Prioritizing purpose: the importance of a purpose-driven organization to inspire our people to greater heights

The disruptions of the past year have taken its toll on our people. Being asked to remain focused while faced with fear, uncertainty and doubt about the world has been a huge challenge. The pressure on our people to keep performance levels up while working from makeshift home offices has been enormous, but perform they have! We now need to give a sense of purpose to help our people come through this testing time stronger than ever. We must lead with purpose and humanity.

Research has revealed that 70% of the global workforce says this has been the most stressful 12 months of their lives, with 78% saying their mental health has been affected. Other research by McKinsey found that almost two-thirds of working people in the U.S. say COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life. Around half of them also admitted that they’re reconsidering the type of work they do because of the impact of the pandemic.

I’ve seen my own people work so hard in the past year in difficult circumstances. It has been really tiring for them, trying to deal with a crisis in which every day brings new challenges with new decisions to make. They are involved in the day-to-day operations of our customers, delivering services and projects, keeping their networks stable, installing infrastructure equipment, monitoring services, helping keep customers’ businesses up and running – roles that most of them typically used to do together in our various offices, collaborating, interacting and sharing with one another face-to-face daily. They’ve been apart for over a year now.

Having a collective purpose, combined with our fundamental desire to do what is right for our customers, is a key differentiator in our future success. At Orange, we have a clear vision about it, and our Engage 2025 strategic plan truly demonstrates our goals. We aim to be “the trusted partner who gives everyone the keys to a responsible digital world.” In Europe, we want to expand on that purpose: we want all our people to feel empowered and actively involved in the growth of the company, to be part of something bigger than the sum of its parts. We want them to feel and understand that everything they do is/can be a catalyst for change and can have a purpose that benefits them both spiritually and mentally. A simple and clear purpose can have that knock-on effect for our company, our people, and ultimately our customers.

The point of purpose

Happier people are higher performers and tend to be more loyal: as a result, better service and an increased positive impact are delivered to our customers. With a clear human focus, inspiring our people with a clear purpose and making it real daily, it will become cyclical, an ongoing improvement process.

McKinsey has found that people who live their purpose at work are more productive than people who don’t. They also reap benefits in terms of personal health and resilience. Furthermore, people who feel and believe theirs and their employer’s purposes are aligned display greater engagement, heightened loyalty, and are more likely to recommend their company to others.

What are examples of purpose?

In a company itself, an organization’s purpose is about the “why” you do something. It explains why you do what you do. The purpose statement of UNICEF for example is “To work with others to overcome the obstacles that poverty, violence, disease and discrimination place in a child’s path.” At Southwest Airlines, it is “To connect people to what's important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” It’s an overarching explanatory statement that our people can take inspiration and clarity from. In Europe, ours is fully aligned with our company’s brand positioning that we create positive impact for our customer’s businesses, our employees, and for the world.

I like to define purpose at Orange as helping our teams recognize the value they bring, and where they can bring even more value. It isn’t a set of orders, it’s a guide: we encourage our people to excellence through behaviors. “Treat your customer as you would like to be treated yourself” goes a long way to explaining our intent. Great service makes happier customers and more motivated people. And while our people remain on remote/hybrid working, we think it’s essential to support them through this difficult time.

The pathway to purpose

Purpose is also powered by collaboration, something else essential to the way we operate at Orange. We’re currently creating and encouraging purpose through our management teams, engaging all our people. Our purpose journey in Europe began by giving our management community an example idea of a purpose and asking them to go away and define their own. We encouraged all our teams to pitch in and come up with ideas: we wanted them to tell us what they thought the future of our team would look like, should be and how we could shape it successfully together. And they came up with a great plan! You might be surprised by how much buy-in this approach gets! Our people have never really been asked to do this before. It was a true empowerment step for them and one of the key elements of purpose.

Beyond that, another key message that we encourage about purpose is that business leaders must walk the talk and lead by example. Handing a purpose to our teams to deliver upon is great, but it only works if senior management leads that purpose from the front. In Europe, we have co-created our purpose through collective work, putting aside the usual “top down” approach often taken, and creatively built it around a tree metaphor, which helps everyone remember the branches and solid roots. The core is our people, the roots are our beliefs, our customers, our agile ecosystem, the branches comprise collaboration and innovation, empowerment and trust, learning culture, multi-service, diversity and social responsibility, and last but not least, simplification (our obsession). That is a model we co-constructed with our people, empowering them to define how to shape our future, identifying our key success factors to keep us focused while continuing to deliver world-class service to our customers. The energy, the pride and the sense of ownership that resulted are extraordinary!

What purpose is, what it isn’t

Purpose isn’t just corporate social responsibility (CSR) or ethical and social governance (ESG). Purpose isn’t just a mission statement that looks good on paper, nor is a box we have to check for our stakeholders. And it isn’t a business model either. It’s an ethos: it is about implementing a set of values and behaviors, it is about walking the talk daily to make them real. Everyone feels proud to know “why” they work.

We know from research that people now want and value a sense of purpose in both their private and professional lives, and that purpose helps them focus, achieve and more highly perform. A year ago, some people would have seen purpose as just a motivational tactic. For me, in the COVID-19 era, it takes on a new meaning of hope and change. If our people feel valued and inspired by a purpose, I believe they’ll join us in walking the talk. We’re confident that our people, thanks to/ through a clear purpose, will transform the way we work, collaborate, adapt and transform in this fast-paced environment. The market is showing us the way. We are confident that our people and customers will reap all the benefits of that.

We must spend time with our teams. In Churchillian terms, this has the potential to be our “finest hour” if we lead with purpose and humanity. What do you think? Do you agree?

Find more about our Orange Engage 2025 strategy.

Christopher McKay
Christopher McKay

Christopher is VP of Customer Service Operations Europe and leads the regional operations team in order to deliver and maintain the highest level of operational excellence across our customers' Multi Service Build and Run journeys. Chris studied Electrical & Electronic Engineering in Glasgow and has over 20 years of business, technology and operational leadership experience. He is the proud father of three children and, in his free time, enjoys being with his family and friends, walking his dog, reading, traveling and following the Scottish rugby team.