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JOHANNESBURG -  There are excellent studies available, such as Investors in People (IIP), and Deloitte’s Best Company Survey, that endorse companies as worthy employers. 

IIP has used masses of data to establish a standard for people management against which companies can assess themselves to identify the strengths that they can leverage and the shortcomings that need to be addressed. Deloitte’s Best Company Survey audits how a company measures up against best people management standards and does so with due diligence. 

Both of these, and other studies like them, are just lag measures though; they are endorsements, certainly, but participating in them is not what makes a company a great place to work, beyond a demonstration of intent. 

Certainly, a well-considered Employee Value Proposition (EVP) helps a lot, but only if it is more than wordplay – only if it is intentionally activated. 

Shared purpose is what actually makes a company a great place to work for though. 

You can measure how healthy (or not) a company’s culture is by making use of culture surveys such as those offered by the Barrett’s Values Centre; or you can determine how engaged (or not) employees are by way of an employee engagement survey. Doing so is a good idea, given that if things aren’t measured, they aren’t managed. But even though these will highlight strengths and areas needing attention, they are still lag measures. 

Engagement is about shared purpose, and when you walk into a company where this exists it is immediately obvious – you can feel it in the air, you can see it in the faces, you can hear it buzzing. 

Having shared purpose starts with knowing what you are promising externally, while internally ensuring that you have the capability and capacity to deliver on that promise, as well as the will to do so. That will is purpose. 

Having just the capability and capacity is not enough – we all experience it, everyday: a potentially great product serviced so lethargically that the whole experience is frustrating. 

As author and adventurer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry put it: If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. 

Well, that is taking a bit of poetic licence – nothing wrong with having the right material or with delegation, but without purpose it’s pointless. 

How do we get shared purpose then?

Identify what needs doing to deliver on your promise, your why, the reason you are in business beyond making money – that’s your purpose. Have a measurable vision that captures the imagination. Identify the values that will deliver that purpose and make them measurable by identifying the behaviours that will entrench those values. Develop leadership at every level to set a behavioural example and coach those behaviours. 

If you do all that, you will have a company that can justifiably claim to be a top employer. Your scores on engagement will be high, your entropy will be low; your productivity will be high, injuries will be low; and you will enjoy being at work, and so will those whom you lead, purposefully. 

Johnny Johnson is a brand and communications strategist at TowerStone Leadership Centre, whose vision focuses on empowering leaders to build a values-driven culture for sustainable success. His role is to define their clients’ brand promise and find ways of helping leaders engage with employees in such a way that they are committed brand ambassadors.

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