Observations by Anne Bahr Thompson
Calling it quits: employees demand a new narrative for success.
We’re at a critical transition point. With Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index finding more than 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year, The Great Resignation is real. And confirms the growing experience divide between employers and employees. With few exceptions, most employers’ cultural narratives are outdated, locked in societal patterns that no longer serve employees even though many still work for business leaders. Employees are demanding a new narrative for success: one that goes beyond money and productivity and includes well-being and belonging.
50% of respondents in a recent study by Accenture, Life Reimagined, say that the pandemic caused them to rethink their personal purpose and re-evaluate what’s important to them in life. And 42% percent state that the pandemic made them realize they need to focus on others more than themselves. As people have been reflecting on the things that matter most to them as individuals, as family members, as employees, as participants in society and as part of the natural world, they’ve been drafting new personal narratives. And shaping a new collective story. A more benevolent societal narrative that welcomes and unites, rather than divides. And for many, the narratives their employers have been telling through their actions are at odds with this more equitable, just and regenerative vision.
Change is not a choice: it’s time to transform your narrative.
Change happens across an organization as a new narrative comes to life – across employee development, policies and procedures; through sustainability, social responsibility and philanthropy programs; and through employee engagement programs. Sometimes this shift happens as part of the natural evolution of culture, and other times, like today, change is not a choice. It is something that is pursuing us through unexpected events—such as COVID-19 and the clarion call for equity and justice for all.
As the human faces of companies, brands play a critical role in shifting this cultural narrative and transforming corporate culture. Why? Because they have the power to influence the way we think, behave and feel. And because the stories brands tell frame employee behavior and empower people to be – or not be – their true and best selves at work. Brand stories inform perceptions of a company. Even more importantly, they help shape the way a business operates—and how leaders interact with employees and the world at large.
An effective brand narrative facilitates transformation by guiding our brains and minds to envision new possibilities where none previously existed. It also characterizes how a company lives within wider systems — those of the communities in which it operates, society writ large and the planet — and cultivates trust in all its relationships. With greater openness and perspective, an organization is more resilient and adaptable to cultural shifts that reframe its brand story.
A radical reinvention.
It’s clear that change is no longer a choice and nothing short of a radical reinvention of the industrial age employer-employee relationship is in order to build trust, amplify impact and drive growth. Key to developing a transformational narrative is an understanding of how social movements and cultural shifts impact people’s relationships with work, brands, one another and society to connect brands with people’s values.
Here are five guidelines we use when transforming our clients’ cultural stories and rewriting their internal narratives:
- Acknowledge shifting cultural narratives that are relevant – both externally and internally
- Clarify that your purpose fits with your core business and apply it as a filter for your story, operating principles, policies and behavior
- Demonstrate how you live within bigger narratives – those of your employees, customers other stakeholders
- Gain a wider, systems perspective on the greater role you serve
- Be sincere and human to create a sense of belonging
Employers who heed the call to reimagine their relationships with employees continue to attract talent. As the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For demonstrates, brands that embrace a more human narrative such as Cisco, Salesforce, Hilton and Wegmans continue to be touted as leaders, by both customers and employees alike.
Brands that frame their stories in wider cultural narratives, infuse purpose with meaning that compels employees to join, fostering a spirit of social responsibility, community and contribution. Leaders who reflect an understanding of me, us and we, nourish employees’ imaginations, cultivate their passions and inspire them to engage sincerely. Setting the tone for innovation, greater personal fulfillment and continuous growth. So, let’s get moving… together… and shift the conversation from the Great Resignation to the Great Reimagining of a better world for all.