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GLOBAL 2016: Purpose is critical across all categories for attracting young talented employees

Purpose-driven employees help activate the brand

by Emily Smith
Brand Director
Added Value
Most brand owners recognize that each individual in their organization plays a role in bringing their brand to life. They’re aware that employees impact how the brand is perceived across a range of touch points, and that employee involvement can help transform a product or service into a useful and meaningful brand that has an active role in people’s lives.
To truly achieve best-in-class employee contribution, businesses need to capture their employees’ hearts and minds, by building their understanding and passion for the brand until employees become advocates capable of inspiring others.
It sounds simple, but of course it’s incredibly difficult in practice. Budgets, priorities, location, category, changing trends (including shifting generational attitudes about work) all combine to make it a challenge to recruit and retain the right talent to achieve brand and business goals.
In particular, many businesses and brands worry that their brand isn’t sexy enough, their category isn’t relevant enough, or their business isn’t sustainable enough to attract talent, and in particular, younger workers.
While it’s true that, on paper, working in oil and gas or banking isn’t as attractive as some other categories, there is a way to inspire people about your business. It’s not going to be the category or product/service that’ll attract people to you, but your purpose and how you strive to materialize that purpose in the world. Every brand or business can develop a clear purpose, which provides a clear reason to exist beyond the category, a galvanizing idea that drives the whole business forwards, and a role in society that people can genuinely get excited about. Purpose can motivate young people to consider a job offer; the right purpose will inspire them to accept it.

Standing for something
Plenty has been written about the Gen Y / millennial generation. Millennial beliefs have influenced how we all feel about the world. Millennials see jobs as experiences to enjoy before moving on and trying something new, they see technology as a way to facilitate a more flexible and balanced life, and they don’t really care about brands.
But they care deeply about ideals, about making a difference, and being part of a cause or pushing for change. The brands they buy into are more likely to have a purpose that gives them more than the simple product or service. It gives them the chance to become an activist (Patagonia – protecting the environment, Lush – fighting against animal testing and for human rights), be part of a movement (Starbucks – rebuilding local community, Airbnb – creating a global network of belonging), or join a tribe (Nike – collective activity).
The businesses that started with, or have created a motivating brand purpose and use it to authentically activate the brand, are going to find it easier to encourage these young people to join their business. But purpose is not just a tool for brands like Airbnb and Patagonia. It’s just as relevant, perhaps even more so, for businesses like banks, oil companies and soft drink brands. While the brand today may not be perceived as fitting neatly with people’s social and political beliefs, there’s an opportunity to enlist people with a vision of a new future, which could excite them. Like many banks, Barclays was negatively perceived when it looked internally to build their purpose from within at a grassroots level. Barclays developed initiatives such as “Digital Eagles,” in which the bank trained its employees to be digitally competent and then deployed them as “Digital Eagles” to help people in communities served by Barclays become more digitally literate.

Making it count
The magic in standing for something is only really released when you capture it within your business culture and strengthen it so it becomes seamless through to an external reality. Businesses and brands in any category can use this as a hook to engage prospective, new and current employees. People will be looking for evidence that the company walks the walk, not just talks the talk. For example, telecom provider O2’s purpose is to enable customers to use technology in order to access amazing experiences. To engage employees in this initiative, the brand launched it at The O2 Arena, and 7,000 O2 employees attended.
Likewise, the Starbucks barista personifies the brand and is its ultimate “touch point.” The baristas live out the brand purpose. To a great degree, Starbucks empowers its people to take local initiative and represent the brand, instead of controlling the local experience from headquarters. The employees are often the ones driving the activation of the brand in the most relevant way.
It requires a change in how businesses behave, and more importantly how they engage with others. People expect transparency – they want to know who you are and what you’re trying to achieve, and why it benefits their world. They want to know what you believe, and not just what products you make. And they want to be a part of that higher purpose.

Action Points for recruiting talented people

1.Be your imperfect self.
 Share what you’re trying to achieve with your business or brand, and what you believe, even if you’re not there yet. Be transparent about why you exist. For example, automotive brands don’t just make cars; they are on a quest to increase societal mobility.
2.Involve others.
People want to contribute and will have plenty of ideas about how to make the purpose a reality. Enlist the help of younger workers to generate new ideas, and give them a chance to implement changes, which will empower them to become advocates.
3.Flex and adapt.
People want to work differently than in the past, with careers becoming a range of experiences and not a linear journey. Use this to your advantage by creating project-based roles for young enthusiasts to come in and tackle a specific challenge, and use their ideas to shape the future. Contract with people on deliverables not set working hours, to allow freedom to work in their own way.