Why Purpose Should be at the Center of the People Function

Every major enterprise is undergoing transformation. If “we” (collective) HR disruptors have done our jobs, we’ve encouraged digital transformation to follow the needs of the workforce, which follow the needs of the customer. You can’t provide value-adding service or goods to your market–and you certainly can’t remain competitive while doing so–without an engaged workforce that is fully equipped and empowered to do their jobs easily and well. Happy employees, happy customers. In fact, stop separating the two; your employees are your primary customer.

This all leads to our obsession with employee experience. What is the evolving role of HR professionals in crafting the organizational experiences of tomorrow? It begins with the realization that workforce experience is the most important priority of the people function (HR) in any organization–ahead of anything else. It should be your obsession, HR. If you address this, first and ahead of everything else, other priorities will naturally fall in line.

Along these lines, I’ve heard a funny little expression about HR “looking in the mirror,” like it will help us discover our true purpose or more clearly see our function in a new light. Rather than looking in the mirror and expecting answers to jump out at us, why not turn the proverbial mirror into a window through which you see your workforce?

Employee experience must have purpose at the center. Purpose is what today’s workforce cares about when they choose where to work (and we are in a job market and economy where people are in a position to choose). Employees want to know and understand the mission of your organization, they want to feel personally connected to it, and it needs to align with their own values and guiding principles. If you connect those dots–if they truly connect, organically and not artificially–and you sustain and support that over the long haul, you have created an engaged workforce that will drive real and valuable competitive advantage. They will also tell you what they need to continue to perform their best work for you; if you listen, this will determine where and how you need to evolve and transform your business to continue to meet their needs … if you listen.

I hope you caught that part.

It’s impossible to be a purpose-led HR organization if you don’t measure purpose. Designing HR processes based on workflows or that reek of compliance serve the HR function, not the workforce. Flip the script. Start with mindset and design with the workforce in mind; this is how you will transition to a purpose-led people function. Rather than measure cost per hire, measure the sentiment of the workforce. Rather than measure NPS, measure employee experience.

Think about measurement differently. HR technology is the intravenous that goes from the people function to each worker in a personalized, relevant, channel-sensitive way, with empathy built into it. Use it to measure experience and to deliver experience. Constantly asking employees how they feel about their work or the way they do it can lead to survey fatigue. And if it’s often done reactively, not proactively, that makes it difficult to do anything about it.

Let your systems tell you something about sentiment: Are workers logging into the systems you thought they couldn’t live without, or have they already abandoned what they find to be useless, confusing or cumbersome? When you measure sentiment at moments that matter through real use and application of the workforce tools you provide, you begin to proactively optimize and design tools that can better support the workforce where they are.

HR has never seen a more immediate opportunity to design a workforce experience that measures and delivers tangible impact to the business. That’s why Leapgen is attending the upcoming HR Technology Conference & Exposition, Oct. 1 to Oct. 4 at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Our entire team will be on hand to provide guidance on building a strong core HR foundation, human-centered design thinking for workforce experience, building a people-analytics practice and more. Hope to see you at Booth #3022 and in my workshop on Oct. 3, where I outline the difference between digital transformation and technology transition.

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Jason Averbook
Jason Averbook is HRE’s People Side of Digital columnist. Averbook is a leading analyst, thought leader and consultant in the area of HR, the future of work and the impact technology has on that future. He is the co-founder and CEO of Leapgen, a global consultancy helping organizations shape their future workplace by broadening executive mindset to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that meet the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business. He can be emailed at [email protected]