‘Purposeful’ work essential to attracting talent post-Covid


Having a ‘social purpose’ is going to become critical for attracting and retaining talent as organisations recover from the coronavirus crisis – and the actions of leadership will be firmly in the spotlight.

In addition to the key workers who have kept the UK safe and the economy moving during the crisis so far, business leaders will be on the frontline of the recovery going forwards, according to influential leaders who took part in a panel discussion on what “good work” should look like.

“It’s going to be business leaders who are on the frontline in terms of their decisions. There will be heroes, there will be villains, and the spotlight will be very firmly focused here,” said Charlie Mayfield, chairman of digital skills solution provider QA and former John Lewis Partnership chairman.

“My view is that social purpose is going to be of huge importance to many more people. [Work] is the place where people get on in life. It’s not just about money – people make money and achieve life goals through it.”

The panel discussion took place on the first day of the CIPD’s virtual Festival of Work this week.

Mayfield said the pandemic had forced leaders to think hard about their organisation’s overarching purpose and contribution to society, because they were less likely to be “consumed” by day-to-day operations and the forward plans they had made before.

“As a leader you’ve got to think about how you can develop yourself so that you can make some of these crucial decisions for the future,” he said.

The lockdown had given many employees time to consider their role, its purpose and whether the career they had chosen or the organisation they work for was sustainable.

Andy Briggs, CEO at insurance provider Phoenix Group, said business leaders should “stay close” to what their employees wanted and needed from work.

“The businesses that don’t seek to embrace and be leaders around sustainability – people won’t want to work for them,” he said. “[This] covers customer dimensions, sustainable investments, environment, contribution to the community. Covid-19 has been a horrific time for the world.

At the end of the year, do you judge the performance of your teams and your business based on the financials, or do you judge it on the customer experience, colleague engagement or on the contribution to sustainability?” – Andy Briggs, The Phoenix Group

“As leaders, really staying close to our colleagues and understanding what’s important [is vital] – one size won’t fit all and different things work for different people.”

Briggs said there would be a shift in the way success was measured, with employees and job candidates likely to judge a business based on its contribution to society, the environment or the satisfaction of their people, rather than its profitability.

“Ultimately it does come down to leaders having that core belief that sustainable businesses, that diverse and inclusive businesses, will be better businesses… at the end of the year, do you judge the performance of your teams and your business based on the financials, or do you judge it on the customer experience, colleague engagement or on the contribution to sustainability?”

He advised organisations to “give colleagues a much greater voice about where you should be going and what you should be doing” as they are “much more in touch with this than a lot of leaders are”.

HR’s role

Handing more power to employees to consider what is important should also apply to HR, said Dame Helena Morrissey, founder of The 30% Club, which campaigns for gender-balanced boards.

“I’ve often thought that there are brilliant people in HR but often they’re not empowered enough. They’re constrained by the ways companies have set [their role] up, so that it often becomes more of a function rather than a real position to develop their talent,” she said.

“No one has all the answers and instead you need a network of leaders in a business [who] lead from the bottom, the middle or from side-to-side. You don’t have to [adopt] command and control from the top.

“I would love to see businesses recognise that we’ve only managed to come as far as we have in this crisis because people have been empowered and have been given the opportunity to come up with the answers themselves. They need to continue including the people departments because that’s where there is so much that could be done better if people were allowed to get on with what they felt was important.”

This sentiment was echoed by the results of an HR managers survey by HR software solution Personio: 71% believe HR has added strategic value to their organisation during the pandemic, and 80% say it’s important for HR to maintain this more strategic role post-outbreak.

However, many of the 500 HR managers polled lacked the tools they needed to maintain this strategic position, with 48% stating they do not have all the HR tools and systems to be as effective as possible and 71% admitting they struggle to access data or analytics.

Developing purposeful work will also require leaders from different organisations and sectors to come together to shape what “good” looks like. This would require some real “heroics”, said Morrissey.

I’ve often thought that there are brilliant people in HR but often they’re not empowered enough,” – Dame Helena Morrissey, The 30% Club

She highlighted the results of an Edelman Trust survey that found business leaders were among the least trusted groups during the earlier stages of the pandemic, while groups such as the media and the government saw trust levels soar.

“Businesses need to play a much more visible role; they need to come out of the woodwork a bit and go beyond their own sector, and show that the responsible side to business is meaningful,” she said.

“We need to build on the community spirit that we have seen very nicely during the coronavirus lockdown; localism, support for key workers.”

She said this would be “much bigger than just ticking a box to show how many days’ volunteering they’re doing”.

“It’s actually seen as core to the next phase of the business and attracting the young people who want to work for firms who are responsible, and for their customers who want to see real evidence of that.

“I would encourage all CEOs to think about what could be their coronavirus legacy – what is the thing they’re doing differently than before and commit to doing that for the indefinite time ahead,” said Morrissey.

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