Humanity and Innovation: Fostering a Purpose-Driven Work Culture

BY Katie Chambers | May 22, 2024

John Deere has been in business for close to 200 years, with a reliance on four core values: quality, integrity, innovation, and commitment. But just this year it added a fifth value: humanity.

“When you think about who we are as an organization, and how it’s articulated, it means that we will treat our people and our planet with dignity and respect. And that means that we create environments that are inclusive. They’re diverse in that we have practices that are internally sustainable, as well as externally sustainable,” said Crystal T. Jones, head of talent acquisition, Americas at John Deere. With centuries of success behind it, the organization was still ready and willing to update its mission and practices to stay aligned with evolving cultural values.

In an era of rapid change, purpose-driven environments are increasingly more important. How can leaders navigate cultural shifts within their organizations that prioritize meaningful work, and foster employee satisfaction and belonging, loyalty, and overall well-being? Jones and other industry experts answered these questions and more at From Day One’s Chicago conference.

Building a Purpose-Driven Work Environment

“It’s no secret that companies with a purpose driven work environment are by many measures more successful,” said moderator Kim Quillen, business editor at The Chicago Tribune. But it can be daunting to try to predict what employees want. “The big thing with purpose is to continue to talk about it,” said Trevor Bogan, regional director, Americas at Top Employers Institute. “Don’t be afraid. It can evolve and it can shift.” Bogan says that his company tracks this through employee surveys.

Mikki Sud, EVP, global head of total rewards at JLL says her organization links its activities back to its purpose of “creating healthy, inspiring, innovative spaces for people and our planet” both internally and externally. “With 40% of our carbon emissions coming from the built environment, we have a critical role in helping create a sustainable world,” she said.

“But also, we connect our employees to those goals through robust training efforts, like net zero carbon training, as well as AI and automation. And last year, we saw a 20% reduction in our carbon emissions through these efforts,” Sud said. 

Leaders as Purpose Ambassadors

Organizational purpose must be driven by leaders who can be encouraged through training and incentives. Tracking of purpose-driven behavior is also embedded in JLL’s talent review and performance management process, says Sud. “Our hope is that as leaders fully start to embody [our values], that eventually it will start to disseminate across the organization, and then the sense of belonging to the enterprise will be enhanced as a result,” she said.

Gus Viano, VP of global diversity, equity & inclusion at Brink’s, notes that while leaders may attend trainings and have good intentions, sometimes their actual actions still don’t embody the organization’s stated values.

The panelists spoke to the topic "Cultural Transformation and Meaningful Work: Nurturing a Purpose-Driven Workplace" at From Day One's Chicago conference

“Employees feel engaged when they hear our leaders talk about DEI, but then when they see that behavior not represented in their actions, then they have serious doubts,” Viano said. So, inclusion training may require some difficult, frank conversations. For larger corporations with a global reach, Viano says, it’s also important to be mindful of different cultural norms and expectations surrounding DEI. You may have to adjust training language and areas of focus based on those local sensitivities and needs. 

Bringing Your Whole Self to Work

“People don’t leave their diversity in the trunk of their car when they come to work. They bring the whole self to work, invited or not invited,” Viano said. Employers need to be ready to engage with employees from many walks of life and communicate purpose to them in a way that keeps everyone excited.

Different generations are looking for different types of meaning in their work, Bogan says, and Gen Z especially wants to see their identities reflected in the leadership team. “When organizations have a diverse workforce, when they have women leaders, when they have people of color, when they have people from different countries and different perspectives, the profitability goes up, the well-being goes up, [and] the purpose and feeling of belonging goes up,” Bogan said.“It’s no longer about what’s written on your website. Candidates want to see and feel what you say.”

Jones also emphasized the importance of ensuring employees can see and understand the impact of their work on the wider community, to help drive that sense of purpose and meaning home.

Encouraging employees to come to the office, helps drive engagement and a sense of belonging, Sud says. “A recent Bloomberg study showed that those in the office actually spent 25% more time on career development,” she said. “It's a sense of belonging, and the fun that comes from being in the office, the personal interactions, the sharing of stories of your families or your hobbies. You can’t really have that watercooler talk in a virtual setting.” That said, Sud believes it’s also important to recognize that employees need quiet time for work too. “We are really being deliberate about creating the ‘me’ spaces as well as the ‘we’ spaces,” she said.

Rewarding and Measuring Success

Employees should be rewarded for driving purpose and be recognized in a way that is most meaningful to them. “Our rewards are linked to business purpose and performance, connecting individual team and organizational performance. So when we deliver the best solutions for our clients, JLL does well and our people do too,” said Sud. Compensation should not be the only driver. “It’s the culture, it’s the purpose, it’s the leadership aspiration,” Sud says, that brings employees satisfaction.

Just trying out new strategies from time to time is not enough, Bogan says. “You need to get involved with data and analytics to see and measure what you do really well and what challenges you have. That’s really impactful, because the numbers don’t lie,” he said. Having the hard data will help leaders justify the need for new programs and tactics, though the data should be shared by all. “If we silo, then we’re not getting better. We’re not learning about how we work, hearing different ideas and different perspectives,” Bogan said.

Purpose-driven analytics should be not just quantitative but also qualitative, Jones says. “We’re interested in not just what you do, but how you do it,” she said. Through engagement surveys, Jones says, John Deere saw the need to add humanity to its core values. “Just make sure you’re not just asking the questions,” she said, “but that you’re ready to deal with the responses that you get back.”

Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.


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