Why purpose means nothing if you don’t extend it to the people who run your business

Claire Gallagher
By Claire Gallagher | 14 February 2020

Positioning your brand as a force for good is a great idea as long as you factor in the internal brand. If not, you’re leaving yourself open to more than just disruption. Principals' Claire Gallagher explains.

In 2020, purpose is set to take centre stage as brands in a variety of categories look to assert themselves as forces for good. It’s a major shift for many brands that no longer view making money as their sole priority.

From brands with environmentally focused purposes such as Ecostore or Patagonia to brands that have taken on social issues such as Gillette’s failed attempt to tackle toxic masculinity, we must commend brands for being motivated by more than money.

Not only is this, arguably, a good thing to do, it also makes business sense. Look at the success of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Brands which grew 69% faster than the rest of the business in 2018.

An added bonus is that purpose-led brands not only attract but retain talent. Yet, despite this, many organisations are still missing a step in their purpose-led missions: their own people.

In recent months numerous brands have been caught out underpaying staff or laying off thousands as executives take outrageous golden parachutes. WeWork is one such eye-watering example, but it is sadly just the tip of the iceberg.

Too many brands are yet to extend their seemingly altruistic efforts internally and it is leaving them exposed in a number of ways.

One of the most striking categories facing this conundrum is aged care. This is an industry that exists to provide care to the elderly, a population that is chronically under-valued and under resourced. It is also an industry in crisis, according to the interim findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care.

While the failure to look after our elderly is both heartbreaking and damming, organisations within the sector are also failing their staff. Earlier this year, a survey of 4,138 staff working in residential aged care facilities and 730 workers providing “in-home” aged care found that 81% of workers do not have the time they need to do their job properly resulting in the elderly not getting the care they need on a daily basis and carers feeling “worn out” and crushed by the experience.

Many brands in this sector talk about personalised care, bringing joy, making every day the best and treating residents as much-loved members of the family. Unfortunately, these sentiments seem to exist mainly on a website and the experience is starkly different. If these brands were organised around a clear and compelling purpose that their people were enabled to deliver, it would be a very different story.

While aged care is a potent example, brands in any sector that don’t invest in their people are taking a massive risk. The brands that perform at their best are ones that take a 360-degree view and this means including the employer brand as part of the overarching strategy, connecting the customer experience and the employee experience.

We call this an Employee Value Proposition (EVP) and it’s a succinct way of defining the value your organisation delivers to employees. A well thought out EVP will articulate the benefits of working at your organisation for your existing team and prospective new hires. It will help attract talent at every level, retain the best employees, create employee advocates, build a reputation for being ‘the’ place to work in the sector and showcase and strengthen your brand.

An EVP should be consistent with your strategic objectives and aligned to your brand by connecting culture with reputation. It must be built around attributes that genuinely attract the people you want working for you, people who align with your purpose, brand and values and your growth ambitions. And brands that take their employees seriously by implementing an EVP are able to use it to differentiate in a competitive market.

In our work, we have seen the benefits of having a strong EVP. According to research by Gartner’s Corporate Leadership Council, it has the ability to improve the commitment of new hires by up to 29%, reduce new hire compensation premiums by up to 50% and increase the likelihood of employees acting as advocates from an average of 24% to 47%.

Thinking back to the example of aged care, there are few businesses in the space that could genuinely say their employees are advocates of the brand. And this in an industry where the single most important choice drivers is the perception of operator team culture.

So who is doing it right?

According to tech talent marketplace Hired, in 2018 Netflix had one of the top employer brands. Their secret is an unrelenting focus on values and a credo titled ‘The Seven Aspects of our Culture’, which provides the foundation for all their people policies and processes. It emphasises the importance of autonomy, communication, attitude, high performance and rule avoidance.

The Netflix culture avoids the rigidity, politics, mediocrity, and complacency that infects most organisations. There is no vacation policy and when it comes to expenses and travel, staff adhere to the very loose guide, “Act in Netflix’s best interests”. Employees are motivated to be flexible, innovative and responsive to market demands and consumer preferences.

It’s unwise to imagine the conglomerates responsible for brands in sectors such as aged care directing staff to avoid rules. As it stands today, these organisations, like many, are not living their purpose and are consequently failing staff and residents.

With the right resources, time and training, a focus on people could be a game changer whether you work in the important field of aged care or technology.

Shouldn’t all brands be following the lead of Netflix and asking their staff to act in the best interests of the organisation and the people it services?

Claire Gallagher is the Internal Brand Director for Principals.

 

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