Appealing to Employees’ ‘Purpose’ Sweet Spot

Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)

In December, two of the 2014 trends about corporate societal engagement by CECP resonated as we reflected on Waggener Edstrom’s second annual CreateAthon event. The post highlighted that companies are paying closer attention to their culture and how it aligns company values with employee values because employees are looking to work for companies that share their values. Alignment between the values accelerates business performance. Second, employee engagement continues to evolve. There is a link between how companies support employee engagement and invest in communities. Both factors contribute to creating a meaningful culture that attracts and retains talent.

It has been three months since WE’s event, and the shared joy, camaraderie and connections that employees experienced are still palpable because CreateAthon speaks to employees’ aspirations and expectations in three ways.

  • Something Greater than Oneself: Employees are not driven solely by their own achievements or the company’s goals as an end in itself but by the world around them and how they better society. A 2014 article in Inc. magazine highlighted the results of a Deloitte study that stated 73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” company are engaged, compared with just 23 percent of those who don’t. CreateAthon builds new communities within companies that work toward clear outcomes that have a far-reaching impact. This is inspiring to employees.
  • Focus on the Experience: In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” People seek fulfillment in their everyday lives. Employees have a desire to create and participate in experiences in pursuit of greater happiness. Experiences like CreateAthon stay with people, they have emotional longevity and can be relived. Research indicates that experiences define a person’s sense of self more than possessions.
  • Opportunity to Thrive: CreateAthon is a social learning experience. During CreateAthon we build an equal playing field regardless of job title, experience or skill-set. WE employees valued having the opportunity to try out a new skill. Studies have shown that younger generations tend to feel uncomfortable in rigid corporate structures where information is often siloed. The CreateAthon experience is a microcosm of the types of workplaces that companies are being challenged to deliver at scale. Being in an agile, flexible and fun environment gives employees the perfect opportunity to thrive.

What I learned from going sleepless in Seattle

This blog originally appeared on November 5, 2014 on http://createathon.org/. Two years ago I wanted to find a new way to engage Waggener Edstrom employees and have a social impact. A dash of creativity, risk and some rubber arm twisting resulted in WE’s participation in a CreateAthon event which was a hit! Read about our most recent CreateAthon experience.

Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (before our 24-hour pro-bono marathon)

During global Pro Bono Week (#PB14), Waggener Edstrom celebrated its second CreateAthon experience. Twenty-four ambitious and energetic employees filled up on protein, energy drinks and delicious food — but no sleep — to create and deliver storytelling campaigns, marketing materials, PR plans and new brand identities to help support the missions of five amazing Seattle-based nonprofit organizations. Our Bellevue office space was lively for the full 24 nonstop hours, and energy levels hit a steady 8 or 9 on a 10-point scale around the clock (except for a lull between 7‒8 a.m.).

The delight of our clients this week confirmed the success of the event and the value of pro bono initiatives to help dedicated but resource-scarce groups. I was amazed to reflect on the overall performance and productivity of a team with lofty goals and a finite amount of time to achieve them. The team’s success can be attributed to embracing the following principles.

  • Be courageous. Every team member brought a variety of skills and experiences to the projects. Similarly everyone felt some vulnerability and uncertainty because they hadn’t worked together before. Participants embraced the diverse perspectives and focused on everyone’s (hidden) talents to get the work done. Be courageous, bring your whole self to the task and jump in to meet the need regardless of experience or job title. In the words of Dale Carnegie, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit around and think about it. Go out and do it!”
  • Embrace creative chaos. Each five-member team worked together to establish a clear scope of work and goals for their project. This was an easy and smart step. Determining how the tasks would be divided and how the work would get done was more complicated. Generating ideas for the clients was challenging too. Visiting the Boys & Girls Club of Bellevue’s club house, taking a walk in the park and listening to music inspired great ideas. Taking breaks, experiencing new or different environments, listening and honoring each idea, and brainstorming spontaneously with everyone and anyone available surfaced the most fun, surprising and winning concepts for our clients. Everyone’s creative chaos looks different, but you’ll know the winning idea when you see it.
  • Break rules, challenge assumptions. Every company and team has written and unwritten rules. These rules have purpose and value; for example, they help create order. Rules can also hinder flexibility, which limits our creativity and thus our ability to solve the problems that confront us. During CreateAthon, time is limited. We need to remove needless issues, concerns and hurdles fast. Trust the values of the common culture to ensure that you represent the company consistently. Challenging assumptions and breaking the rules of how to tackle a typical task is encouraged and feels really good. Let it go!
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (after 24-hours of hard, fun and rewarding work)
Our WE team of ambitious, passionate colleagues (after 24-hours of hard, fun and rewarding work)

The success of our CreateAthon projects will be partly measured by our impact on building capacity for these pro bono clients and how much we further their business goals (for example, by increasing donations or recruiting volunteers). In the professional services industry, achieving excellence, innovation and results are at the heart of our success. When we open our minds, show passion and find purpose in our work, we can live these principles every day.