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Curing the Disengaged Workforce Epidemic
July 26, 2012
If sustainability is defined as “economies meeting the needs and expressing the potential of society,” let's talk about one overlooked social issue that is preventing society as whole from reaching its highest potential. It's an issue that has reached pandemic proportions and is eating away at the very backbone of our nation’s economic and physical health: Our workforce is unfulfilled.
According to a recent Gallup study, Americans as a whole feel worse about their jobs – and their work environments – than ever before. Why? We believe it’s not because workers feel underpaid or underappreciated. It’s because they don’t feel they’re doing meaningful work … purposeful work ... work that feeds their souls.
Indeed, our nation is suffering from soulless work and this is contributing to our economic woes and soaring health care costs. Think about it: When people are unfulfilled, it leads to depression, increased sick leave, decreased productivity, and on the personal side, a constant searching for fulfillment in food, drugs, and other vices that contribute to massive health issues. The diagnosis of what’s ailing our workforce is grim, but the cure is relatively simple.
We, as self-proclaimed socially conscious leaders, can lift the country, and perhaps the world, out of the muck we’re standing in now. It’s time to launch a new era of corporate social responsibility, one where we as leaders and employers take responsibility for creating meaningful workplaces in order to build a sustainable and thriving society.
How do we accomplish this? We start with a tool that’s already commonly accepted but generally misused in business: brand. Traditional, external-facing, marketing-focused brand models aren’t the answer. Instead, the solution lies in uncovering an inspired, meaningful, culture-based brand. Brands that are imbued with authenticity and a noble purpose are the stuff that will help cure this pandemic and restore pride and spirit to the American worker.
Many people look at brand as something they externalize to get something in return (i.e., a tool to sell or persuade) rather than something they internalize as a sustainment tool to lift people up (i.e., a tool to give meaning and purpose). Indeed, a culture-based brand can be used to awaken the individual human spirit, and collectively, to ignite an entire organizational cuture to reach its highest potential (the added bonus is that it’s likely to make external branding efforts more successful as well).
So how can you rethink and repurpose your brand as a sustainment tool? Here are some ideas.
- Assess the Culture. Start with a Cultural Assessment that gives you insights into the strengths and values inherent in your organizaiton. There are positives and negatives to any culture that, if articulated and understood, will help you identify the best way to connect with and inspire your people.
- Share a Vision. Help leadership express and share a compelling Vision for the organization that sits at the crossroads of the culture’s greatest strengths, capacities and passions. Then find ways to tell and retell the story of how the world will be different as a result of employees’ work.
- Articulate a Meaningful Brand Foundation. Take a look at the foundational elements of your brand. Are they clear, inspiring and imbued with meaning?
- Does your organization have a Purpose—a noble reason for being, besides making money? Is it rooted in a fundamental human need that will inspire people at all levels of the organization? Does it align with your culture and vision?
- Do you have a clear Promise—a commitment that you’ve made to people inside and outside your organization that describes a meaning-based experience they can expect from working with you?
- Do you have authentic Guiding Principles that are lived by leadership and provide a guide for behavior among employees?
- Live the Brand. Do the Purpose, Promise and Principles inhabit every corner of your organization? Do you reinforce them at key employee touchpoints such as all-hands meetings or company retreats? Are they used as a filter for decision-making at all levels? Engage employees in all divisions on how they can deliver on the organization’s purpose and promise through their own activities. For example, in order to better deliver on your promise, how could you modify operations? How could you rethink your financial decisions? How could you innovate your product and service offerings? And how can HR/recruitment practices evolve to sustain a workforce laser-focused on promise delivery?
- Encourage Employee Uniqueness. Help individuals understand how they can bring their unique selves into their work. When employees know how to contribute to the Purpose in a way that is meaningful to them, it will spark creativity and drive innovation. Plus, it’s fun for people to be themselves at work and it drives a much more interesting and robust team dynamic when people really know their peers.
- Increase Beneficiary Contact. Let people experience the fruits of their labor. The more intimately you can connect employees with the beneficiaries of their work (e.g., customers, members, donors, recipients), the greater fulfillment they feel. Seeing the organization’s promise being delivered and believing that individual contributions are helping to achieve the vision increases satisfaction and builds pride. You may need to restructure jobs to allow for more first-hand beneficiary contact, but it’s worth the effort.
- Engage Employees in the Process. Finally, all of the steps above can and should be thought of as an employee engagement exercise. Many organizations embark on engaging their employees on the brand after it has been created by the marketing department. To create a sustainable brand, one that will align, inspire and activate employees, all employees should be involved at some level early in the brand-creation process.
The key to using brand as a sustainment tool is to remember that your brand and culture are living, breathing relationships between your organization and the people inside and outside of its walls. Simply declaring that your brand has a noble purpose is not enough to keep people’s spirits soaring. Building ongoing communications with employees and scalable structures for brand delivery will keep the passion juices pumping and will drive individual and organizational fulfillment.