Noble Purpose in the Age of Coronavirus How companies can engage and retain talent

Noble Purpose in the Age of Coronavirus How companies can engage and retain talent

Posted 8/21/2020


By: Paul Pompeo

When writing this in mid-June, I faced the challenge of trying to picture where we would be, as a nation and a world, in dealing with coronavirus by the time of publication. However, I suspect that as you read this we will still be navigating this challenging situation, as well as its impact on our workforce. 

I recently had the opportunity to discuss the topic with Lisa McLeod, author of Selling with Noble Purpose and Leading with Noble Purpose

Pompeo: Let’s go back to March. The world was in a scramble, with companies and employees trying to figure out how to cope and exist with a new set of circumstances in a situation that was changing daily. Why is the concept of “noble purpose” important in this context? 

McLeod: When we shifted and everyone started to work from home, it laid bare the true of nature of work. People were clear about whether their work was meaningful and adding value to real-life human beings, or if they just served the corporate beasts. Because when you’re juggling kids at home, trying to work at your kitchen table and also supervise 10th-grade history assignments—if your work is only being done because your CEO is going to get a bonus—you’re going to get tired of it really fast.

Pompeo: At that time, some companies responded by working to assure and secure their personnel to get their teams through this unprecedented storm. Other companies’ first response was to throw employees overboard. I understand it was an unusual moment and appreciate that companies in a poor cash position had little choice, but certain companies were so quick to jettison team members—it kind of shocked me.

McLeod: The past few months have been a defining moment for organizations and their brands. Their customers and employees have been paying attention to how they handle this moment, and if they reveal themselves to be an organization that puts financial targets ahead of people, their customers and employees will not forget it. Their customers—the blowback from customers—will come first. Customers will want someone who can help them, not just close them. Their employees will not quit; they will do worse—they will quit and stay. [Meaning they will mentally check out but keep on cashing their checks.]

Pompeo: The way companies reacted revealed a lot about their true values and how they view their employees, which seems to tie in with the main theme of your work.

If you don’t have a purpose beyond making money, you’re going to be irrelevant to the market

McLeod: Having a sense of purpose and meaning in your work creates resilience and enables employees to push through difficult circumstances. Without purpose and meaning, burnout follows.

Pompeo: How did you advise employers trying to deal with the initial shock of coronavirus? 

McLeod: The thing that employers need to remember right now is that we’re going through a collective reset. Just like if you lose a parent, you remember who came to the funeral and what people say to you, and it either binds you closer to people or, if they treated you in a non-supportive, transactional way, can do the opposite. The same goes for employers. Employees will remember how you behaved. 

The important thing to remember is that purpose has always been the North Star for most successful businesses. But what is happening now is that if you don’t have a clearer purpose beyond just making money, you’re going to be irrelevant to the market. And we’re seeing the disconnect now—of many organizations who said “what they were” in their marketing message versus who they actually are when the chips are down. 

Pompeo: Talk to us about companies you feel have done the right thing in this unusual time.

McLeod: An example of a company that stayed true to their purpose during this time is Salesforce. They have been out in front of helping their people, helping their customers and helping their community—and no one will ever forget. When they bolstered their reputation with customers, they also bolstered it with employees. Salesforce started giving away software to help their customers recover. They doubled down on customer care. So, when customers feel the love, it radiates back to the employees.

Another is Atlantic Capital Bank, which processed a payroll protection loan for every single one of their customers who qualified—and they literally worked overnight to help these customers—no matter how big or small they were. That is a really big deal. They said they thought of themselves as economic first responders. Compare the herculean response of this bank to the laissez-faire attitude that some of the bigger banks seemed to have toward some of their customers—you can see why a sense of noble purpose galvanizes employees and the result ends up being a better relationship with customers. We are in a moment where a brand reputation is being made or ruined overnight based on the public’s perception of a company’s intent. 

Pompeo: Can you share an example of a company that, in your opinion, might have handled the situation in a better fashion, especially initially?

McLeod: Compare that to Ruth’s Chris, for example. One mistake simply because they wanted to shore up their profit-and-loss statement is going to have a ripple effect. They took the payroll protection and still furloughed most of their front-line staff—and it killed their reputation all within a 24-hour news cycle. You compare that to companies who communicated to their employees and didn’t immediately cut payroll—which company would you rather work for? If a company has a greater sense of purpose—“We’re here to serve our customers, our employees and our community”—they will have their pick of top talent 12 months from now.

Reprinted with permission of the Illuminating Engineering Society

We’d love to hear how your company has dealt with Covid19. We’ll plan on sharing people’s comments (we will not use your name or company) next month and we’d like to include your insights. 

You can submit your comments using the form below. 


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