The Overwhelming Value of the Purpose-Driven

A question that keeps many leaders up at night is: How do we bring on new staff while maintaining the values that have made our work so successful to date? I had the pleasure of talking with Aaron Hurst, CEO of Imperative who thinks he's hit upon one answer to that question. Aaron will be speaking on this subject at GEO's upcoming national conference in Minneapolis, MN May 2 - 4, if you want to learn more.

Kathleen Enright: Like many leaders in the nonprofit sector, I think a lot about the importance of getting the right people inside our organizations. I typically think about it from the perspective of skills, experience, diversity and values alignment, but you are taking a different tack. You are assessing the value of staff who are "purpose-driven." Tell me what you mean by that.

Aaron Hurst: Over the course of my career I began to realize that there were two different workforces in all sectors: 1) Those who see the work as a way to get at money and status; who see work as a zero sum effort, and 2) those who see their work as a way to help others, and as a way to grow personally. The second type are what we call "purpose driven." When we assess these two groups, purpose driven people tend to outperform their peers on a host of indicators.

KE: Maybe I'm being simplistic, but aren't most people who work in the nonprofit sector "purpose driven"?

AH: We shouldn't use the fact that someone is working for an organization with a social mission as an indicator of what I'm talking about as being purpose-driven. Purpose driven people may believe strongly in the mission of the organization they work for, but it extends deeper into how they pursue the work as well as their own development. Actually, our study showed that purpose-driven workers are a minority in all workforces. Even in the social sector, too many tend to be focused on money and status. LinkedIn, for example, has a higher percentage of purpose-driven workers than the nonprofit sector and they far surpass their private sector peers.

KE: Does this phenomenon play out in any particular way in philanthropy?

AH: Philanthropy tends to attract a greater percentage of people who are motivated by the power and prestige -- yet these are exactly the wrong people to do philanthropy well. Often times these people lack empathy or have a hard time building real relationships, and this has a cascading effect on our work. But hiring the right people also has a cascading effect--to the positive.

KE: So tell me why purpose-driven people are so important to creating high-performing organizations?

AH: Our research has shown that purpose-driven workers are more likely to be leaders, they are dynamic, curious and advocate for themselves. They experience their work as making an impact and report growing personally and professionally at work. Their tenures tend to be longer with the organization and they experience a significantly higher level of fulfillment at work. They also tend to be significantly better ambassadors for the organization.

KE: That sounds like a pretty compelling business case, so what other benefits have you seen?

AH: Frankly, much of what vexes leaders about talent and culture could really be fixed by hiring primarily purpose-driven people. Purpose-driven workers tend to thrive in every way, whereas those from the first group tend to be more disengaged and tend to stagnate in their growth.

KE: I'm sold. So how can we find these kinds of people? Very few people are likely to acknowledge in an interview that they are driven by money or status.

AH: You're right. It's a bit more subtle than that. We've found some questions that can help interviewers get a sense of what motivates candidates. For instance, you can ask, "If you won the lottery, what would you do?" You want to look for people who would continue to work in some way or pursue personal or professional growth. You can ask questions that will help you find those who tend to form deeper, more human relationships. You can try to find if they have friendships, rather than just functional relationships with colleagues. That's a good indicator of someone who is purpose-driven. You can also look for those who express gratitude for the success they have had. Purpose-driven people will acknowledge how they've been supported in their careers, and look for ways to pay it forward and take advantage of the benefits they've had.

KE: Thanks so much for your time, Aaron. This gives me a lot of fuel for thought and I look forward to hearing more of your thinking in a few short weeks at GEO's conference.

AH: It was my pleasure.

You can register for GEO's 2016 National Conference to hear from Aaron by clicking here. You can also visit Imperative's site to explore the services they offer in hiring and managing this type of people.