves as they fulfil our fundamental psychological needs. They fuel an individuals’ sense of purpose by motivating them.

The three components act as legs of a stool on which rests employee engagement.

A recurring question may be why autonomy matters in this equation? This is backed by the assertion that purposeful organizations are where employees are given more control over how they approach their work often find a better way to do it.

Belongingness can be achieved if companies identify the values that they hold dear along with the encouraged behaviors through with to exhibit those values. It will form the glue between the people and give their work meaning and to them, an identity. It will ensure that employees feel connected and pull in the same direction.

Feeling competent happens when employees experience pride in seeing their accomplishments and notices their own improvement. Engaged employees feel confident in their capabilities.

At this point, you may ask yourself how you can increase engagement at your workplace. This is where you should reframe the problem and think instead about how you can contribute to bringing in or restoring your organization’s purpose. Because when you make work purposeful for others, you improve engagement, retention and the overall cultural fabric of your organization.

If you’re thinking that this is way above your pay-grade or standing in the organization, then I congratulate you. You are on the path to making a real difference by putting the “human” aspect back in “Human Resources”. You can channel that capacity in your workplace by championing the cause of purpose in your organization.

You can take the lead on purpose building by

  1. Initiating purpose-oriented conversations with senior management
  2. Pulling in Heads of Departments for input on how their department’s purpose (that they should come up with) aligns with the organizational purpose
  3. Paving one-on-one conversations and inter-departmental meetings around purpose

Taking initiatives like this can convert one into the “strategic” HR resource rather than an administrative (read: easily replaceable) HR resource. If you’re willing to commit to this purpose, then the first person you’ve just improved engagement for is yourself.

The best barometer for assessing employee engagement is if employees use “discretionary effort”. This means that people will do what needs to be done without being asked. Because again, you can’t expect someone to commit themselves to expending an extraordinary effort if they don’t have a good reason to do so. In summary, there can be no better reason to put in discretionary effort other than an alignment of purpose between an individual and an organization thus powering engagement.

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