The pandemic has re-shaped how we do business and rapidly made “business as usual” a phrase from the past. For years, we have been hearing and talking about the impending “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. This has not just impacted the world but has affected organisational priorities and purpose. Companies are doubling down on their purpose, at the very time stakeholders need it the most. Customer needs are changing and thereby shunning the products of companies whose values they view as contrary to their own. Majority of employees feel “disengaged” and are looking for companies that have a clear, unequivocal, and positive impact on the world. For many employees, the key motivator is a sense of purpose. What then is purpose? It generally means the reason for which something is done or created, the reason for its existence. In the world of work and for organisations, purpose is our usefulness and our contribution – the reason why what we are doing exists in the world.

Purpose is therefore critical for business sustainability and directly linked to people. People exist to drive the purpose of an organisation. When people can clearly see how their work contributes to others, they become better. When purpose is embedded into an organisation’s culture, it constantly reorients people to focus on contribution. With the rise of the pandemic, to give employees purpose, more organisations have resulted on total output as compared to having to work for a number of hours. Concentration has been shifted to a platform that will give employees work-life balance which has been a concern for more employees over the years. Furthermore, having a purpose alone is not enough as a motivator, leaders must create a culture that promotes purposefulness.

Interventions such as flexi-working, working from home, and working remotely have all become a norm for most organisations in providing work-life balance for their people. This has promoted goodwill and innovation. For instance, documents can be sent and approved electronically as compared to previously where managers would want to see the document before approving. Interestingly, employees and managers are discovering that prioritising outputs rather than inputs does not mean less is achieved. Employees are also juggling their work with their families and discovering the need to work on their organisational skills.

Most companies have witnessed a decline in their internal customer base with hundreds of employees walking out. Digital platforms and advanced analytics have become a powerful tool in addressing the challenges faced by these organisations. What is needed is a deep reflection on corporate identity, asking and answering the question on “how do you embrace the challenging trade-offs”, and uncomfortable truths. These truths if unaddressed are likely to perpetuate the purpose gaps and give rise to a rhetoric that is not accompanied by a credible action.

‘‘closing the gap between an inspiring idea of purpose and its transformative practice to drive employee engagement, motivation, and fulfilment has become the most important task of modern organisational leaders” “Organisations have a mandate to no longer exist solely to make profit but to be human centered first.’’

Despite all this, the potential is extraordinary for businesses to serve as a force for good. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives remain a powerful pedal. Most organisations are going above and beyond their CSR to give back to their society. In Absa, for instance, in the last year, our “force for good” space recorded many successes such as reaching out to over 35,000 students and youth on our ReadyToWork programme through both face to face and online media nationwide giving us 200% of what was targeted. Over 100 scholarships were awarded to students in the tertiary institutions, over 3000 start-up businesses and existing entrepreneurs were upskilled with business development support. 2000 Consumers received financial literacy training to mention a few. Contributing to society and creating meaningful work are top priorities for many employees. The opportunity for organisations to make indelible mark with human support, empathy, and purpose has become greater than it has ever been. Organisations are finding the need to measure their social and environmental impact, starting with a review of their supply-chain and supplier risks as the society now holds companies responsible for their entire business chain, beyond the corporate walls, including what their suppliers do. Senior leaders are now required to personally get involved with supplier issues.

The role of the leadership has shifted from just delegating and cruising in their office to inspiring creative thinking about what will make their team/organisation unique and linking that to their purpose. Helping and having a positive impact on the society has also become a key to sustained growth.

In conclusion, closing the gap between an inspiring idea of purpose and its transformative practice to drive employee engagement, motivation, and fulfilment has become the most important task of modern organisational leaders. People want to work in an environment that will give them significance and a sense of purpose. Customers/consumers also want to do business with organisations that have a clear purpose and significance that speaks to their needs. The list keeps going on to cover suppliers, shareholders, leaders, managers, the board of directors, and all other stakeholders. Organisations have a mandate to no longer exist solely to make profit but to be human centered first.

By: Sylvia Mbama



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