When a small, New York City-based organisation advertised for a graphic designer to join its 70-person staff, over 500 people applied. When they later advertised for a receptionist, they had almost twice as many applications.
This organisation wasn’t offering above-average salaries, lucrative stock options, or free food and massages for their employees. In fact, some employees were leaving those perks in other jobs to join the list of applicants here. That’s because they want to work for this non-profit organisation, charity: water, which builds wells around the world to provide clean and safe drinking water for those who need it most.
It’s not surprising an organisation with such a strong social purpose attracts like-minded employees. Founder Scott Harrison proudly claims people give up other benefits to do work that matters. Everybody there knows everything they do directly or indirectly helps families around the world.
But charity: water doesn’t just do good on the outside; it was also named one of Inc magazine’s 2018 Best Workplaces for how it operates on the inside. Their internal practices reflect the brand values of kindness and caring, and build a culture that attracts people who are also aligned with these values.
Here’s the Point
Stand for something that matters, and you will attract people who want to do work that matters.
The best people won’t tolerate a job that only gives them a simple exchange of time for money. They want a place where they can say they’re proud to work, and where their work has meaning. They know what “we” stand for, they value what we stand for, and they know they are making a difference in the world.
That sense of pride doesn’t only occur in a non-profit organisation like charity: water that reaches the entire world. It can occur in any organisation, small or large, in any industry, and in myriad ways.
An organisation like charity: water started with a higher-purpose goal, but that isn’t the case in many organisations. They start by solving more prosaic problems for their customers or helping them reach some small goal in their lives. That used to be enough to thrive, because solving problems kept the business alive, and employees were happy enough to work for that kind of business.
Solving customer problems is still important, but it’s now just the price of entry. Employees expect more, and want to work for an organisation with a strong mission, values, and purpose.
This is the difference between offering a salaried job and inviting people on a shared journey. If all other things are equal, they will choose the more compelling journey (Wouldn’t you?). And even if all other things aren’t equal, the best people will still choose that journey.
This is the real secret to employee engagement. Instead of investing time, money, and energy into employee engagement programs, offer work with meaning and your people are automatically engaged.
The research backs this up.
It’s easy to dismiss this as yet another touchy-feely, wishy-washy, feel-good initiative. But there’s plenty of hard evidence that backs this up. Here’s just a sample of recent research about what the best people want now from a workplace:
- 64% of Generation Y won’t take a job if a company doesn’t have strong CSR values (Cone Communications)
- 78% of employees are not convinced their leaders have a clear direction for the organisation (Gallup)
- Companies “that stand for something bigger than what they sell, communicate their purpose and demonstrate commitment, are more likely to attract consumers and influence purchasing decisions.” (Accenture Strategy Global Consumer Pulse Research)
Combine passion with purpose.
To create a shared journey, combine passion with purpose. Some people confuse these two concepts, but they are very different things. As Morten T Hansen says in his book, “Great at Work”, passion is “Do what you love”, while purpose is “Do what contributes”. In other words, passion is about how the world serves you, and purpose is about how you serve the world.
Your team members do meaningful work when they can apply their passion to your purpose.
On the one hand, you have passionate people, who are energised, excited, and enthusiastic about their work. It gives them joy and pleasure, they find true meaning in it, and they push through the tough times because they really, truly care. These are all good things, and they are exactly the people you want in your team and organisation.
At the same time, being aligned with your purpose means they channel that passion to create real value. They understand how their job fits in with other parts of the team, collaborate for a common cause, and measure their impact by external results rather than just internal motivation. This turns their passion into something meaningful (for them) and productive (for you).
Here are three questions to ask yourself about creating a shared journey for your team – so you can attract and keep the best people:
- How do you regularly connect the passion of your people with the purpose of your organisation?
- How do you connect your passion with the purpose of your organisation?
- What else can you do to provide more meaningful work for each person in your team?