Employee perspectives

5 features of a purpose-driven workplace

When it comes to employee satisfaction, expressing a desire for a greater sense of purpose is the easy part. However, defining what those purpose driven workspaces look like can be much more challenging.

Purpose as part of the core business strategy

Do you think that you would be able to establish a long-term emotional commitment to your work if you were constantly nagged by the question of “what’s the point of all this?”

An employee can’t be expected to put their passion, determination and hard work behind a cause, if they don’t know what that purpose is. For years now, it has been a part of core business development for companies to have a clear understanding of their purpose and to communicate that purpose outwardly.

If you type “company core purpose” into Google, you’ll be fed page after page of business strategies on how companies can develop their core purpose. But is that only for the benefit of external sources? What about the employees? What about you?

Arguably, a company is only as strong as its employees' dedication to that company. So ask yourself, how long would you be willing to work at a company that didn’t have a clear purpose, nor took an initiative to understand yours?

“I think that it is critically important that employees understand what a company's purpose is. If you want people to deliver their best, you need to know them—and know what is driving them. But they also need to know what is driving the company,” explains Monique Carter, our Executive Vice President of People & Organization here at Novo Nordisk.

“You need to give them a sense of purpose and activate it, through the strategies you set as a company and through the priorities and goals set by organizational leaders.  If you look at the people that enter into a company and do well, they are the ones that understand and are typically aligned with the core purpose of the company,” she continues.

Day-to-day work is linked to common shared purpose

For the last 17 years, Professor Marjolein Lips-Wiersma has built a career research and reputation as a world authority on meaningful work. In a model that she calls her Map of Meaningful Work, she illustrates that “unity with others” and “service to others” are two pillars which contribute to an environment of purposeful and meaningful work.

“One expression of meaning that we are naturally designed for is community.” explains Lips-Wiersma. “When we feel like we are part of a community, then we can experience a sense of meaning—a sense of purpose. We all know, it’s ingrained in our physiology, what a sense of community is.”

“People can experience community - and that sense of meaning - at their work, and when they do, often obstacles like competitive structures, time shortages, or simple day-to-day challenges are easier to overlook.

Monique Carter couldn’t agree more:

“For Novo Nordisk, our patients can't live without their medications. There are millions around the world that are reliant on our products to survive. This is a motivator that all of our employees understand and are driven by, she explains.”

Employee purpose elevates company goals

In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, it concludes that for a company's goals to be purposeful, they should both reflect the strengths of their employees and be tied to bigger organisational ambitions.

Employees need to understand their role in a company organisation, but also understand how their contribution moves the needle.

“I think there are more and more people entering into the workspace now with a desire for purpose,” states Monique Carter. “Consequently, I think it is essential that companies don’t view this as some kind of trend, or something that is fashionable. This movement towards purpose-driven work can be something that is meaningful and has real value for a company.”

Building off Monique’s point, it could be said that a clear purpose doesn’t only come from a well formulated vision and mission statement—it also comes from it’s employees projecting that purpose outwardly through their dedication and work ethic.

Purpose drives innovation

When looking to define a company as purpose-driven, one can look to see how much creativity and innovation is happening at an employee level. While not a necessary component for innovation to manifest, purpose can be a significant driver in fostering a creative and innovative company culture.

“I think that is critically important that employees feel an emotional commitment and personal fulfillment in their work. I think if we empower people through purpose, that’s how we get innovation, creativity and better decision making. In the end, that is the secret sauce for organisational success.” states Monique Carter.

For years, it has been widely reported that purpose is a significant driver of innovation. Some of the most notable innovations can often be the result of alliances that span organizational boundaries—collaborations between sales and marketing, HR and R&D, product development and finance. If all employees are working for  - and toward - the same purpose, then divides between departments are much easier to traverse.

And whenever there is a diversity of minds and expertise all coalescing towards the fulfilment of a single, or multifaceted, purpose, that's where positive change happens. 

Company purpose has a societal impact

One of the final features to look for in a purpose-driven company, is to what extent the company's overall purpose impacts society. Not all company purposes need to create societal impact, but they should – at the very least – have a social purpose with intent to create a better world in some way.

“What defines a purpose-driven company also depends on what role the company is fulfilling. Purpose is becoming more and more valuable in a world that is changing, where people are now beginning to question whether they need more stuff"

Monique Carter says and continues:

“At Novo Nordisk, we recognize that our reason to be is genuinely purpose-driven. We work daily to supply life-saving medicines to people that can’t live without them. This puts us in a unique position as a company, in so much as we don't need to look for something to establish the company as socially responsible. That is potentially different from an industry which sparks people to ask ‘do I need another handbag?’ There can be purpose-driven companies in both sectors – but whether you’re driven by patient-centricity and bold environmental commitments - as we are - or whether another built-in purpose is acting as your company’s motivational compass, it all really depends on how a company's purpose aligns with employee values.