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Ulster Business

Clear purpose is a significant advantage in the war for talent

John Moore

It has become increasingly apparent in the past few years that the reasons behind the career choices we make are becoming more deeply rooted in social purpose and the world around us.

Whether it be helping to save the planet, working to improve communities, playing our part in enabling people to reach their full potential, or simply improving the lives of customers, more of us are looking for a sense of purpose in the work we do.

It’s often noted that we spend a lot of our lives at work, so it’s no surprise we want a good reason to get up in the morning, something more than just paying the bills. A survey by LinkedIn showed more than half of all candidates now won’t accept a job offer if they don’t know or agree with a company’s mission, values and purpose.

If that’s true, then business leaders in Northern Ireland who want to grow their organisations must be able to define, communicate and enact why those businesses exist. To fail means not giving people a good enough reason to want to work for us. And failing to engage our customers, our clients, our shareholders and our current employees. So, no matter the size or location of your business, purpose should be a priority.

Research shows that organisations that have successfully defined, and importantly, act with a sense of purpose, outperform the financial markets and have employees who are much more loyal to that organisation. Your organisation’s mission is different from its purpose. Your mission is what you’re trying to accomplish, your purpose is why you want to do it.

Your organisation’s purpose needs to feel authentic in the eyes of all your stakeholders so take time to define it and embed it in the organisation. Only when it is embedded into the lifeblood of your business, can you use purpose to attract the right, purpose-driven people to your business. Patagonia is often held up as a leading light when it comes to creating employee experiences.

‘We’re in business to save our home planet’ is their purpose, and as such, they offer a number of benefits which allow their employees access to a variety of charity and volunteer opportunities to support their environmental work, including attending protests. In September 2019, Patagonia closed their offices and stores around the world to allow employees to join youth activists protesting for action against climate change.

That might not be your purpose, but the point is that when employees feel more connected to their employer’s purpose, they are more likely to share their experiences across their social feeds, and with their friends and family, helping make you an employer of choice for like-minded others.

It’s a big advantage if you can hire individuals whose values are aligned to why you exist as a business. PwC recommends identifying a few critical behaviours that will help you recognise the values you’re looking for. For example, at Hays, our purpose is centred around helping professionals and organisations thrive. One of the values we look for in those we hire is a passion for people. In turn, the behaviours we look for include the ability to build strong, long-term relationships with stakeholders.

When assessing these values and behaviours in an interview, try asking a few value-based interview questions such as: ‘why do you want to work for us?’, ‘tell us about a time you made a positive impact at work’ or ‘what motivates you to succeed?’.

You might be thinking, that’s all very good but my business here in Belfast or Derry or Portadown doesn’t have time for that, we’re too busy. But if you want to get the right people, purpose isn’t optional. It’s necessary to deliver value to your customers.

A sense of purpose is what both your current and potential employees want to feel when they come into work every day. Purpose is the new way of doing business.