Purpose-led organisations may have to sacrifice early wins to attract talent

Building and sustaining a truly purpose-led organisation that attracts the right talent can mean “giving something up in the short term”, such as revenues.

This is what panellists at an MBN Solutions webinar on the future of talent said yesterday.

However, sustaining a purpose-led organisation also means that the purpose – and evidence of it – cannot stagnate, and must continue to build and evolve, panellists said.

“The danger is that people forget that they need to continue to tell stories, both to the internal stakeholder and to the external stakeholders,” said Paul Forrest, non-executive director, MBN Solutions.

“I think it’s often lost,” he continued, “because large organisations particularly get bogged down in producing the annual report and looking at cash and assets and all of those wonderful things, which quite often distract from the meat of the messages they ought to be putting out to help the next generation of talent come through.”

Rob Huggins, client service director at MBN Solutions, flagged up the need for organisations to think about their purpose or mission: “I think, increasingly nowadays, we’re seeing a very strong correlation between highly-skilled individuals and a desire for purpose-led roles. 

“For example,” Huggins added, “in the public sector, it was never going to be about earning; it’s about making a massive difference. And it needs to come from both the top and the bottom of the organisation.”

Panellist Samantha Bedford, chair of Scotland Women in Technology, pointed out that “ ‘purpose’ has become the new sort of strapline for an organisation – but are you actually living and breathing and actioning it? Can your people see the thread all the way through?

“It’s also about connecting the personal purpose to the organisation,” Bedford said.

She posed the question of whether companies who are genuinely purpose-led must be prepared to give up some of what they have “in the short term” in order to fully drive their purpose. She referenced a food company that has opted to not sell its products in several markets because it opposes how the countries operate.

“So do you have to give up something in the short term to be really true to your purpose to therefore build a much more sustainable business in the future that attracts, retained and enables that talent to [join the company]? There is some sort of an opportunity cost of doing that that really needs to be thought through,” Bedford said. “It really is about how you are truly pulling up [the purpose] through the organisation.”

The discussion was based around a new MBN white paper that outlines talent trends occurring over the last 18 months.

Other panellists were Gillian Docherty OBE, CEO of the Data Lab, and Elizabeth Hollinger, director of insights, Aggreko. MBN’s Seb Mackay chaired the 90-minute event.

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