Purpose, the meaningful aspect of work, is currently a widely discussed topic. As part of the New Work Experience in June 2022, host Prof. Dr Heike Bruch talked to author and business psychologist Prof. Dr. Ingo Hamm, Otto Group Executive Petra Scharner-Wolff and NEW WORK SE CEO Petra von Strombeck about the value of “purpose” at work.
Purpose as an Employer-Branding tool
Petra von Strombeck, Chairwoman of the Executive Board at NEW WORK SE, generally advocates a stronger emphasis on meaningful aspects of work. “For a better working life” is the purpose formulated by the Hamburg-based company. New WORK SE wants to merge companies searching for talents with potential employees seeking for purpose and personal fulfilment. According to von Strombeck, purpose is not only important as employer branding tool, where it can serve as a kind of first filter for candidates who want to make a personal contribution to a company’s success. Purpose also provides orientation, especially within organisations, and is the base for identification and motivation. After all, employees’ identification with company’s purpose is more important than ever, especially in post-pandemic times, which have led to a decline in employee loyalty and interaction.
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Leadership task purpose
Petra Scharner-Wolff is campaigning for a consistent cultural change in companies. For the Otto Group Executive Board member a formulated company’s purpose makes sense when it can be experienced in everyday work life and when employees are allowed to critically engage with it. For her, purpose is the result of a long-term process, that leaders must exemplify and that should arise out of organisations. Purpose has to live, has to be concrete and has to offer the possibility to rub up against it. “We need a completely new mindset, there is no alternative,” declares Scharner-Wolff. For her, corporate culture plays an important role within it. Likewise willingness to change and employee empowerment will turn out to be new leadership skills. In a working environment that is getting more digital, a “cultural change 4.0” is necessary, which deals a lot with attitude, silo dismantling and improved cooperation. “Cultural change is the turnover of tomorrow ... Because if we don’t succeed in purpose, we will eventually get in trouble with companies’ viability.”
Obligation to dissent
For Prof. Dr Ingo Hamm, a cultural change in companies is also indispensable. For him, the critically questioning of purpose at all hierarchical levels and engaging in constructive dialogue – without regard to hierarchies – contributes to a new culture of error and dissent. This “obligation to dissent” needs courage and a willingness to change. In addition to new leadership skills, openness and more responsible action at employee level are required. Furthermore, respective the purpose discussion, it is important for Hamm, that purpose is not naively “driven through the New Work village like a grunting publicity swine”. “Purpose” should always be formulated simply and honestly. Adventurous word creations are neither necessary nor a justification for economic corporate goals.
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The new transparency of corporate culture
Petra von Strombeck is certain that candidates are no longer just looking for employers where they can make the best use of their competencies. Working in a job that matches one’s strengths and skills, but also one’s individual values, leads to satisfaction and self-efficacy. And consequently to more purpose at work. Purpose and self-realisation are therefore important decision-making criteria. For von Strombeck, communication and participation are essential on company side. Enabling interaction, enquiring about needs and actively involving employees in decision making must be as given as regular exchange and critical dialogue in an organisation.
Despite their different approach to the “purpose” topic, the experts agree that cultural change takes its time and freedom as well as new leadership skills are required for it. They are clearly in favour of working more consciously with the purpose approach. Companies offering a working environment in which each individual can contribute to the company’s success and at the same time follow the own moral concept provide orientation.
Management has to act as a role model and authentically exemplify the company’s purpose. For von Strombeck, Scharner-Wolff and Hamm, being credible, approachable, ready for transformation and also dealing with criticism is just as important as creating trust and taking time for an active dialogue of values that thrives on the diversity of opinions.