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Purpose is the Soul of a Business: Two Keys for Winning Talent in 2020!
09/05/2018 John Grubbs
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“I will not pay for employees to train while I am paying them to work” said the CEO of a company.  We are rapidly approaching 2019 and this thinking is a reality in the business world.  It reminds me of the CFO that told the CEO, “If we train our people they will leave for a better job”.  The CEO replied, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”  This polarized thinking forms the foundation for the challenge facing organizations in this hyperactive job market.

The idea that the job (with a paycheck) alone will retain employees is unfortunate.  The concept of work is evolving as the generations change.  Research predicts that 43% of workers will be freelance (aka Gig workers) by the year 2020.  This means companies must compete with the Gig Economy as well as other organizations for the same talent.  We have seen nothing like this in the history of the modern workplace.

I utilize a sticky quadrant to assess both engagement and challenge for employees in organizations.  The level of engagement along with how challenged an employee is reflects the predictability of an employee staying with an organization.  Employees that are not engaged at work will not stay very long.  Employees that are not challenged become bored and look for other ways to be stimulated by work.  The idea that transactional management (pay for work) alone is not enough to retain workers.

Gig workers love the idea that they can work a flexible schedule without the threat of the same horrible boss in a traditional work setting.  This portends a far greater challenge for organizations moving forward.  Sadly, many CEOs are ignorant or intentionally avoiding the necessity to change the workplace.  Why?  Is it traditional inertia?  How can such smart and successful people be so disconnected with reality?

It is time to accept the fact that organizations must make a full time job attractive to individuals that have left for the freedom of the gig economy.  Like the prodigal son, we must be willing to welcome them back without judgement.  Two factors are powerful attractants for the modern workplace.  First, good supervision that teaches and challenges employees is critical.  Second, a purpose beyond work engages employees to look beyond what might be considered to be just a job.

Let’s examine these two keys for winning talent in isolation.  Supervisors are the face of management for employees.  Myopic CEOs fail to understand their own lack of importance in the eyes of employees.  Servant CEOs understand that the front-line supervisor is the critical position for retaining talent. The bond between an employee and a good boss cannot be underestimated.  “We will walk through fire for a good boss” said an attendee in one of my supervisor training courses.  Yet, most companies do not provide the proper skills to lead a multigenerational workforce.  These skills are essential to find the balance between be challenged and being bored at work. 

Great supervisors see themselves as mentors and coaches who form real bonds with employees.  Today’s entry level worker may not have had a strong role model in their life and teaching supervisors to fill this role is powerful.  Just as successful coaches in youth sports, employees desire someone to challenge and hold them accountable.  Accountability without blame is a rare commodity in the workplace.  I teach leaders that trust is like a fragile egg.  Once you break the trust of your employees, you may never get it back.  Sadly, many leaders (including CEOs) do not know that there is an effective way to plan and deliver feedback.

Secondly, organizations must have a purpose other than work.  Purpose is the soul of a buinsess.  We need a sense of belonging to something that makes us better as humans.  Herman Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs calls this self-actualization.  We have a need to be fulfilled toward meaning.  Let’s face it; placing frozen chicken tenders in a cardboard box will not achieve this at work. 

Working with CEOs to find an organizational purpose is precious work that I find extremely rewarding.  Purpose cannot be faked since employees will sniff out the fraud immediately.  A higher purpose must represent the passion of the organization’s leaders in order to attract people looking for higher meaning.  I serve a Dallas based company that manufactures electronic equipment.  Their purpose is to provide clean drinking water for every human in a poor African country by the year 2025.  While I am sure there are tedious jobs in their factories, employees are given an opportunity to go and work on this purpose.

Do you think this type of purpose is too grand and far beyond your means as an organization?  My experience finds that the scope of a particular purpose is far less important than the passion for a purpose.  This means that passion for a small purpose is more effective than a tepid connection to a larger purpose.

I am fortunate to work with several amazing non-profit CEOs.  Non-profits by nature have purpose as the heart of the organization.  This sector is a wonderful example of purpose driven business.  Yes, they must have revenue and control costs.  However, they do not achieve this at the expense of the purpose for which they exist.  These CEOs understand the powerful coexistence of both purpose and financial responsibility. 

Let’s summarize.  Two keys to winning the war for talent are skilled supervisors and a purpose beyond the work.  Millennials and the emerging Generation Z worker are a clear and present danger for some organizations as well as an opportunity for others.  A little boy told the wise monk that earth is so sharp and painful. It hurts (my feet) to walk on this earth. The monk asked the boy what he suggested to make walking on this earth more comfortable. The boy suggested that if the earth was covered in leather, his feet would no longer hurt as he walked. The wise monk said since you cannot cover the earth in leather; why not cover your feet in leather?  You can complain about today’s workforce or you can choose to work on what you can control.

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