How ordinary businesses can become inspiring places to work

“Look, I can understand how a teacher or a nurse can find their job inspiring, but to be honest with you, we’re just making websites/selling coffee/giving legal advice, not changing the world!”

It’s the kind of thing we hear quite often talking to clients about the importance of building an inspiring workplace. Of the Five Ways to Happiness at Work, Inspire is probably the one that people are most keen to gloss over. It just doesn’t seem relevant to their core business.

So, why is Inspire a key ingredient of happiness and high performance? It is essential for staff retention because people find it hard to leave a job they believe in. And there’s very good evidence that it provides a significant boost to motivation and therefore productivity. Further down in this blog, you can read two examples of purpose-led organisations that boosted sales from between 20% and nearly 300%.

So what can organizations that don’t have an obvious wider purpose do to build an inspiring culture?

Define and communicate your organisation’s mission

If you haven’t already got a mission statement in place, now is the time to make one! At its most basic, a mission statement answers the following questions:

  • What do we do?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • Who do we do it for?

And it’s the “why” element that is most critical in supporting worthwhile work. Once everyone knows why being in the office or on the shop floor Monday to Friday is critical to meet your customers’ needs and team objectives, it’s a lot easier to live it. So communicate that mission. Talk about it in all-hands meetings, tape a poster of it in the kitchen, display it on idle computer screens. Share your goals.

“I think I already mentioned that all we do is make websites/sell coffee/give legal advice,” I hear you say. “Doesn’t sound particularly purposeful to me.” Our answer to that is that there’s always a meaningful benefit to every business. Building websites may involve a lot of wiggling and clicking of a mouse, but actually your staff are providing an online shop window for clients. They are opening virtual doors for businesses. In the same way, making coffee provides a place to meet friends, get on with business or just take a break from every day stresses and strains. Legal advice solves people’s problems, providing clarity about where people stand on an issue, recompenses against losses and defines risks. That’s all quite important stuff!

A great example of defining and communicating a mission comes from Open English, a company that teaches English online. Once they recognised that they’re not just selling courses, they’re transforming lives, Open English saw a 20-40% increase in their sales. That’s pretty impressive! It was important to their employees that they are helping people become economically viable, opening up new opportunities for people to find better paying jobs.

Communicate success

It’s not enough to just define the mission. People across your organization need to see and feel it in action. Marketing departments spend good time and resource drafting and creating case study materials to communicate how amazing their business is to clients and prospects, but we’d argue that internal communication of your successes, particularly when they align well with your mission are just as vital in terms of motivating staff.

Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School, famously tested this effect on a University call centre tasked with persuading alumni to make donations to the college’s scholarship fund. Call centre workers that had a five minute meeting with students who received funding understood the incredible positive impact they had on those student’s lives, and subsequently raised 2.7x more money than those who did not.

So share your stories of success in team meetings, publish them on the intranet, mail them around the office, do whatever you can to make sure your people can see how they are affecting the lives of others with the work they do.

Of course, there’s no “one size fits all” approach in building an inspiring workplace. It may be easier for industries designed to have societal impact. But the other component of Inspire – worthwhile work – is much easier to achieve. At its most basic level, you can make your business an inspiring workplace by defining and communicating internally what it is as a business you actually do.

Jaime Carron Jaime draws her expertise from working in PR, marketing and key account management with some of the most successful tech start-ups and high-growth companies in the UK as well as the professional services industry.

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