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Liz Olsen


Senior Director, Strategy

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Social purpose on the inside: engaging employees in trying times

Three ways to create purposeful employee engagement in difficult times.

Successful branding in today’s world of uncertainty means defining and acting on purpose like never before. Purpose becomes truly useful when it drives both strategic decision-making and direct engagement with people and society.  

Developing employee experience is good for people and for business, and ever more important amidst challenging times.    

So, what does this mean ‘on the inside’, for engaging employees? Top brands increasingly want to engage and inspire employees as much as customers. It’s widely acknowledged that a strong, relevant organisational culture is good for business, supporting people and teams that are happier, more productive and innovative, and who can become powerful advocates for the brand.  

In difficult economic and social times, purpose-led engagement is all the more important as brands must draw increasing parallels between business and the wider world.  

Getting started: employee experience  

Understanding the day-to-day journey that employees take with your organisation is a first step. Employee experience maps consist of touchpoints along an overall journey, defining interactions, their channels and associated behaviours. They help define priority moments to engage employee groups – both current successes to build on, and challenge points to redesign.  

How can brands create purposeful employee engagement?    

1) Build an internal community, and listen! Reflect our social world in your organisation.  

Find out what matters to your employees, at work and more broadly. Learn what people are passionate about as it relates to your organisation’s purpose and values, both inside and outside the firm – being useful today means being open to diverse conversations.                                                    

Crowdsource digitally. Develop a platform for ongoing conversation, with functionality like allowing people to vote and comment, publicly or privately.  

It’s an important investment to keep the community running over time. This may seem obvious, but it’s common that ongoing usefulness is forgotten after the development project finishes.  

Before it was front-page news, Zoom was already best in class for creating a community towards purposeful engagement. The company’s mission, ‘delivering happiness’, is lived internally too, with its Happy Crew social committee planning regular events, celebrations and outreach activities. A monthly all-hands call is designed around anonymously submitted employee questions. Many topics result in tangible actions taken immediately by leadership, demonstrating that the community is heard.   

2) Create meaningful initiatives with employees at the centre. Take small, measurable steps.  

Actively use your learnings, evolving what’s already happening as well as developing from the ground up.  

Be content-driven. Today, purposeful initiatives are likely to prioritise employee health and wellness. The uptick in attention to physical, mental and emotional wellness will be lasting, from ongoing focus on the pandemic to broader wellbeing. Efforts to support the wider public are also likely to remain important to your people.  

Report back to employees on what the organisation is doing and why, as well as taking part in the conversation within your business community. Above all, adapt what you do around what matters to your people.  

For example, AbbVie needed to develop company culture after becoming a standalone company in 2013 – culture was one of its top-four business priorities. Via town hall events and cross-functional workshops, employees developed the action-oriented, five tenets of the ‘AbbVie Way.’  

A leadership toolkit makes active engagement easy, and all employees are accountable for culture. Engagement scores consistently increased over AbbVie’s first years as a company and remain above benchmarks.   

When it comes to health and wellness, Patagonia is best in class, having long been known for purpose-driven operations: sustainability, doing no harm and finding new ways to do business. This extends to employee wellbeing, with office locations chosen around outdoor sport options and recreation during the workday supported. The company recruits candidates who demonstrate its values and measures the impact of all engagement efforts.   

3) Make advocacy simple. Be clear about goals and provide the tools.  

Engaged employees are some of your organisation’s best advocates – trusted more than company leadership. Employees are a powerful link to outside audiences, but this can only happen after building an authentic community, listening and reacting to engender trust and interaction.  

Lead with content that’s easily shareable and provide practical guidance. Consider gamification or offering incentives via one of many platform options.  

By way of illustration, Dell provides a great example of a long commitment to progressive social media use. The company created a centralised employee advocacy programme that not only provides users with easy-to-share options but also provides guidance on creating their own related content.  

At Bristol Myers Squibb, the corporate affairs team runs quarterly sessions on best-practice advocacy and the evolving ins-and-outs of the social media world. Employees are encouraged to share, and an advocacy tool offers content with options for personalisation (e.g. a user-generated photo) approved on the platform itself.  

Impactful employee engagement today means being purpose-driven and useful to employees. Developing employee experience is good for people and for business, and ever more important amidst challenging times.    

Interested in this topic? Read Employee experience: the power of intrinsic human motivation at work.

Author Profile Picture
Liz Olsen

Senior Director, Strategy

Read more from Liz Olsen
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