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Best Companies, Leading with Purpose session at Best Companies Live Q2 2022 event
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Leading with Purpose: Can a values-based approach boost engagement?

How important to engaging employees is knowing that what they do each day makes a difference to the word we live in? That’s the question we asked at Best Companies Live in May 2022, when we spoke to leaders whose organisations exist for a purpose beyond that of simply making money.

In the following article, we share the best bits of the conversation, where our panellists discussed the importance of values and principles in business – and the impact this has on the way employees think and feel about their work. If you would prefer to watch the full session, please click the video above.

When it comes to successful leadership, how important is a values-based approach? According to Best Companies’ research, an organisation with a clear purpose, values, and principles, that understands its overall ambition and how it wants to make a difference in the world are most likely to have colleagues that are highly engaged – a result that is both better for the workplace and better for business.

Looking at the most recent data, the total number of companies that surveyed in the January – March 2022 window saw a total 74% of respondents agree that their organisation is run on strong values/principles. 19% neither agreed nor disagreed, and 8% disagreed. When it came to those asked whether the leader themselves runs the organisation on sound moral principles, some 58% of the respondents agreed, with 34% neither agreeing nor disagreeing, and 8% disagreeing.

So, if purpose-led leadership can impact employee engagement – and business – in a significant way, how do you go about getting your employees on board and really buying into the ‘why’ your organisation exists, as opposed to just ‘what’ it does?

“The key is bringing people along with you”

For Sophie Costello, co-founder and CEO of Costello Medical, the clear vision and values that she set out when starting the business 20 years ago have been a guiding set of principles throughout the company’s journey. She explained that bringing her employees on board with the core values, and working in line with them, has contributed to the firm’s success.

"When I founded the company, I had a clear vision of what I wanted it to achieve,” she explained. “I would say that those values that we set out at the beginning have remained – they have evolved – but they remain. I’ve always been very clear about our purpose of the company and that purpose has grown as we’ve got bigger.”

She continued: “The real key is bringing people along with you to help them understand what the purpose and vision is and understand their place in that. We want them to know that our company is driven by everyone in it – regardless of whether they’ve been with us 12 years or 12 days or what department they’re in.”

“Our values are very precious to me”

Also founding his organisation on a set of core values, Dr Brian McConnell, CEO of engineering, energy, and sustainability consultancy, Hydrock, believes that this helps engender a ‘one team’ approach within the firm, where all employees collectively work towards the purpose of being a ‘force for good’.

“I set the company up 26 years ago and wrote 10 values I wanted it to live by,”
he explained.

“Last year someone challenged whether they were right for this century. The values are very precious to me, and I knew I wanted to look after them – but we sat down and reviewed them. In fact, we only ended up tweaking them very slightly, so they are largely the same as when we set them up and I’m very pleased about that. We want people to buy into them and that’s the most important thing.”

“Connecting with as many people as possible”

Getting employee buy-in to an organisation’s purpose is fundamental to them being engaged in their daily work, according to Vicky Davies, CEO of Danske Bank.

She explained that if you communicate your purpose and values well, and take the time to explain, listen and discuss them, then you’re much more likely to have a workforce that truly believes in them.

“I went out and about on the road, talking about our purpose and connecting with as many people as possible and really listening to what we could do better” she explained. “I am convinced that listening to colleagues is the secret to success, as well as bringing your purpose to the fore and making change – that makes such a difference.”

“We have to aspire to living our truth”

For Simon Grosse, CEO and co-founder of digital transformation specialist, FSP, being mindful of the wider world and staying relevant to the issues within it are key to becoming better as a leader.

“When you think of the wider set of social and environmental issues that we’re all thinking about every day, we have to ask ourselves just how we contribute to those issues, as well as delivering our work day-to-day,” he explained.

Grosse explained that not only believing in a set of values, but living them, is the key to ensuring that they remain firmly part of an organisation’s culture.

“As leaders, we have to aspire to living our truth and attract people that are going to resonate with the company’s ethos and values,” he explained. “The truer you are to that, as well as living the core values, keeping close to the evolution of culture, and staying relevant to what’s happening in the wider world is very important.”

To enjoy this session in full, see the full recording here.

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