We’ve been taught that titles, corner offices, and paychecks are our purpose. Then came 2020, reminding us of what Mike Tyson so famously said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
As COVID-19 swept the nation, the old way of defining success no longer resonated as it offered little protection from the volatility and uncertainty that swirled around us—unearthing profound questions such as, “what is truly important?” “Am I spending my time in a way that is meaningful to me?” People began to search for their purpose in earnest, and for many, that meant walking away from employers that did not provide a sense of security and purpose and walking toward employers who did.
And this isn’t just speculation. Data from Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work and Fortune’s Best Companies to Work show that companies that invest in their people have financially outperformed the S&P 500 consistently over the last 15 years (including periods of economic downturns). The Harvard Business Review has also identified purpose as a critical driver of high-growth companies. In fact, most companies with an average of 30 percent annual growth in the previous five years had moved “purpose” to the core of their strategy.
But it’s not just about the traditional return on investment. It’s also about your ripple of impact and how companies can create change for all. When individuals and teams live out their purpose, they are, in effect, creating positive contributions to their communities, society, and the planet at both micro and macro levels.
Business leaders can help their employees feel fulfilled in their roles by leaning on scientifically proven methods of effective leadership. For over a decade DH (a corporate consultancy) has used the science of happiness frameworks and positive psychology to help hundreds of organizations across the globe create happier, more profitable workplace cultures. And now these concepts have evolved to include what the DH team calls The Greenhouse Model. It relies on four basic conditions: alignment, belonging, accountability, and commitment.
One client that thrived by applying these conditions was Northwell Health. A few years before COVID-19, DH helped to roll out their new initiative. They committed to prioritizing patients and people before the unexpected happened. So when the unfathomable became fathomable, Northwell was already grounded in their purpose. With a thriving greenhouse, Northwell rose from #93 to #19 on Fortune’s Best Companies to Work list. A ranking evaluated across all industries during a pandemic.
Alignment: They began building a framework to uphold their mission, values, and behavioral expectations. Team members are encouraged to align and live out Northwell’s culture even before disaster struck. One way this is accomplished is through storytelling. Every meeting begins with a patient story to remind everyone of their purpose—why they chose to become healthcare providers in the first place. They reaped the benefits in the good times, but once the pandemic began to fill their hospital, it was even more essential.
Belonging: Implementing tools to help support employee well-being is one of the ways that Northwell Health has encouraged its team of doctors and nurses to continue on through the onslaught of COVID-19. Generating a sense of belonging takes hard work, so the various teams at Northwell rallied together and created a group that provides peer support to caregivers. It also introduces various resources, such as workshops, webinars, and apps that support well-being. Understanding that the herculean effort demanded from healthcare workers during a global pandemic can often feel thankless, they also implemented Northwell Celebrates to thank healthcare heroes for their tireless efforts.
Accountability: During multiple waves of chaos, it would have been easy for their team to push their culture of employee care aside and prioritize putting out the next fire. With all the unknowns of COVID-19, staff strongly advised Northwell’s CEO to stay in the administrative office for his personal safety. Instead, recognizing that people are their most important asset, he chose to walk the halls of the hospital to be present for his people and show solidarity.
Commitment: Not only did their teams commit to showing up day after day to provide care for the never ceasing onslaught of COVID-19 patients, but the organization also doubled down on their commitment to their practitioners. One way they did this was by providing tents outside the hospital for their employees to regroup, get properly hydrated and fed, and be given space for a mental respite before heading back to the pandemic trenches.
The impact that these techniques can have is not unique to Northwell Health. Organizations that build cultures with deeply rooted values and purpose can evolve their people strategies to include these crucial greenhouse conditions to flourish in good and bad times.
By understanding our true purpose, we ground ourselves in the things that matter most. This effect ripples outward, impacting our companies, communities, the planet, and most importantly, the people we love.
For leaders, now is the time to prioritize people as an asset, not an expense. When you do so, scaling and sustaining your business is within reach. But beyond scalability, you can also use this method to create real change and contribute to a more purpose-driven culture.