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Time to invest in your org purpose? Read the signs.

Is your organization purpose framed on the walls of your sparsely populated office space? Or maybe it’s buried in your company’s articles of incorporation that no one reads? If so, you could be paying a price, because in the era of reckoning and reevaluation, org purpose has never been more important to employees.

Research bears this out: more than 80% of employees believe having meaning in their work has never been more critical. This doesn’t mean your company needs to set out to save the world. For many employees, it means their own work is aligned with and making impactful contributions to team and organizational success.

But here’s the issue: While more than 85% of companies say they have a stated purpose, less than 25% have put it to work within their organization. That’s a big gap. Leadership is ultimately the expression of purpose. Without clarity and consistency around purpose, employees are often rudderless and struggle to find meaning in their work. Clearly, there’s an opportunity for leaders to do more when it comes to purpose, whether creating one or activating the one they have.

As a leader, how do you know if you’ve done your job to define purpose and put it to work in your organization? Like a canary in a coal mine, the following organizational health challenges often reveal organizations and leaders that need to prioritize putting purpose to work. Are any of these familiar?

1. Confusion about priorities and resources

When purpose is done right, employees understand what they need to focus on, how their priorities support larger organizational goals, and why and how projects are supported with funding and people. If your employees express confusion about priorities or how budget and resources are being allocated, you may need to invest in aligning the organization to your purpose, values, strategy and objectives.

2. Fire drill culture

Are your employees struggling with “fire drills” on a regular basis? Do they say they feel exhausted, overwhelmed, stressed or frustrated? Unexpected work in tight timeframes can’t be eliminated in a landscape of uncertainty or hyper competition, but it can be minimized.

If fire drills are frequent, evaluate whether or not the new work supports your purpose and values, and if it does, make sure timelines do as well. And, crucially, understand why these activities weren’t anticipated in your planning efforts – maybe you need to re-examine how you cascade from purpose to strategy and goals so these activities move from fire drill to planned execution.

If the new work is determined to be critical and doesn’t align with your purpose, it’s time to reevaluate your “why” and make sure it still holds true.

3. Measuring activity instead of results, or not measuring at all

Measuring activity (e.g., the number of sales calls made) rather than outcomes (the number of sales meetings secured from those calls) can be a sign that employees are unclear about their organization’s purpose and how their work aligns. Objectives that are vague and not measurable is another sign.

If your workforce is more focused on activity than performance or results, or if they’re not measuring their work at all, you may need to reinvest in your org purpose. Communicate with employees to help them understand the purpose and map it to strategy, objectives and key results. Most important, make sure every employee understands how their work makes an impact, and help them measure the right things.

4. Declining employee engagement

Declining employee engagement is a complex and growing problem for employers: One third of employees are reporting decreasing engagement, according to a new survey by The Conference Board. Among those, nearly 40% say they left or plan to leave because they’re disappointed with their company, and 20% left or plan to leave because they have a better connection to another organization’s mission and purpose. Make sure your purpose is clear, employees are aligned to it, and that it’s front and center to everything you do.

5. High attrition and difficult recruiting

Last but not least, if you face the challenges above, you’re likely seeing too many good employees walk out the door, and too few recruits accept offers. Your work to tighten up your purpose, and tie it to your values, strategy, and objectives, could be long overdue. You’re competing for employees with many other companies, so make sure your value proposition addresses potential employees’ desire for purposeful work full of meaning and opportunity for impact.

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