What does it mean to be a responsible and responsive employer”?

Ahead of Blueprint’s ‘Becoming a Purpose-led Employer’ panel event on June 11th, here’s our take on what it means to be a responsible and responsive employer and why it matters. We welcome your views and invite you to share any questions or topics you would like to see discussed at the event. You can download the full paper ‘What does it mean to be a responsible and responsive employer?’ here. 

How a business thinks about purpose and people profoundly shapes and informs what it does and how it does it. In a world where the dominant model for business argues that it exists to maximise shareholder value, and people are assumed to be self-interested, people are reduced to assets or costs and companies simply to a nexus of contracts between self-interested individuals. For all the rhetoric about caring for customers or employees, the suspicion is that people don’t matter.

Fortunately, this is not a world that any company is forced to inhabit. Business leaders have a choice about how to think about people and purpose. A different choice and one increasing adopted by companies and supported by research recognises that a business is a social organisation that can and should have a purpose – a reason for being – beyond making money.

Research on human motivation makes clear that human beings seek meaning through work, and the quality of relationships matter to us. Fair reward, enough money for a good quality of life, is fundamental but beyond that people want to contribute and realise their potential. If a business genuinely seeks to benefit society, it will recognise that long-term success depends on the system in which it operates. Part of this means decent work with fair pay for all, and structures and processes that “switch on” intrinsic motivation by giving employees the freedom to thrive and grow.

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. Corporate leaders and their talent teams find themselves navigating an unchartered landscape and are often poorly supported by the entrenched tools, systems and processes that have underpinned the past. As business is slow to adapt this is leading to complex failings in governance and/or relationships with both employees and wider society.

Meanwhile, innovative ideas often receive a polarised response, with advocates and naysayers on both sides. Will ‘unlimited holiday’ or ‘transparent pay’ work for this organisation? Will quotas kill or cure diversity challenges in the upper rungs of our organisations? How can we use technology to amplify human potential rather than to de-humanise the workplace?

Blueprint’s thinking does not offer shortcuts to the answers but does provide a framework for what the right questions are. As the Blueprint Five Principles make clear, part of being a purpose-led business is to be a “responsible and responsive employer”. But what does that mean? Here are some illustrations (and that is all they are) of how a purpose-driven business might act:

  • Treats everyone with dignity and provides fair pay for all
  • Enables and welcomes constructive dialogues about its behaviour in keeping with its true purpose
  • Fosters innovation, leadership and personal accountability
  • Protects and nurtures all who work for it, to ensure that people also learn, contribute and thrive

During the evening discussion we are organising on 11th June 2018 there will be an opportunity to share participants’ perspectives on the employment challenges faced by 21st-century organisations. Please do send us your thoughts in advance (email: enquiries@blueprintforbusiness.org), or share them during the discussion. Please download the full paper or sign up for the event here.