McKinsey findings during the initial COVID wave clearly identified that employers need to understand the shifting sands of employee expectations and either work to meet these needs or be prepared to lose talent. 

The most powerful drivers centre around purpose – both organisational and personal – and the ability of leaders to help connect employees to these elements in your business.

Unsurprisingly, leadership capability is a critical part of the solution…

Understanding the importance of purpose at work

Nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed by McKinsey indicated that the upheaval caused by COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life.  Nearly 50% of them said they are reconsidering the kind of work they do, with Millennials 3x more likely to say they were re-evaluating work.

These shifting sands identified in 2021 are now playing out in the market with the often referred to “Great Resignation” or “Great Re-alignment” well underway globally.  Australia is not immune to this, and business owners are currently facing large challenges around attracting and retaining talent.

Maturing your Employee Value Proposition is key to success in this regard, with a significant element of success being tied to purpose.  People who live their purpose at work are more productive than those that don’t.  They are also healthier, more resilient and more likely to stay at the company.

Furthermore, when employees feel that their personal purpose is aligned with the organisation’s purpose, the benefits expand to include stronger employee engagement, heightened loyalty and a greater willingness to recommend the company to others.

This sounds like a good start to helping attract and retain talent right?

Mind the Gap

The McKinsey findings also demonstrated that employees want more purpose from work than they are getting.  Over 70% of employees surveyed said that their sense of purpose is largely defined by work but only 15% of frontline managers and employees agreed they are living their purpose at work.  This is in stark contrast to 85% of Senior Executives and upper management who say their purpose is being fulfilled at work.

Major gap identified. The question is how to close it.

What to do?

The choices that leaders and senior managers make are the X-factor in helping bridge the gap and assist people fulfil their purpose at work.  Leaders making better choices can make a positive different to help employees align purpose at work.

The good news for business owners and MDs/CEOs is that this also drives performance and ultimately results, delivering a major multiplier effect.  Engage your talent more effectively and deliver better results.  Sounds like a no-brainer.

McKinsey suggest three ways to focus efforts on this:

  1. Start with your organisation’s purpose. It’s the only thing you control directly and underpins engagement at work.  Be careful though – if you talk about purpose and don’t follow it through the results can be devastatingly bad.  On the other hand, when done well, employees are 5x more likely to be excited and engaged at work
  2. Reflect, connect, repeat. When employees have a chance to reflect on their own sense of purpose and how it connects to the company’s purpose, good things happen. When this opportunity is afforded, employees are 3x more likely to feel that their purpose is fulfilled at work.  Leaders and managers play a crucial role here in ensuring they lead their team in manner that fosters the ability for this to thrive
  3. Help people live their purpose at work. 63% of employees surveyed said they want their employer to provide more opportunities for purpose in their day-to-day work.  Whatever that means in your business, you need to find ways to deliver

For example, make town halls and group forums engaging and interactive.  Consider connecting employees with client success stories and experiences rather than sterile, one way conversations around periodic results.

Leadership capability is essential

From a business owner and CEO’s perspective, the capability of your leaders and leadership team is essential to help ensure this can be successfully delivered.

Your leaders and managers need clear visibility and understanding of strategy, including a clearly articulated company purpose for employees to engage with and align to.  Leaders also need to be well equipped in terms of capability to manage their teams and help them connect to the strategy and company purpose.

They also need to be able to lead their teams in a manner that fosters an environment that is conducive to purpose being fulfilled.  This requires a complex set of capabilities that don’t always come naturally to all, and that often require honing and improving.

Investment in leadership development can form part of the solution to help engage your talent, drive performance and generate return on investment (ROI) for business owners.  To extend this further, the return on investment will be greatly magnified for those companies where strategy and purpose are clearly articulated, communicated and understood by the team.

To learn more about how an effective well-structured and run leadership development program can benefit your business, take a look at our Leadership Development Services page or download our Leadership Development Framework.

Alternatively, feel free to drop us an email, give us a call, or book a consultation with our MD.


This blog has been based on the article “Help your employees find purpose – or watch them leave” authored by Naina Dhingra, Andrew Samo, Bill Schaninger and Matt Schrimper of McKinsey & Company, April 5, 2021