Brand purpose or values? What do employees want?

Illustration depicting the idea of brand purpose and values.

Do employees want to see more brand purpose or values?

Should a company have a clearly defined brand purpose or should it focus on values?

Last year, we undertook a piece of research with 500 employees from across the UK to explore this question.

According to our results, most employees (89%), say yes, purpose matters. Increasingly, studies have shown that workers are driven by purpose-led organisations.

But’s what’s interesting is that these progressive outlooks and brand positions, once presumed to be the preserve of younger, more left-field brands, is now being embraced by employees from multiple sectors and in every age group.

Our research showed that 88% of employees say they are aware of their company purpose, and of those that are aware, 76% know what it actually means.

Are they motivated by it?

It would seem so. Of those who are aware of the company purpose, they are giving it 7.5 out of 10. Not bad!

But what should that purpose be about? That is where things change a little.

Younger age groups (18-24) are far more likely to say that the purpose should focus on being part of the community and on environmental, social and governance issues.

As employees mature, their attitude towards purpose changes a little. For employees aged 25-34, there is a shift towards the responsibility their company has in the community. The further that an employee gets into their career with an employer (after 10 years’ service) this shifts to a focus of serving the customer.

The smaller the organisation, the more the purpose can be about making profit.

What’s striking is that these shifts are gradual and slight.

Most employees are split on what their purpose should focus on. They are clear on what it should not be about (making profit for shareholders), although this is slightly different for employees working in smaller organisations (under 500), where turning a profit is as important as serving the customer.

That’s probably not surprising, as employees will likely feel a more authentic association with the need to generate revenue as opposed to the employee in a large organisation. The question is, how can that gap be closed for large employers.

So, it’s all about purpose.

Or is it? Because we asked one other important question …

illistration of brand purpose

Brand purpose or values, which is more important?

And here there was a clear split, with 60% of employees prioritising values over purpose.

Purpose has been in the ascendency in recent times, but if purpose is about where you are headed, then values is about how you get there. It’s your heart and soul. And, in an age where brand managers and CEOs are talking purpose, purpose, purpose, it’s a good reminder of the invaluable role that values play.

This is probably why organisations like bp put such store in values.

We helped bp reset their values in 2012. It was an essential step in steadying the ship and starting a turnaround. Just recently, we’ve helped them evolve those values further.

Similarly, we helped RBS reset their values after the financial crisis. They too have evolved, turning that bank around and focusing now on purpose: “to champion potential, helping people, businesses and families to thrive”.

There is a time that is right for values, and one that is right for purpose.

Here are a few additional insights:

Awareness of purpose

88% of employees say they are aware of their company’s purpose.

Yet in large organisations, 20% of people do not know what it means. The greatest proportion of these (25%) sit at middle management level, and a quarter of all employees say that they need their purpose statement to be more motivating.

What should the purpose be about?

When it comes to the focus for purpose, employees more likely to say that it should be about serving customers and returning profits for shareholders. We asked employees to rate (by level of importance) 7 drivers for a company purpose, the results were as follows:

  • a company’s role in the community
  • its role in creating jobs
  • a focus on serving customers
  • influencing social change
  • making money for shareholders
  • protecting the environment
  • innovation

While important, protecting the environment did not score highly, with just 17.5% selecting it as a first or second choice against 31.5% who selected ‘serving customers’ as a preferred choice.

Innovation is the biggest loser, trailing all other options when we factor in preferred first, second and third choices.

Values or purpose?

The older the employee, the more likely they are to prefer values over purpose.

In large organisations:

  • 53% of employees aged between 25-34 prefer values
  • 62% of employees aged between 35-49 prefer values
  • 71% of employees over 50 years of age prefer values

Only among younger employees aged 18-24 years in large organisations was a company purpose statement preferred to values. When we take into account younger employees from smaller organisations, the preference reverses, with 56% preferring values.

And so, some questions for you to ask if you’re considering values or purpose:

  1. What do you want to achieve by communicating values or purpose? What’s the aim?
  2. Are you engaging your middle management with your purpose and is it compelling enough to excite them?
  3. Is your purpose commercial enough? Employees want to know that it will deliver profits.
  4. Are you selling the objective of purpose to older employees?
  5. Are you balancing purpose (why you do what you do) and values (how you do it) effectively?

Want to talk about values? We’ve delivered them for bp, NatWest Group, Photobox and Moonpig.

Let’s talk values!