Infusing your team’s work with a focus on the “why” not only draws the right people—it keeps them on the team longer.
The point seems obvious: it would be next to impossible to rally a group of people around a cause they don’t believe in. Mobilizing a movement without the power of genuine belief would be unachievable.
But what seems so clear to us outside the context of work can sometimes escape our grasp inside the office. A strong “why” is one of the most powerful tools a leader has to attract talent, motivate a team, and keep everyone on board. It’s the engine that moves work from routine to meaningful.
Purpose-driven leadership matters
According to a study by McKinsey & Company, 70% of respondents reported their sense of purpose being largely defined by work. McKinsey partner Naina Dhingra broke down the research with a personal anecdote: essential workers providing services during the pandemic.
One cashier expressed feeling pride for doing her part to support healthcare workers and others needing access to medicine and food. “Purpose is helping employees figure out how what they do matters, at whatever level they are,” Dhingra says.
The outcome of purpose-driven leadership speaks for itself: stronger engagement, increased loyalty, and more willingness to recommend the company to others. There are personal benefits, too, such as better health and more resilience. Guiding an organization with a why-first approach has cyclical benefits for everyone involved.
How to utilize “why” for a better workplace
So, how do leaders adopt this essential approach? The first step is identifying the meaning behind the organization’s work as a whole, as well as each individual contributor. Together, what impact are they making on society?
This doesn’t always have to be as grand as people might imagine. Think back to the simple act of the cashier, making it possible for others to procure essentials during an emergency. Her connection with the urgency of frontline workers to the wider community motivated her to keep going during a trying and stressful period.
Once a leader establishes the single or multi-prong purpose of what drives the work, there are several important next steps:
Align vision with action. One of the main goals of purpose-driven leadership is to create continuity between leadership’s vision and how team members spend their time and effort. When stated purpose and lived actions align, organizations can maintain high performance.
Lead by example. “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” The line is by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but the truth is eternal: leaders can’t just give orders. They also need to be a source of inspiration through their own behavior.
Communicate clearly. A leader’s “why” is meant to be foundational to the organization and a source from which culture flows. Leaders must understand it clearly for themselves and more essentially, articulate it effectively to others. This shared motivation has to be well understood across an organization to have an impact, or all the purpose in the world wouldn’t matter.
Gather feedback and use it to build consensus. For purpose-driven leadership, community building is essential. Leaders must ensure employees’ voices are heard. What is their personal why, and how does it inform their contributions to the organization’s mission? Listening to team members and implementing their feedback helps them grow as individuals and strengthens the organization as a whole.
Give back. Purpose is contagious; it spreads the more you apply it. Leaders can enhance their team’s sense of meaning through creative community initiatives, like volunteer days spent outside the office or group fundraising activities. Employees can connect with their colleagues and themselves, building bonds that inform the work environment while contributing to the local community.
Purpose is success
Identifying and leading with meaning can be a challenge. To find the reasons an organization is making a difference, in ways both big and small, requires insight. In addition to insight, it takes perseverance to unite a whole team behind those reasons.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says speaker and author Simon Sinek. It’s one of the most important lines from his TEDx talk “Start with why—how great leaders inspire action” (viewed an impressive 10 million times).
That is a central theme for purpose-driven leadership: at its core, it inspires action far better than the alternatives. The benefits ripple across an organization, from improved employee recruitment and retention to heightened well-being for the whole team.
Imprint Talent Readiness can help leaders discover how to identify and inspire every employee’s potential. Reach out for more information by visiting our website at www.imprinttalent.com and contacting our team.
“Purpose-Driven Organizations Foster Employee Retention and More” from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/dianewiniarski/2023/06/01/purpose-driven-organizations-foster-employee-retention-and-more/?sh=679f36354d15
Simon Sinek’s famous “Start with why” TedX talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4ZoJKF_VuA
Additional Reading Material
“Purpose: Shifting from Why to How” from McKinsey & Company: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/purpose-shifting-from-why-to-how#/
“Leading With Purpose: How To Engage Others With Passion And Focus” from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2021/04/08/leading-with-purpose-how-to-engage-others-with-passion-and-focus/?sh=242a40d722f1