Why do you want to work for us?
By Alistair Cox, Chief Executive, Hays plc

I recently read that 67% of 6-9-year olds say that saving the planet will be the ‘central mission of their careers’ in the future. That stat struck me as fascinating, but not all together surprising. I think we’d all agree, that for all of us, regardless of our age, the reasons behind the career choices we make are becoming more deeply rooted in social purpose and the world around us.

Whether it be helping to save the planet, working to improve communities, playing our part in enabling people to reach their full potential, or simply improving the lives of customers, we are all motivated by something much bigger than ourselves.

Ultimately, what all of us human beings are looking for is a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to contribute. And a big part of that sense of purpose is found in the work we do.

Why we need to find purpose in the work we do

No longer do we go to work simply to pay the bills; we go to work for so much more – to feel that we are making a difference. So much so, that, according to a survey by LinkedIn, 52% of candidates say they wouldn’t accept a job offer if they didn’t know or didn’t agree with a company’s mission, values or purpose.

But what has spurred this change on? The simple answer: The world around us. We live in an age of rapid technological change, societal and environmental movements, increased life expectancy, and changing expectations. There is a lot in the world that is great, but there is also a lot that needs to be fixed. Increasingly, more and more of us feel compelled to help fix the parts that we feel are broken.

This naturally makes us think differently about the lives we lead and the work we do. Our innate need to contribute opens our eyes, making us feel more personally accountable. It makes us question whether where we’re spending the vast majority of our time, and, importantly, how we’re spending that time is really allowing us to make the impact we’ve realised we need to make.

I think we all appreciate that we can’t end child-poverty or solve the climate crisis single-handedly. We understand that to do anything meaningful on this planet, we need to work together to tackle a common cause. By joining a purpose-driven organisation – one that is aligned to our own value system – we are able to find solace in the fact that, collectively, as part of a team, we are better able to have the positive impact on the world that we feel we need to make.

Organisational purpose – the hot topic around boardroom tables for years to come

The fact of the matter is that if, we, as leaders, are to really grow our organisations, we must be able to define, communicate and enact why our businesses exist. The stakes are high on this. If we fail, we will fail to make a positive impact on society and the world around us. If we fail, we will fail to give people a good enough reason to want to work for us - a reason that really hits home for them. If we fail, we will fail to engage our customers, our clients, our shareholders and our current employees. We will fail to do business. It’s because of this that purpose must be a hot topic around the boardroom table in 2020 and beyond, regardless of how big that boardroom is, or where it is in the world.

The research speaks for itself on this. Organisations that have successfully defined, and importantly, act with a sense of purpose, outperform the financial markets by 42%. Powerful stuff. Not only that, but employees who work for purpose-driven organisations are 14 times more likely to look forward to going to work. Lastly, according to research by Cone and Porter Novelli, 67% of respondents said they feel companies with a purpose care more about them and their families. 79% said they’re more loyal to purpose brands, and 73% said they would defend them.

Your organisation’s purpose is it’s ‘why’, not it’s ‘what’

But what exactly do we mean by organisational purpose? Firstly, it’s important to understand that your organisation’s mission is different from its purpose. Your mission is what you’re trying to accomplish, your purpose is your why. This article provides a great illustrative example: “Toms founder Blake Mycoskie says the company’s mission is to sell shoes, but his purpose is to provide free footwear to people in need.” So, what is your ‘why’?

For many businesses, I think this process is often more of an overt rearticulating of something that has always been there, it just needed to be brought to the surface. This was definitely the case with Hays. Every day, we help thousands of professionals to take the next step in their careers, and help organisations build talented teams. We power the world of work - that is our mission. But our purpose, which we have recently defined, is to benefit society by helping people succeed and enabling organisations to thrive - creating opportunities and improving lives. That is ultimately why we do what we do, and everyone in our business knows that, we just hadn’t articulated it in this way before.

So, if you are at the start of redefining your own organisation’s purpose, below are some examples from leading brands which I hope will provide you with some inspiration:

  • “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” Google
  • “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy” Tesla
  • “To improve life here, to extend life to there, to find life beyond” NASA
  • “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” Nike

A key point to bear in mind here - your organisation’s purpose needs to feel authentic in the eyes of all your stakeholders. They need to feel connected to it. They need to feel it. They need to feel inspired by it. To them, it needs to be more than black and white words on a screen. So, take some time to put some real effort into defining it, no matter how long that process takes. It will pay off if you do.

Your organisational purpose must be embedded for it to be believable

The hard work doesn’t stop once you’ve defined your purpose. In fact, it has only just begun. The real work begins when embedding your purpose into the DNA of your business. If you’ve successfully defined your purpose – well done – but this is not the time to park the entire project and move on to the next priority. Your organisational purpose should always be high on your agenda.

Worryingly, according to a PwC survey, only 28% of respondents said they feel fully connected to their company’s purpose, with just 39% saying they could clearly see the value they create. This sorry state of affairs is probably, in part, down to failings in leadership. 79% of business leaders surveyed believe that an organisation’s purpose is central to business success, yet only 34% say they use it as a guidepost in leadership decision making processes. If your organisation’s purpose isn’t the ‘north star’ for the leaders in your business, how can it be for the rest of your people?

Once your leaders are on board, it’s their job (and yours) to continuously and consistently reinforce your organisational purpose internally, from this moment forward. It must form a key part of everything - your training programmes, your internal communications, your products, your services, your weekly conference calls, the benefits you offer…everything. If you can commit to reinforcing your purpose in some way, every day, you will see the benefit.

Only when your organisation’s purpose is genuinely embedded into your business, will it be believable in the eyes of the outside world. That process takes hard work, commitment and persistence.

Hiring purpose-driven people to your purpose-driven organisation

Once the hours of brainstorming and internal back and forth have happened, and you’ve finally agreed on a purpose statement that everyone is happy with. Once you’ve done (and continue to do) the hard work of embedding it into the lifeblood of your business, how should you go about using this to attract the right, purpose-driven people to your business? This is often where many organisations come unstuck. So, here are a couple of my thoughts:

  • Let the unique voices of your purpose-driven people take centre stage

Patagonia is often held up as a leading light when it comes to creating employee experiences that encapsulate their organisational purpose. “We’re in business to save our home planet” is their purpose, and as such, they offer a number of benefits which allow their employees access to a variety of charity and volunteer opportunities to support their environmental work, including attending protests. In fact, in September 2019, Patagonia closed their offices and stores around the world, to allow their employees to join youth activists protesting for action against climate change. Companies such as Lush and Ben & Jerry’s also took the same stance. Not only do actions like this really allow your brand to live its purpose, and, importantly, benefit society in the way you intend, they also allow your employees to feel more passionately connected your organisation’s ‘why’. When they feel more passionately connected to the purpose, they are more likely to share their experiences across their social feeds, and with their friends and family. This will attract like-minded, purpose-driven people to join your business, and you will soon be seen as an employer of choice.

At Hays, our people actively share their experiences of living our purpose across their personal social media channels. Every day, our #WeareHays and #HaysHelps hashtags are used by our employees to share their stories of how they personally contribute to helping people and organisations thrive - from running CV clinics, taking part in charity fundraisers, to sharing expert advice, to congratulating a candidate on securing a new role. I’m proud of the fact that our people are truly living our purpose, and, on so many levels, it’s great that they want to shout about it.

So, remember that the voices of your purpose-driven employees are a powerful tool, one which will help communicate your purpose in a subtle, yet real way, and in a way that’s personal to them. That’s what will really spark the attention of potential new hires.

  • Understand which values and behaviours will help you live your purpose

It’s crucial that you hire individuals whose values are aligned to why you exist as a business. So, take some time to understand which values will enable your purpose to become a reality in the long-term.

PwC recommend identifying a few critical behaviours that will help you recognise the values you’re looking for. For example, at Hays, our purpose is centred around helping professionals and organisations thrive. So, one of the values we look for in those we hire is a passion for people. In turn, one of the behaviours we look for is the ability to build strong, long-term relationships with stakeholders.

When assessing these values and behaviours in an interview, try asking a few value-based interview questions such as, “Why do you want to work for us?”, “Tell us about a time you made a positive impact at work” or “What motivates you to succeed?” For example, at Hays, another of our values is being experts in our field, therefore, during an interview, we will often ask questions about how the candidate immerses themselves in an industry and stays on top of trends.

Purpose isn’t optional. Purpose isn’t fluffy. Purpose isn’t just about saving the planet. Purpose isn’t a strapline. Purpose is about delivering value for all your stakeholders. Purpose is about responsibility and accountability. Purpose is about benefiting society. Purpose is the new way of doing business. A sense of purpose is what both your current and potential employees want to feel when they come into work every day. So, now’s the time to ask yourself, “Why does my business exist?”

About this author

 Alistair has been the CEO of Hays, plc since Sept. 2007. An aeronautical engineer by training (University of Salford, UK, 1982), Alistair commenced his career at British Aerospace in the military aircraft division. From 1983-1988, he worked Schlumberger filling a number of field and research roles in the Oil & Gas Industry in both Europe and North America.

In 2002, he returned to the UK as CEO of Xansa, a UK based IT services and back-office processing organisation. During his 5 year tenure at Xansa, he re-focused the organisation to create a UK leading provider of back-office services across both the Public and Private sector and built one of the strongest offshore operations in the sector ith over 6,000 people based in India.