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Best Companies Live: How to effectively lead with purpose

If you want to create a workplace where employees feel inspired to excel, and in an organisation that gives back to the world around it, then you need to lead with purpose. This means creating a culture where staff feel connected to the company's mission and values, giving them a sense of meaning in their work, and helping your people see how they are making a difference in the world.

Our data shows that when people are inspired by their work they are more likely to be engaged and productive, and will favour staying with the company for the long term.  

Our Best Companies Live events are an opportunity for valued members of our community to come together and discuss how they are making the world a better workplace. Our event for Q3 was hosted by Dan Walker and the first panel discussion of the day was Leading with purpose.

This article contains highlights for this insight session, to watch the session in full, please watch the video below.

Our Red Chair panellists: Carol Urey - CEO of High Speed Training, Nigel Harrison – CEO of Yorkshire Sport Foundation, Laura Cordingley - COO of Brabners LLP, and Henry Engelhardt – CEO Emeritus of Admiral Group Plc shared their insights on how to create a culture of purpose within an organisation, how to measure the impact, and how to build a sustainable business that makes a difference.

To measure if our Best Companies community felt they were being led with purpose, we posed statements from our b-Heard employee engagement survey to our Red Chair panellists, Alumni guests, and studio and virtual audiences in the form of a vote. These would be compared to the bottom scoring 50% of organisations who use our survey. On the subject of Leadership, we posed: The Leader has a plan that I believe in., Senior managers truly live the values of this organisation., and I am excited about where this organisation is going. For Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which we refer to as Giving Something Back, we posed: My organisation makes a positive difference to the world we live in., and This organisation has a strong social conscience.

Discussion 1: The importance of effective leadership

Leadership has always been one of the major driving factors of engagement. With the current cost-of-living crisis, this is more important than ever, as employees are looking to their leaders and the company to help them through this challenging time. For our first part of the session, the Red Chair panel guests discussed the initiatives and values the leaders in their organisations are practising every day to ensure they are leading with purpose.

Have an achievable plan for your people and communicate it

Having a plan people believe in can be anything from commercial projections to initiatives of inclusion or team expansions. It is important that staff feel included and have bought into what their leaders are proposing for themselves and the business. Nigel Harrison - CEO of Yorkshire Sport Foundation told us how he identified the plan he wanted to incorporate into the charity to create a stronger more inclusive future for all.

“I went on a course where I listened to people from diverse communities. We as an organisation had not been paying enough attention to that - we were a bit blasé. We got the whole team together and did the best thing any company can do… we talked. We talked about what it actually felt like to work for the company and why we were not as diverse as we should have been as a team... Communication got us to where we needed to be and gave us the understanding as an organisation that we’re now a great team that’s come on leaps and bounds.”

Communication is essential for a world-class leader and an engaged workforce. Nigel acknowledged that even though it was his plan to incorporate these changes, he valued his people’s input to ensure it was implemented in the right way.

Have values and live by them

We are all too familiar with the phrase, ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Thankfully, we are moving towards a world where a company’s values are not just enforced by its leaders, they are lived by them. Leading by example is a strong driver of engagement simply because people want to be led and inspired, not micro-managed and told what to do without knowing the reasons behind why they are doing it.

Henry Engelhardt - CEO Emeritus of Admiral Group Plc founded the company 30 years ago with one of the values of ‘I want to eat breakfast and dinner with my family every day’. Regarding truly living the values of the organisation, Henry ensured this through an early adoption of the work-life balance.

“I remember when we started the company, we were writing the business plan and I said, ‘I want to have a successful career and I want to have a successful family life.’ And that extends out because I don’t believe you can be successful with management by hypocrisy… If that’s something that I hold on to, I must pass it on to the entire company. This became one of the pillars of Admiral… Another thing we are immensely proud of is there are no offices at Admiral, walls are barriers, we want to stop divides and the idea that some are superior to others.”

Carol Urey - CEO of High Speed Training (HST) explained that she joined the company for its values, and since she has held this position, she has continued to encourage this value-led approach to communication and inclusion. “I think what’s quite interesting about HST is that the values were put in place by our employees. So, we ran several workshops and various staff were given the opportunity to contribute to them. What that then enabled was a very invested team that worked from the heart. You can really tell that people live and breathe these values in the business.”

These lead-by-example approaches to work help drive employee engagement and dismantle the traditional hierarchies in business. Yes, you need a structure with an organisation and defined roles, but including all employees in the organisation’s vision, comms, strategies, and future ensures teams are driven by a common goal and there’s an appreciation from top to bottom for collective and individual efforts.

Sell the organisation’s vision and culture to your employees

Businesses can’t live in the future as much as they can’t live in the past. Leaders who include their people in the company vision help inform these strategies and drive engagement scores up. Laura Cordingley - COO of Brabners LLP discussed the company’s three-year strategy and how the leadership team looked to implement their ‘Stay Interviews’ to understand and inform their company’s engagement and vision.

“The [three-year] strategy was created around our people, values, and purpose. When you work in Brabners, you feel something… it just feels special. What we wanted to do was try and understand what we were feeling when we were engaging with people. We decided there is no such thing as too much two-way feedback, so we wanted to speak to people and find out what it is that makes us special. Why do people stay? The data told us what we already knew… people like it here because it’s the people that make the firm. That’s what it’s about, we hold our culture very close.”

Carol also added, “As a new person coming in, it’s really important. We have lots of initiatives around the business. We recently had our new North Star where we wanted to get everyone universally behind a common goal. The way in which we’ve done this is to collaborate with all our teams; we run lots of workshops, listening groups, and hold interviews with our staff. That really helps with the engagement and gets them behind what we’re trying to achieve”.

As Laura and Carol explained, speaking to your staff and getting everyone involved and behind your vision helps drive that vision forward. Employees who are excited about the direction of the business will be more engaged to be a catalyst in that drive.

Leadership: Jonathan's word

At the end of the Leadership discussion, Jonathan Austin provided an insight into the factor.

“The key point that we’ve heard from our panel is having values in place that your company can live by, so you can then deliver a plan that people have fed into. Most often, these plans aren’t communicated enough. The evidence suggests that pre-pandemic, people needed to hear things seven times before they believed it. Now, it is 12 times before people believe what they hear. So, we must make sure that our messages are clear and consistent because that’s when people can get excited.”

Discussion 2: Why organisations need to give something back

This is the other significant factor of leading with purpose. Giving Something Back refers to organisation’s corporate social responsibility (CSR); how and why it focuses on sustainability, its environmental impact, and having a strong social conscience. Companies can often trivialise these areas, especially when times are tough – however, our data confirms that this is especially important to employees and shouldn’t be ignored or just given lip service. Those organisations that focus on giving back to the local and wider community, keep driving the environment agenda and look to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds will benefit from higher levels of engagement with their colleagues and this will no doubt drive productivity and profitability.

Make a difference in your world

People feel proud when their organisation is making positive impacts on their world, whether it’s through local charities or global climate actions. Carol Urey discussed HST’s ‘Force for Good’ agenda and how it is making a positive impact on the planet and on employee engagement.

“It’s something that’s really fundamental to our employees. It aligns with all our commercial goals, and everyone is really engaged with the agenda. This year, we also upped our volunteering days from two to five so that everyone within the company can get involved in community projects that are really close to their heart.”

Laura Cordingley supported this by talking about one of Brabners’ brand pillars, ‘Sustainability’. “When creating the strategy, we looked at what we want to drive and what’s important… The beauty of the brand pillars is that they’re led by our colleagues. It’s not a senior leadership team sitting in an ivory tower creating initiatives. We have a group that’s looked at things such as Kingsdale Head Farm, which is a peatland restoration project. We’ve donated money to the cause and also have volunteers help with it.”

Identifying and committing to climate and social causes is necessary for world-class workplaces. Employees engage with a business that sees the planet as something they can help improve, not just use for profit. As well as having pride in their organisation for giving something back, many people enjoy getting involved themselves.

Have a strong and visible social conscience

Having a strong social conscience means being aware and mindful of the world around you and facilitating change in the best ways your company can. Nigel Harrison discussed Yorkshire Sport’s ‘Climate Crew’.

“Similar to our diversity and inclusion policy, we realised we could and should be doing more. We set up a small, passionate, and knowledgeable group within the company to tackle this agenda. We looked at our practices and asked if we really needed to do things those ways. We used to buy 3,000+ t-shirts for all our staff and volunteers and this was something we could cut back, so we have. They’re [the Climate Crew] all about shining a light on the areas that can be improved upon.

Expanding on this, Henry Engelhardt discussed Admiral’s diverse approach to giving something back and the importance the company has for its people and the local community.

“When Covid hit and people were in lockdown, it was an awfully good time to be a car insurance company, but we were the only company who wanted to actually give back. We returned £ 110 million back to our drivers because they weren’t driving – that’s part of caring for your community.”

“We also sponsor a sports camp for disabled children. We offer out our staff who can have a free day off to work there but many people take their own time off, so they volunteer there for the whole week… In fact, we have almost as many volunteers as there are kids because they [employees] get so much value from helping these kids for the whole week.”

Leaders who cast the company’s mind across initiatives that help their people, the community, and their customers drive engagement up, retain business and staff, and set themselves up to be a great place to work.

Giving something back: Jonathan's word

At the end of the Giving Something Back discussion, Jonathan Austin returned to the main stage to provide this on the Giving Something Back factor.

“We’ve all heard the story of the janitor at Cape Canaveral. The President who was visiting before the Apollo 11 launch asked the janitor what he did there, and he replied, ‘I help put man on the moon’. This is why Leadership is so important to Giving Something Back.”

Leadership connects an organisation, and drives its people towards their goals. Organisations that achieve this will score higher in employee engagement. People feel proud of their job when they, their colleagues, and leaders are working towards common goals and helping make a difference to the world.

What next?

As our panellists discussed, ensuring that leaders can effectively lead with purpose is vital to employee engagement. It shows staff that their leaders have a strong and positive vision for them and the company. Additionally, companies that make a positive impact on the world around them and have a strong social conscience show their employees that the company has more interests than simply making profit. This makes a company a more appealing and fulfilling place to work.

Leadership and Giving Something Back are just two of the factors that drive employee engagement, and it is important to recognise that focusing on just two factors alone is not enough to create a World Class workplace.

To find out more about how you can equip your leaders with the insights to become World Class, visit our b-Heard employee engagement survey page and start your engagement journey.

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