Creating a sense of “Belonging” in our Brand and Purpose

 

Michael Esau

HR Value Advisory EMEA

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As we look back at 2020 in the rear-view mirror, it’s clear that 2021 will feel to many like groundhog day with lockdowns in place and the risk of the Covid-19 virus as great as it was last March. A key question though – did 2020 bring any silver linings that we can capitalise on?

Moving to remote working was a natural shift for many, but an enormous challenge to others. Not only the physical challenges, but also logistically in terms of providing technology and equipment. It required organisations to think differently about how to connect, engage, communicate with their teams and also discover what was really important to their people in these disruptive times. What became apparent to many organisations very quickly, was the importance of “checking in” with their employees on a far more frequent basis. There is no doubt as a result of the lockdown that organisations are listening more. There is a greater appetite to understand how people are feeling, but also what they are truly thinking – what is important to them at work and home.

 

You can argue that we have always done this. This isn’t new, but I would argue that we are starting to really listen and herein lies a real opportunity for change. Previously we have spoken about the perennial challenge of finding and retaining talent getting more difficult and how that is compounded by brand reputation lying largely in the hands of employees who communicate their views and experiences through channels such as Glassdoor to prospective future employees. When you throw in the level of disruption brought by Covid-19, you automatically have a more unstable scenario, so the question is – what do we do about it?

 

Over the last 12 months I have spoken to many business leaders to get their thoughts and insights. In nearly every conversation, I will hear concerns raised about people, retention, culture, but I also sense a universal commitment to listen and be open to change. There were three areas that stood out for me: Leadership, Purpose and Belonging. Steve Jobs once said “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work” – how very true. It’s a question I asked leaders “how can your employees be truly satisfied and not simply engaged, where the pendulum can swing from being committed to being compliant on a far too regular basis”.

The role of the leader has always been crucial in the success of organisations, but also the tenure of our employees. One organisation commented to me that they saw a new leadership model appear during 2020, one which was based more on empathy and not as much on task. I see the role of the leader taking on greater importance and the attributes of trust, curiosity, listening, empathy will become incredibly important. Another organisation remarked that the lockdown had made them step back and truly evaluate how they connected the employee value proposition more closely to the purpose and values of the organisation – for all employees. Lastly I was struck by a soundbite in the middle of a very recent conversation - “how do we create a sense of belonging with our employees?”

The word belonging can mean different things to different people, but as a born and bred Welshman, the word “belonging” translates to “Hiraeth” – my favourite word. It’s about a sense of longing to a past, a feeling, a place. No matter where I am in the world, I will always feel a sense of “Hiraeth” to my life growing up in Wales. A deep-seated connection. Creating that kind of connection isn’t easy, but it does spark a whole new debate about the future sustainability of organisations and how we create connections between our employees and are our abiding purpose?

 

There is no doubt that people coming into the world of work are extremely values driven. Things matter and they look to see if what is important to them is reflected in the purpose and vision of the organisation and what the employer brand signifies. That is the entry gate if you like and there is no doubting that will only intensify in the next 5 to 10 years. So I suppose the question is this – how do we truly cultivate the skills, talents, values and passions of our employees to deliver on our purpose, to truly make a difference to the communities and customers we serve and the people we employ? How do we create the space for that to happen, how do we listen more, provide platforms for people to speak, for communities to grow & prosper? Are we looking to go a step further in our efforts than simply engaging, but actually striving to create connections that manifest in a true sense of belonging? What this writer did observe though in 2020 – people want to make a difference. They want to help, contribute, and bring their whole self. Working out how we create the culture and conditions for that to really happen will be a fascinating piece of work in the months and years ahead.

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