Making the Day-to-Day Work Matter

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman argues why it's essential for leaders to connect the contributions of individual employees to a collective purpose.

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. 

While inflation and a looming recession might slow it down, the Great Resignation still continues. According to a 2022 survey, 1 in 5 employed Americans plan to quit their jobs this year. What is perpetuating this trend? 

When analyzing the employees who said they are most likely to look for another job, the survey uncovered some important data. Compared to the opposite end of the spectrum (those most committed to their current organization), the dissatisfied cohort were 14% less likely to find their job fulfilling and 11% less likely to feel like their true self is welcomed in the workplace.

As other sources suggest, purpose and belonging aren’t just corporate buzzwords – they are imperative to employee retention. What’s more, these two things are inextricably related.

Korn Ferry recently looked at the benefits of drawing a clear line of sight between an employee’s day-to-day work and the purpose and mission of the organization. What it found is that a line of sight is a strong catalyst of inclusion. By connecting individual contributions to a collective purpose, companies promote a sense of shared identity and authentic self-expression among their workforces.

It’s a reminder that what divides us may be secondary to what unites us. Regardless of who employees are or where they come from, a shared purpose can help them feel more connected to those around them.

“Line of sight inspires both leaders and employees to take initiative and use their talents to meet company objectives,” explains Guangrong Dai, senior director of research at the Korn Ferry Institute, Korn Ferry’s research arm. “But for organizations to establish a strong line of sight, they first need to convey a compelling purpose.”

Dai surfaces something crucial. At its simplest, a clear line of sight depends on how effectively leaders communicate with and to their workforce. Not only do leaders need to communicate what the organizational purpose is but they need to tell employees what it means, why it matters and how it translates to their actual job.

There is an anonymous quote that says, "No matter what job you have in life, your success will be determined 5% by your academic credentials, 15% by your professional experiences and 80% by your communication skills."

According to Korn Ferry, there are two ways leaders should be drawing a line of sight - vertically and horizontally. Horizontally, they must communicate how the organization’s immediate business goals help achieve the larger vision and purpose of the enterprise. Vertically, they must communicate how important organizational objectives translate down the line into department, team, and individual performance goals.

As Korn Ferry puts it in its Line of Sight report, “connecting and clarifying individual contribution to a common vision and purpose will satisfy the inherent need for self-worth and social belonging. A person's work, therefore, becomes more meaningful.”

While reaping the benefits of purpose requires leaders to understand “why” an organization exists (and to be clear and consistent in telling employees how it connects to what they do), I would say leaders can even go a step further in their conversations by digging deep  into what motivates and inspires people. By taking the time to ask each employee what matters to them, leaders are equipped to not only talk about organizational purpose in the context of work goals, but in the context of a person’s individual interests. This becomes yet another way to welcome more of who someone is into the workplace.

In the post pandemic world – where remote work can weaken a sense of connection and where employees are continuing to leave their jobs in search of fulfilling work and greater belonging – communication has become even more crucial than it was five years ago. Crucial to purpose and inclusion, it’s the tool that will help leaders create the kind of work environments employees so desperately long for. 

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