Korn Ferry Survey Looks at Finding Purpose & Meaning at Work

June 20, 2016 – A vast majority of executives indicated that a focus on both personal and organizational purpose is key to productivity and financial success, according to new global survey released by Korn Ferry.

More than two thirds of respondents (70 percent) agreed to a great extent that there is a long term financial benefit to companies that make strong commitments to purpose-driven leadership. In additionevery respondent reported seeing at least some degree of increased productivity when employees understand and embrace the mission and purpose of the organization, yet only half agreed to a great extent that their organizations engage their employees with purpose.

Elevating Performance

“Establishing a line of sight into organizational purpose is a leader’s job – not just once as part of a visioning exercise – but rather continually incorporating purpose into every moment and process of leadership,” said Korn Ferry Hay Group senior partner Kevin Cashman. “To optimally engage business performance, personal, team and organizational purpose must be aligned.”

“It’s critical for leaders to challenge the notion that ‘performance is our purpose’ and move to the more transformative principle that ‘purpose can elevate performance to new heights,'” said Mr. Cashman.

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Only three percent of respondents said their personal principal driver at work was pay / financial rewards, while 73 percent cited that their primary driver was work that has purpose and meaning. The study found that about half of respondents feel their company values profit over the benefit the organization provides to constituents.

“In our experience, many organizations struggle with how to activate purpose to drive performance. This requires an authentic organizational purpose along with continual people practices that ignite potential,” said Korn Ferry global consumer market principal Elaine Dinos. “Meanwhile, there is an upsurge of founder-run companies with clarity of purpose, especially in the consumer sector. Purpose is the lens for their business practices which leads to their rapid success – positive growth, profitability, and impact on the world.”

From an agriculture company that creates ways to nourish the world, to a life sciences company that extends life, most organizations can do a better job leveraging their essential purpose, said Janet Feldman, senior client partner of Korn Ferry Hay Group. “Leaders whose mission it is to articulate and embody that purpose will have highly engaged and productive employees and loyal customers.” In the end, she said, “purpose creates value and value drives profit.”

Korn Ferry conducted its global survey of 1,045 executives just a few weeks ago (see table below).


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Multiple studies have looked into what drives productivity. Here’s a sampling:

“There are a number of critical areas about which organizations and their executives are failing to communicate,” said Andrew Roscoe, leader of Egon Zehnder’s executive assessment and development practice and one of the co-authors of the study. ”If companies and executives can start to work together to align personal values and career trajectories, there is the potential to greatly increase job satisfaction, retention and performance across the global economy.”

Culture a Lynchpin

While compensation and benefits are important to Millennials, these aren’t the key drivers or motivators of that entire generation either, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. What Millennials do value is this: a strong mentor and room for growth.

Other reports have recently surfaced that have found executives expressing the need to make culture a priority to drive alignment, collaboration, and performance. According to the ‘Real World Leadership’ study by Korn Ferry Hay Group‘driving culture change’ ranks among the top three global leadership development priorities.

The study found that executives report the most widely used strategy to improve culture is ‘communications,’ followed by ‘leadership development,’ and ’embedding culture change in management objectives.’ In addition, it found that ‘improving organizational alignment and collaboration’ is the primary reason executives choose to focus on improving culture, followed by ‘improving organizational performance.’

“We believe that talent, leadership, and culture are intrinsically linked, and they are crucial to strategic execution,” said Arvinder Dhesi, a Korn Ferry Hay Group senior client partner. “It’s a mistake for top leaders to believe that culture is somehow separate from themselves or a separate project. Everything that we do contributes to the culture. There’s no culture-neutral behavior.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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