Creating Engaged Workers, Not Just Content Ones

Firms often conflate the two, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman, but only one group can lead to higher profits. 

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Purpose boosts profit – this we know.

Just look to Microsoft: when Satya Nadella took over as CEO in 2014 he put purpose center stage, infusing the culture with the mission, “to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” This core purpose played a role in transforming culture and guided the aging tech giant towards pursuing artificial intelligence and cloud networking. Since 2014, Microsoft's stock has risen almost 1,000%.

While the journey from purpose to profit is inspiring, it isn’t often linear. Employees are a critical part of the equation– workers whose engagement makes or breaks the bottom line. A study done by New York University and Imperative found that purpose-oriented workers report greater job fulfillment, do better on their performance evaluations, and are much more likely to promote their employers to others.

To be successful, purpose driven companies need to do more than just lure the younger generations to buy– they need to focus on making purpose the foundation of how people work and behave within the organization. This is where hidden profit lies – when purpose ignites employees to do their very best work, eliminating costs associated with things like scattered efforts, high turnover and “quiet quitting.

To understand how to go from purposeful to profitable, it helps organizations first to understand true engagement. As one analytics firm points out, many organizations fail to distinguish between contentment and engagement, conflating base levels of satisfaction with high involvement and enthusiasm for one’s job.

The difference is a big one.

Contentment is the ‘good enough’ attitude. Engagement means people are emotionally invested in what they do and who they do it for.

A contented employee might come to work and do the bare minimum. An engaged employee is 23 times more likely to recommend their organization as “a great place to work.”

For organizations committed to purpose, how they measure and interpret engagement is critical. This is especially true for companies committed to meeting environmental, social, and governance (ESG) regulations. If the “S” in ESG is about human rights, equity, and how policies and operations impact people, then an employee engagement survey becomes a vital tool for reporting on progress. Understanding how empowered workers feel, how inspired they are, and whether they feel cared for tells a lot about a company’s values and their commitment to more than the bottom line.

Gary Burnison, Korn Ferry’s CEO, recently shared this. “Engagement walks in the door, and it trips over enablement,” a team member told him. “Our motivation is going to be driven by our day in and day out experiences and the connections and interactions we have with other people.”

Think about it this way – almost every new opportunity or experience begins with some level of excitement, hope, and enthusiasm. The first days and weeks in a new organization are usually rife with inspiration. People enter a company ready to pay attention, do great work, fulfill the mission, and demonstrate their commitment to their new team members.

Nurturing and sustaining this is where the work is. In the end, it’s all that stuff between the mission statement and the bottom line that really matters – the day-to-day events that enable or stifle a sense of meaning throughout the course of a week or year.

This is the middle part between purpose and profit that leaders like Satya Nadella paid attention to. He didn’t just come in and state a new mission for Microsoft – he took step after step to make sure both the culture and the brand were aligned with that mission. It took time for the bottom line to catch up.

Like many things in organizational transformation, moving from purpose to profit takes dedication and commitment. Saying the mission is one thing. Living it is another. 

Co-written by Elizabeth Solomon

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.