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Purpose and How It Has Helped ROHEI Through Crisis [Video]

Deputy Chief Executive, Praise Mok, shares about organisational purpose at ROHEI

65% of employees are rethinking the role of work in their lives.

What has been fuelling the Great Resignation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic? One likely reason could be that employees are struggling to see purpose in their work and the role that their organisation plays in the world. They are fully reevaluating their work lives. According to Gartner’s survey of over 3,500 employees globally, 65% said the pandemic had made them rethink the role of work in their lives. Fifty-six percent said it made them want to contribute more to society. Yet, according to the Harvard Business Review, less than 33% of a company’s employees feel connected to their company’s purpose. Less than 25% see their strengths being used in their jobs. Only a little over one-third feel like they are directly contributing to the success of their company.

When employees are unable to connect their roles and the work they do to the purpose of the organisation, they may consider finding another company where this connection is clearer. As leaders, how can we ensure that we enable the company to live out its purpose, and help our employees link their roles to that of the organisation?

Define and Redefine Purpose with Clarity

Companies may function on autopilot and drift away from the words written on the wall. However, increasingly, having a clear and compelling purpose has gained importance as workers’ expectations have shifted. Today’s workers expect their work to bring a sense of meaning. They expect organisations and their leaders to draw the connections between their individual role and its contribution to the larger organisational purpose. Furthermore, workers expect organisations and leaders to have a purpose that has a positive impact on society.

Today's workers expect organisations to draw connections between their individual role and the organisation's purpose, demonstrating how it benefits society.

Purpose has also come to the fore as organisations face disruption which could render their services obsolete. Digitisation, geopolitical crises or governmental policies may cause an organisation to have to pivot quickly in order to survive. The question is, pivot to where? When a company has a clear purpose, leaders can use that as an anchor to help guide decisions when reimagining the business, its model, and the value it creates.

If the purpose has not been defined before, or it is simply a nice statement on the wall, or if the company’s activities are no longer aligned with it, now is the opportune time for leaders to define or perhaps redefine its purpose.

Praise Mok, Deputy Chief Executive of ROHEI Learning & Consulting, suggests that when defining the purpose of the company it does not need to flow only from the top. Instead, it becomes a wonderful opportunity for leaders to hear from the team. Long-serving staff would be able to articulate why they stayed, and are likely to know what the company stands for and why it was created.

As these conversations happen, there is increasing clarity for leaders to understand the current ‘whys’ as defined by people on the ground. This is a win-win situation – it becomes a time of discovery for the leadership, meaningfully informing them as they define purpose whilst enabling staff feel like they were included in the journey. From there, the leader can then focus on how to communicate this purpose at every organisational level.

Demonstrate Purpose Through Action

Organisations often have written vision, mission and values statements. It is also likely that a number of the employees can share those statements when asked. However, knowing these statements is not enough for employees to feel a sense of purpose. Rather, employees want to know how congruent or aligned the organisation’s actions on the ground are with its communicated purpose.

'People in our team are looking for purpose, clarity and congruency in our words and actions.' - PRAISE MOK, DEPUTY CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF ROHEI

Employees on the ground are best positioned to see whether or not their company is demonstrating its stated purpose, and many of them don’t think so. In a Gallup poll, 73% of employees observe that their company does not deliver on the promises it makes to customers. Only 40% of employees feel like their job is important to the purpose of their company. What they are not seeing is how the company is demonstrating its stated purpose through its actions. There is a sense of incongruence. (Gallup, HBR)

When the pandemic caused lockdowns in Singapore, ROHEI found themselves challenged as their face-to-face solutions dropped to almost zero. Praise recounts, ‘When COVID first hit, we had to make some decisions about how we were going to take the very sudden drop in business.’ On the business side, it might have made sense to retrench some people to balance the losses. However, it would not have been congruent with ROHEI’s principles. As Praise says, ‘One of the things that we believe is that a sustainable business will honour people and results. It will not just be looking at whether the business survives.’

Instead of letting go of team members, ROHEI gave up half of their office space. Praise explains, 'It is better to lose real estate than it is to lose people.' The leadership wanted the ROHEI team to know that honouring people and results started inside the company. ROHEI’s purpose was lived out.

Two years after the lockdowns began, business operations have resumed, adapted and scaled for online audiences. The team has been adaptable and resilient. The consumer base, because of online access, has expanded beyond what face-to-face sessions alone would have accomplished. Most importantly, each team member knows the value of their role in the organisation, and they know the organisation’s actions are congruent with its purpose. Integrity of purpose and action is a crucial principle that business leaders now have an opportunity to explore and embrace.

Repeat at Every Organisational Level

Living out purpose with conviction starts at the top, but it must be repeated at every organisational level to be sustainable. Managers are the game-changing link, playing a crucial role in helping their direct reports understand their role and value in the company. According to PwC, less than 40% of all employees see the value they create or the company’s success that they contribute to. Managers need to effectively and consistently have meaningful conversations with their people to ensure they can help link their work, values and even passions to the company’s purpose. (McKinsey, Fortune)

Less than 40% of all employees see the value they create. Managers are the game-changing link to help direct reports understand their value in the company.

ROHEI studied the cultures of top companies that delivered excellent products, services, and experiences throughout the pandemic (get the research here). It was no surprise to find that these companies were intentionally making sure that it is safe for their employees to be honest with leaders, building a culture of safety and trust. Trust is the foundation of a meaningful relationship, and once employees trust their managers, it is easier for managers to speak purpose into their work. It’s almost like a virus – in favourable conditions (having a team that trusts the manager), purpose can be infectious within the team.

For ROHEI, this confirmed that a healthy organisational community that is intentional about building strong relationships is critical to business sustainability. Managers have integrated ROHEI’s purpose into their perspective of work, enabling them to include purpose in their decision-making and communicate purpose to their employees. ROHEI continues to prioritise initiatives to foster connection and community such as social gatherings where members of different teams can interact with one another, intentional co-working, and coaching and mentoring. In doing so, they live out their purpose with intentionality with their people at every organisational level.

Move Forward With Purpose

It may be tempting for leaders to return to a pre-pandemic business-as-usual mindset, especially as the landscape normalises. However, it would mean losing the opportunity to reimagine the organisation according to its purpose. Losing that opportunity might mean losing more people in the long run. The situation may normalise, but the need of the workforce to find purpose in what they do will become more critical than ever.

Returning to a pre-pandemic mindset means losing the opportunity to reimagine the organisation according to its purpose.

For organisations, this means that after clarifying, communicating, and realigning to their purpose, every succeeding activity they take on must be congruent with that stated purpose. For ROHEI, a chance to assess themselves came when the company had the opportunity to enter the Education Technology or EdTech space. Catalysed by the need to find online solutions in the pandemic, EdTech has become one of the most exciting playing grounds for innovation, and one of the fastest-growing industries.

While it is tempting to be swept away by this new and attractive investment opportunity, ROHEI first questioned whether it brings the company closer to its purpose. “Why are we doing this? Is this something that will help us to inspire hope, joy, courage, and purpose in the global workforce? Will this allow us to partner organisations to build healthy cultures that honour people and results?” Through this exercise, ROHEI realised that the EdTech space created the opportunity to scale globally, fulfilling the ‘global’ aspect of their purpose. Every team member included in the EdTech project could clearly link their role to the greater purpose that ROHEI lives out. Through this, the venture now has a clear north star allowing the team to pursue these new opportunities with conviction.

After clarifying, communicating, and realigning to a purpose statement, every succeeding activity must be congruent with that.

As an organisation, now is the opportunity to clarify your purpose and align your actions with it. Whether you are seeking to retain team members or invite more to join your community, seek to be a company of integrity where your employees can clearly see how their work adds value to the larger role and purpose of the organisation.


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