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How HR Can Lead Organization-wide Purpose-driven Leadership

Purpose-driven leadership has become a critical aspect of today’s organizations as employees increasingly seek out companies that align with their values and purpose.


HR plays a crucial role in leading the organization toward a purpose-driven future by creating a culture that is centered on a shared purpose. In this article, we will explore how HR can lead organization-wide purpose-driven leadership, including assessing organizational purpose, building a purpose-driven culture, developing purpose-driven leaders, measuring success, and more. By embracing a purpose-driven approach, HR can drive engagement and satisfaction among employees, while also positioning the organization for long-term success. 

Assessing organizational purpose 

Understanding the values and mission of your organization is crucial for both employees and its other stakeholders. The values and mission of your organization define its purpose, goals, and the way it operates, which each stakeholder must be knowledgeable of. By having a clear understanding of these attributes, employees can align their own personal values and work towards a common goal that is both meaningful to them and infinite-minded for the organization. It also helps in decision-making processes and contributes to a positive company culture and external brand/reputation. 

To understand the values and mission of an organization, one can review the company’s official documents, speak with employees, and observe the company’s actions and initiatives. However, it is the essence of senior leadership that breathes life into a purpose-driven culture. Having a shared understanding of the values and mission among all stakeholders, upstream and down, can lead to increased and sustained employee engagement and satisfaction, better decision-making, and a strong company image.

Building a purpose-driven culture

It is essential to keep in perspective that “a higher purpose is not about economic exchanges. It reflects something more aspirational. It explains how the people involved with an organization are making a difference, gives them a sense of meaning, and draws their support” (Harvard Business Review). Measuring one’s progress in designing a purpose-driven culture solely through financial or even economic data points captures only part of the equation. 

Here are some critical aspects to zero in on as your team builds its core engine that will produce a purpose-driven culture that lasts.

“Nodding the head does not row the boat.” —Irish Proverb

  1. Launching all purpose-driven initiatives from the C-suite
    This may be stating the obvious, but you would be surprised by how many executives nod their head to ideas in this area without dedicating the prioritization and genuine passion to support such initiatives. This is not easy…senior leadership must have an invested interest in the creation of a purpose-driven culture or it will never entwine with the organization’s corpus (or the main core part of the organization’s body). Without the achievement of this step, a company’s efforts in this area may be good, but will never be truly great. 
  2. Incorporating purpose into HR policies and procedures
    This involves aligning your organization’s mission and values with its HR (or people operations) practices. This can include integrating purpose-driven initiatives into recruitment, performance management, employee development programs, as well as through as many company policies as possible. These intentions lead to supporting a culture that is truly focused on meaningful work and making a positive impact that impacts everyone in the organization.
  3. Fostering a culture of transparency and open communication
    This happens when your team creates an environment where employees feel comfortable openly sharing their thoughts and ideas, and where leaders are open and honest in their communication (both up and downstream). This can be achieved by encouraging ongoing, two-way communication, actively seeking feedback, and creating channels for employees to voice their opinions and concerns. By promoting, truly authentic, transparent, and open communication, your organization can genuinely build trust and increase employee engagement for the long term. 
  4. Empowering employees to live the organization’s purpose
    This occurs when the organization provides employees with the tools, resources, and support they need to make a truly meaningful impact. This can (and should) include offering training and development programs, creating opportunities for employees to get involved in purpose-driven initiatives, and recognizing and rewarding behaviors that align with the organization’s purpose. By genuinely empowering employees to live the organization’s purpose, they are more likely to feel fulfilled and engaged in their work, leading to improved organization-wide performance and goal-focused outcomes.
  5. Providing opportunities for employees to give back and make a positive impact
    This involves offering initiatives that allow employees to contribute to the community and causes they care about (but that still align with the company’s external brand). This can include paid time off for volunteering, company-sponsored charitable events, or matching employee donations. By providing opportunities for employees to give back, organizations can increase employee engagement, build a positive reputation, and contribute to social and environmental causes. This approach also allows for a “localized” or community feel to the meaningfulness that the brand is partnering with its employees on. 

Developing purpose-driven leaders 

Developing leaders with a shared primary focus on purpose (along with brand growth, etc.) involves the cultivation of leadership skills that clearly and intuitively align with your organization’s mission and values (and should, in all cases, but a priority). This practice must be easily witnessed by all employees, not just by senior leadership. Employees throughout the organization must feel as though they are a part of something genuine and that is bigger than themselves (which is what we have discovered is the key to repetitive success in these areas). 

To see success with this objective, your organization must encourage leaders to act as role models by demonstrating purpose-driven behaviors and leading by example, providing leadership training that emphasizes empathy, collaboration, and social responsibility, and recognizing and rewarding leaders who exhibit purpose-driven leadership. By developing purpose-driven leaders, organizations at large can create a culture that is focused on making a positive impact that aligns with their brand/product/service/industry, promotes dynamic employee engagement, and achieves organization-wide meaningful outcomes.

Measuring your success as you advance your new culture 

By routinely measuring progress and success in each of the areas highlighted thus far, you can ensure that your leadership efforts to advance a new, enhanced culture are on track and making a positive and long-lasting impact on your organization. If the decision is made not to position progress trackers, it will be truly difficult to see how your efforts are (or are not) serving you. We strongly encourage you to measure performance in this area as your company tracks and studies financial performance measurements. 

One of the most reliable ways to consistently achieve tracking and measurement (also known as “behavioral KPIs”) of these targets is through well-orchestrated periodic pulse (or feedback) surveys from ALL stakeholders, both up and downstream throughout the organization. As realizations are had, both positive as well as through learning opportunities, your organization will position itself in a place that allows for continuous reassessment and refinement of your organization’s purpose-driven culture. Remember, this is a game of constant refinement, adjustment, evolution points, etc. This is not a “one and down” exercise; the best company cultures, of all kinds, evolve and change over time, and yours must, too.

Bottom line

HR leadership can play a key role in creating an organization-wide culture that is driven by a shared purpose. This will not only lead to increased engagement and satisfaction among employees, but it will also help the organization achieve its long-term goals and make a positive impact on society.

Interested in developing your company’s purpose-driven culture at the senior level? Reach out to Rhonda Taylor via email here to start the conversation.

Patrick Proctor
Patrick Proctor
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Patrick Proctor has more than 20 years of global business, people operations/HR, CSR, and organizational development experience. Patrick has held multiple roles within the C-suite and has consulted for scores of companies in countless industries. Patrick writes on these and many other issues impacting businesses today.