Today’s Employees Wants Purpose Beyond Profit

May 24, 2020




What’s your purpose?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve pondered that question many times throughout your life. It can be fairly difficult to answer, but 100 percent worth the energy it takes to do so. Psychologists say people who feel their lives have meaning realize a whole host of positive health outcomes.  

For business leaders, there’s an equally strong motivation for resolving the question of purpose. Seven in ten Fortune 1000 CEOs say employee desire for purpose is impacting their company’s ability to recruit and retain top talent. Simply put, people want to work for companies that are about more than making money. They want to feel like a part of something greater than themselves, something that’s making their corner of the world a little bit better.  

Maybe it’s an Iowa thing, or maybe it’s just the professionals I’m lucky to have in my network, but I truly believe most of the companies I work with and around have a purpose beyond profit. What I’m less certain about is how intentional those companies are about sharing that story with their employees.  

In my experience, it’s not a lack of meaningful work or commitment to social issues that keeps managers and C-suite leaders from talking about their company’s purpose. In fact, it’s usually opposite. Especially when leaders feel a strong sense of purpose, they may assume everyone on the team understands that purpose and finds ways to live it out every day. But, making that assumption effectively shadows the best parts about working for a purpose-driven company. Talk about an opportunity cost!  

It can be tricky to put purpose into words. In fact, I’ve been on that quest for years. Nailing down the words that define you is a double-edge sword that can be equal parts focusing and limiting. Tricky or not, it’s a must in today’s fast-paced, competitive environment. Attention spans are short, opportunities are plentiful. Focus and drive are essential, and an articulated purpose does a great deal to get a company (or an individual) closer to inspiring those qualities from within.   Last year, through our annual employee engagement survey, Bank Iowa’s leadership learned that team members were not feeling as connected with the bank’s purpose as they had in prior years. Although they were living out great everyday moments with clients and one another, the “why” of their work hadn’t crystalized into an articulated purpose. HR and marketing rolled their sleeves up and got to work. Formalizing the bank’s purpose, as well as its vision and the culture values it holds dear, became a top priority, fully supported all the way up to our president and CEO Jim Plagge’s office and into the boardroom of our family-owned community bank.  

At the outset of 2020, we rolled out Bank Iowa’s purpose, vision and values. And, here they are:

  • Purpose: Empower people. Inspire success. Foster growth.
  • Vision: With an ongoing commitment to community banking, Bank Iowa aspires to be: The bank of choice for our clients; the career of choice for our team members; a center of influence in our communities’; a point of pride for our family owners.
  • Values: Be People-Centered. Bring Your Best. Enable Great Things. Think Big

Sharing the above statements with our team members was an exciting first step, but it was just the beginning of a very long journey. We understand how important it will be to share the story of our purpose intentionally, consistently and with everyone who will listen. You may have already heard some of this work in our external branding. Our campaign, “Let’s Make it Happen” is a clear extension of the bank’s third value, “Enable Great Things.”  

As Jim Plagge said when he shared the bank’s formalized purpose, vision and values with our nearly 280 team members across the state, “Our purpose has always existed, whether it was articulated or not. The job now is to inspire greatness in our most important asset – our team members.”  

Mark K. Phillips is vice president of treasury management services for Bank Iowa, Iowa’s second largest family-owned financial institution. When he’s not at the bank or spending time with his wife and kids, Mark’s deploying the above strategies as part of his training for the Des Moines Half Ironman. Mark can be reached at To learn more, visit Member FDIC.