What role does HR play in purpose-led organisations?

By 16/08/2019Blog

Dee Corrigan, Head of Corporate Engagement, A Blueprint for Better Business

As John Kay, one of Britain’s leading economists, eloquently argues business cannot be understood as simply a nexus of contracts between self-interested individuals, but is instead better expressed as a series of relationships, ideally characterised by respect and co-creation, where people are moved to commit to a shared worthwhile endeavour.

In our work, we speak to many leaders who are at the beginning of a huge shift in how they understand the role of business in society. Crucially, this shift puts how a business thinks about it’s purpose and more importantly (but often overlooked), how it views people at the heart of what it does and how it does it. Our framework challenges businesses to consider ‘does it use people merely as a means to achieve business objectives?’ To be truly purpose-led we believe business needs to see a shift from a transactional to a relational understanding of organisations, where each person is someone, not something and the way in which people behave and the quality of relationships internally and externally is a core business strategy and guides every decision.

Undoubtedly, the job of ensuring that an organisation is genuinely purpose-led, values-driven and market leading is one that requires boldness, commitment and endurance. Such aspirations are easy to state, but hard to deliver in a rapidly changing world. It is clear to us that, as companies transition to being truly purpose-led, the role of HR must move centre stage.

Why HR? Well, for purpose to go beyond a strapline or a set of initiatives it must fundamentally challenge how an organisation is run, how people behave and its cultures. There is a rapidly growing movement of companies developing purpose statements, the next step is to deliver their strategy and organise their culture based on that purpose.

If HR leaders are to step-into this role what key questions should they and their teams consider to understand how HR drives purpose in an organisation?  We are working closely with HR directors now and over the next 18-24 months, we are asking questions like the below – invite you to ask the same of your own organisation or client:

  • If you were to think about an organisation as a network of human relationships rather than contracts how would we reimagine a healthy people centred organisation?
  • What are the limits on the extent to which business can, or should, seek to take ownership or responsibility for ‘meaning’ in the lives of our people?
  • If we move beyond understanding profit and growth as the sole goal of business how can HR adapt leadership development to encourage this shift at all levels in the organisations?
  • What mechanisms can HR put in place that goes beyond the status quo in enabling employee voice and constructive dialogue within an organisation, in particular holding leadership to account on their stated purpose and how it treats people?
  • As we work towards this shift how do we measure culture and behavioural change?
  • What needs to be in place if a clear purpose is to help management have difficult conversations and navigate uncomfortable trade-offs?

If you have additional questions please share them via Twitter or LinkedIn.

Interested in finding out more?

  • Research on human motivation makes clear that human beings seek meaning through work, and the quality of relationships matter to us
  • Blueprint’s Framework sets out the behaviours needed to sustain purpose in an organisation
  • Blueprint Five Principles offers a picture of what a business which is inspired and guided by a purpose that serves society might look like