How To Grow The Purpose-Driven Workforce

4 steps to creating a workforce that is devoted to making an impact.

How To Grow The Purpose-Driven Workforce

An overwhelming majority of the American workforce is not fulfilled at work. And, at a gut level we all know the sad reality that most people at work aren’t thriving. To date, the conversation about work has been in broad strokes or segmented by demographics or environmental factors like the perks offered by an employer. This has led to few insights that have made any real difference.


In a new study, my company, Imperative along with Anna Tavis of New York University, measured the fulfillment of the U.S. workforce. What we found was that to have a meaningful conversation about the future and potential of work, we have to recognize that there are two workforces and not lump them together.

One workforce, which we found to be 72% of the population, views work as being simply a means to get a paycheck or gain personal advancement. They see work as a transaction, or a game to be won.

The second workforce, the other 28%, tells a different story. They define work as being about relationships, making a meaningful impact and personal growth.

They need to get paid and acknowledged, but they see work primarily as a means of being fulfilled and serving others. Of this subset of workers, 68% say that they have more meaningful relationships at work, 77% say they believe their work makes an impact, and 62% say they seek out opportunities for more personal and professional growth in their work. We came to call these people “purpose-oriented workers.”

We found that purpose-oriented workers scored higher on performance reviews, as well. It played out most dramatically in the net promoter scores of these two workforces, which measures the impact of an employee on the reputation of their employer. Non-purpose-oriented workers are brand detractors and on average hurt their employer’s reputation while their purpose-oriented peers are brand ambassadors.

This means, as a business leader (especially of a fast-growing, innovation-driven company) you need to hire more purpose-oriented workers if you want to build a high-performing workforce that can drive corporate success over the long haul.
And, do all you can to cultivate, nurture, and develop purpose-oriented talent.


Here’s how to make it happen:

Identify the work orientations of your employees

As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. Begin with a clear benchmark for the percentage of purpose-oriented employees on your team. Which workforce dominates your culture? For example, at LinkedIn, purpose-oriented employees make up 41% of their team, nearly double the number in technology industry. Though LinkedIn is doing way better than its peers, they still have a ways to go to become a dominantly purpose-oriented employee population. Measuring the orientation of your workforce will enable you to set goals for moving to a purpose-oriented employee-base.

Laser focus your hiring on purpose-oriented candidates

Work orientation is a trait, not a state, which means it stays stable over the span of one’s career. It’s not something that is driven by a specific job or employer. It is something we bring to work. This means companies need to screen and hire purpose-oriented workers. Apple, for example, does this in how they screen hires for their retail stores. Although our study found that retail as an industry has the lowest percentage of purpose-oriented workers (under 20%), Apple was able to attract a new set of people based on designing job functions in their stores to be rich in purpose and screening out co-workers who lacked this orientation.

Develop a culture of purpose that your employees believe in

Understand what your employees believe to be the purpose of the organization. If it isn’t authentic and aligned across employees, it doesn’t matter how good it looks on a slide in the boardroom. For example, LinkedIn works to connect everyone to economic opportunity. This is what rallies their team–and the vast majority of employees feel connected to it. They have scaled but not diversified this purpose; everything is about the single goal. And it isn’t an economic goal.

Empower your employees to be self-fulfilled

Lou Holtz, the famous Notre Dame football coach, said that he doesn’t motivate players. He recruits motivated players and then gets the hell out of their way. If you hire people with the right motivations to come to work, you no longer need to engage or control them. Purpose-oriented employees will help you authentically build a talent brand and internal culture around that puts a premium on relationships, making an impact, and personal growth.

For example, West Elm now has all managers help their teams optimize for these three goals, from the interview process, to designing jobs, and performance reviews. As coaches they are able to work to realize their team’s potential rather than managing them to tasks. It’s simple and it works.


For leaders, this radically simplifies the talent equation. Hire the right people. Co-develop an organizational purpose. Get out of their way. It frees us all up to focus on enjoying and being grateful for the people we get to work with everyday and building relationships with all the people in our work lives. That is what a talent strategy should be: focused on building relationships and collaborating with great people.


About the author

Aaron Hurst is a globally recognized social entrepreneur and authority of social innovation. He is the CEO of Imperative, a B Corp advocating for Purpose-Oriented Workers and supporting the organizations that embrace them.