How purpose can guide your company

Arjen Swank

Purpose is becoming increasingly important to companies. Companies with a clear purpose not only appeal to more customers, they also find it easier to attract new talent, inspire shareholders and make their employees happier. Sounds good, but what exactly is purpose? How do you create company purpose? And how do you use purpose — both during and after the coronavirus crisis — to guide your organization? Agnes Schrijver, HR director at de Volksbank in the Netherlands, explains.

How purpose can guide your company

What are purpose driven companies

More and more companies are becoming committed to purpose: an inspiring ‘higher goal.’ For de Volksbank, this means ‘banking with a human touch’ — for its employees, customers, shareholders and society. Purpose driven companies are now more important than ever — in uncertain times people search for meaning and connection. Company purpose provides direction and common ground. It serves as a guide; now, but also once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Company purpose needs genuine attention

Banking with a human touch is a process, that needs to be assessed constantly: To what extent are we achieving our purpose for the various target groups? To measure this, we created a KPI for each target group. For employees, this is ‘genuine attention’ and is extremely important, as without giving genuine attention to the employees, they will not be engaged or enthusiastic and, in turn, they will not provide engaged and enthusiastic service. We measure this KPI at de Volksbank twice a year, for example, by carrying out an employee engagement survey.

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Continuous feedback

Company purpose requires constant attention and continuous feedback — one of the most important ways to keep learning and improving. What is it going well, what could be improved and what does the employee, customer, shareholder or society need from the organization at this moment? That is why de Volksbank decided to conduct an employee satisfaction survey in the middle of the crisis period. A bold, but extremely valuable decision, as it revealed that our employees feel an above average level of satisfaction during this crisis period. And the reason for this? Extra focus on genuine attention.

A sympathetic ear to back up your company purpose

At this time in particular, our managers are paying greater attention to their employees. They call them a little more often, ask them how they’re really doing, listen to their problems and organize online drinks. This makes employees feel heard and understood. A comment from the employee satisfaction survey said: ‘Yes, I’m struggling with my work-life balance and yes I miss my colleagues, but I feel that my manager listens to what I have to say and is looking out for me, and that makes it okay.’

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Your company purpose must be in your leadership DNA

Managers are therefore essential if you are to execute your company purpose properly. That is why we recently held intensive discussions with a number of managers at de Volksbank. We wanted to find out how we could achieve banking with a human touch and how we could make a real difference. Based on the results, we created the ‘Leadership DNA’ strategy, which consists of four main components: experiences, skills, values and personality. We hope this will enable us to develop and attract managers who will make a real difference. Managers who will add a human touch to banking and serve the company purpose.

Attracting talent

De Volksbank does not attract this type of manager by offering high salaries and bonuses. In line with our company purpose, the salaries we offer conform to the industry benchmark we do not pay any bonuses. Nevertheless, we continue to attract outstanding talent. Why? Because we do so on the basis of our company purpose. We attract talented people who want to contribute to it. And those are exactly the kind of people we are looking for. Talented people who are more interested in the ‘higher purpose’ than a higher salary.

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