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Dear Chief Talent Officer/HR Head,

The Holy Grail for modern businesses isn’t priced advantage or monopoly anymore. It is the engaged employee. Probably why you need to constantly unravel how to improve employee engagement of your organization.

stats on highly engaged organization

How can having a purpose improve employee engagement?

Most of us are familiar with the standard HR theories and recruiter case studies, so we thought we’d try a different angle this time. How about looking at employee engagement from an outsider’s lens – someone not connected with the industry or space. Motivational speaker and author Simon Sinek’s works and talks provided plenty of grist.

Simon’s runaway best-seller START WITH WHY tries to deal with the issue in its own way and lands some powerful learnings.

According to Sinek, successful people and organizations share something common between them: The manner in which they approach their work. This manner or technique, Sinek says, is the exact opposite of how the majority of us go about our life.

In his TED talk, Simon draws three concentric circles, calls the structure the ‘Golden Circle’, and then writes WHY, HOW, and WHAT starting from the innermost circle out. This is, WHY in the center, and WHAT in the outermost ring.

Simon says that most people in most organizations start from the outermost ring.

This majority of organizations know WHAT they are doing – such as testing a code or ticking off sales targets – perfectly well. Some (not too many) out of them also know HOW they are doing it, in other words, what their differentiated value proposition or USP is.

However, very few people in an organization know WHY they do what they do.

Simon is quick to distinguish that WHY from the normal ‘Why’ that we tend to reel off in our PPT presentations, such as profits and growth (from organizational POV) or salaries and bonuses (from the employee POV).

Sinek’s WHY is, simply put, PURPOSE.

The purpose is the big reason any organization or team exists. It is, interestingly, also why the world cares – or doesn’t care - about the team’s work.

A PWC research shows how a defined organizational purpose made their people more motivated and passionate about work.

companies with defined purpose have

Inspired leaders and organizations take the route that starts from purpose outwards. They always start with the WHY. Apple, for example, will not say that they make great computers like some other manufacturer as Hewlett-Packard might.

Apple will tell you that what they really do is ‘Think Different’ – that nothing makes them happier than making technology simple and joyous to experience. They just happen to make computers which, as a result of the nature of their WHY, automatically translates into awesomeness.

And that is what actually excites a customer, who is frankly tired of the WHATs and the HOWs given that all brands roughly sport the same core technology, give or take some customizations.

The Golden Circle is compared with the human brain which displays a similar concentric ring-like structure when its cross-section is viewed from the top.

While the outermost circle (the WHAT) corresponds with the rational side of our personality, the innermost circle (the WHY) matches our emotional side. The part that controls feelings. The part we are usually hard put to explain rationally, but are most likely to follow when it comes to making decisions that really matter to us.

Apple’s customers, for instance, often find it difficult to explain their obsession with the brand to someone who isn’t an Apple loyal. They are happy to simply mumble, “Oh I don’t know, it just felt right.” There’s no greater example of successful passion transfer than that. Apple has been able to make people buy into their ‘belief’. The moment that happens, buying into the product turns into a formality.

The organizational context of purpose

To understand the purpose from the organizational perspective, let’s place the leadership or founder in the role of the computer maker, and let’s make the employee the customer. The former must start with the WHY or the purpose. Remember the goal is to sell people what you believe – not your product (the latter in this case being the company). The goal is not to hire people who are looking for a salary, but who raises a thumbs-up sign when you are reading out your vision statement.

Of course, the assumption here is that the leadership has a strong conviction in its big business objective to start with. After all, it’s only when you believe in something, will you be able to attract a worker who believes in the same thing.

When a ‘motivated employee’ does happen, it’ll be easy to spot him or her. When a worker works from the heart – and not just for the paycheck – they achieve better productivity and display organizational citizenship behavior.

As for the company,  it will have finally laid its hands on the holy grail of the business world: The engaged employee. It is important for organizations to understand that this engaged worker isn’t doing all this for the leader or founder, even if their purposes match. The evolutionary history of prioritizing self-preservation has made living beings self-servient at a visceral level.

At the end of the day, an engaged employee is engaged for one simple reason: Because their sense of who they are, and what they stand for, has finally found a vent.

They are now convinced that they will now go on to make great products and services in collusion with the leadership as a synergized outfit is merely a corollary.  So while building a culture of trust & positivity, ensuring work-life balance and syncing roles with talent all play critical roles in their own way. The key step to engagement at the workplace - as we can see - is to make people FEEL, not just analyzeyour grand journey.

Unlock the Biggest Secret of Engagement to Retain your Top Performers.
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Suhas Gujarati

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Suhas Gujarathi is a SaaS sales specialist and contributor from Irvine, California