Do not refer to employees as “human capital” in front of Dennis Bakke, co founder and former CEO of AES, the largest provider of electricity in the world. Bakke values people far too much to lump them together with fuel or other capital, or to consider them as a mere means to an end.
Which is not to say that AES does not make money-- since its inception in 1981, profits and revenues have been impressive, with over 40,000 employees, plants in 31 countries, and revenues of $8.6 billion annually. Bakke simply believes that people and values are more important than profits.
AES was founded by Bakke and Roger Sant with an atypical corporate philosophy: “operate a business with integrity, fairness, social responsibility, and a sense of fun.”
Bakke, author of Joy at Work, believes in extreme empowerment for his employees-- some refer to it as “Bakke ball”-- based on two statements of leadership philosophy: 1-people should be trusted, and 2- businesses exist to serve, not to make money.
Are extreme leadership philosophies like those of AES good for companies across the board? Citing low turnover during Bakke’s term at CEO may not prove that his philosophy will work for your company, so what about other companies? Companies like Zappos, Southwest Airlines, and REI all exude cultures that attract employees who are inspired to work there, not just show up for a paycheck. REI has been listed on FORTUNE magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" every year since the magazine began compiling the list in 1998.
Employees who are convinced of a larger common goal are people who are excited to be part of a larger purpose. Here are six reasons why cultivating a culture of employee engagement laced with purpose is good for your company:
Research supports that employees and teams who align with their organization's culture consistently perform better on internal key performance metrics than those who do not. Just four in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that the mission and purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. By doubling that ratio to eight in 10 employees, organizations could realize a 41% reduction in absenteeism, a 33% improvement in quality, or in the case of healthcare, even a 50% drop in patient safety incidents.
People crave purpose. Gallup finds that 83% of people say it is "very important" for them to believe that their life is meaningful or has a purpose. Talented, high-performing employees want to work for a company that has a distinct identity with sound values, a well-articulated brand and a reputation for making a difference in customers' lives.
Attract top talent
Purpose-centric recruiting messages targeted at specific audiences set companies apart from the competition and pique the interest of the right people. Clearly conveying the company's purpose in attraction messaging can draw high-performing job seekers who readily identify with the company's purpose.
Increased customer satisfaction
Despite what many would say is backwards and upside down, Southwest airlines has placed its employees first before shareholders AND customers. And what's the result? In 2013, Southwest was named number one in customer satisfaction. By creating a culture that's fun and inclusive, with core values that remind all employees to enjoy their work and not take themselves too seriously, Southwest motivates employees to take pride in what they do, which often translates to going the extra mile for customers.
Support communities around the world
If you work at Timberland, an outdoor apparel manufacturing company, being a part of serving those around you has been around for a long time. For 25 years, Timberland has had a program to encourage meaningful service to the communities around them, by providing employees paid time to do so. Timberland created the Path of Service™ program in 1992 to give employees paid time to serve their communities and encourage them to become proactive agents of service in and out of the office. The program started with 16 hours, and today offers employees up to 40 hours of paid time to serve. Throughout the year, Timberland employees skip work guilt-free to volunteer in a variety of ways, including company-sponsored events and individual opportunities that speak to their own passions. In 2017, Timberland marked the anniversary milestone, by reflecting on the incredible work achieved over the last 25 years, and engaging employees and consumers to pull on their boots and keep serving.
Just plain fun!
Being an employee of AES means you have large responsibilities on your shoulders, but you also have lots of fun, according to Bakke. "[W]e want people to take ownership of the whole—the way you care about your house. You run it; you keep it up; you fix it. When something goes wrong, you own the problem from start to finish. And nobody has to tell you to do it because the responsibility is all yours." But the process of learning and doing is what creates engagement--fun.
High engagement in your organization is not only possible, it is necessary if your company wants to remain competitive in today's market. Creating a culture of engaged employees will yield benefits far greater than the time and effort spent to foster it.