Why Purpose Matters in Recruitment

I thought I had the purpose for Wellbeing Teams sorted until Andy challenged me.
Andy Brogan is my advisor on improvement, and the roots of many of our practices can be traced back to conversations with Andy.  Andy gently challenged me to get really clear about our purpose and to use what he calls the Ronseal Test—does it ‘do what it says on the tin’? 
I know that purpose is critical—Simon Sinek’s now legendary Ted Talk about ‘finding your why’ makes that very clear.  I know that purpose at work especially matters to young people, who are often called the ‘Purpose Generation’. I learned that I could not simply have my personal purpose as the organisational purpose and that I needed to think about purpose as well as values in our recruitment. Before I explain how I did this, let’s look at the difference between purpose, values, and beliefs, and why this matters to attracting people (especially younger people) to heaIth and care.
The difference between purpose, values and beliefs
I was obsessed with values when I first started to think about recruitment. It was exciting and exacting to be supported by our National Advisor, Jackie Le Fevre, to explore how our values could inform the way we recruited teams. To be honest, purpose was an afterthought, a given. I assumed that people pursuing work in social care wanted to help people and that therefore they would be attracted to any organisation that did this. Thus, I paid more attention to values than to purpose. I don’t think that I am alone here.  Generally, the emphasis on values-based recruitment in health and social care disregards the importance of purpose, or, as in my case, simply assumes it is implicit.  One of the most well-worn phrases in social care recruitment is, “Do you want to make a difference in people’s lives?”, and this is used to represent purpose: doing work in service of others. 
Purpose is different from vision, which refers to the future that the organisation wants to head towards. When a colleague from Mencap sends me an email, their vision is stated at the end of their email:
“Our vision is a world where people with a learning disability are valued equally, listened to, and included.”
Purpose is different from mission, which refers to the contribution that the organisation wants to make towards this vision. 
Purpose is simply the reason the organisation exists, and its values reflect how the organisation works to achieve this, and move towards the vision. Beneath the purpose statement there is often a set of beliefs about people and how the world works. 
As the founder of Wellbeing Teams, I wanted the organisation’s purpose to resonate with my own ‘why’. I describe my personal purpose as “to innovate, demonstrate, inspire, and support change in health and care, where everyone’s wellbeing matters and communities benefit”. The original purpose for Wellbeing Teams was essentially the same as my personal purpose. Andy did his usual insightful and direct questioning and, after wrestling with both concepts and language and continually applying the Ronseal test, we landed on:
“To help people live well at home and be part of their community.”
This purpose has three connected beliefs underpinning it.
  1. Living Well – We think living well means doing what matters to you and being with people who matter to you. It is about wellbeing and flourishing and includes having a sense of purpose—a reason to get up in the morning.
  2. Home – The second belief is that we all need somewhere to call home and the opportunity to live and die at home. We believe that with tailored support, most people can live well at home throughout their old age. When Wellbeing Teams assist older people, we aim to help people stay at home as long as possible and ideally to die at home if they wish.
  3. Communities – Finally, we believe that communities are better when they are diverse and inclusive. 
We want to recruit people who want to come to work and create this future—where people can live well at home and be a part of their community—together. So, we are looking for people who align with our values, share our beliefs, and are excited about our purpose.
I was unsure about how we phrased our purpose at first; it seemed so broad—could we actually deliver it, despite not controlling all of the variables in people’s lives that would enable them to live well at home? Was it inspiring enough? Would it appeal to younger people?  In our recruitment, I want people to be inspired by our purpose and drawn towards our values and beliefs. I want our purpose to appeal to younger people and people working outside health and care.
Attracting the Purpose Generation
Simon Sinek made talking about purpose popular with his Ted Talk and book, Start with Why, and research suggests that 6 out of 10 millennials cite a sense of purpose as part of the reason they chose their current employer. This rises to 8 out of 10 for millennials who are high users of social media. The government and Skills for Care have been campaigning to make working in health and care more attractive to millennials. Baby Boomers and Generation X (people who are over 50) make up the majority of the NHS workforce, and this is similar in social care. Attracting more young people to health and care requires more than an assumption of purpose or a glossy purpose statement. The Purpose Generation is looking for evidence that organisations are driven by their purpose.
In Wellbeing Teams, I wanted to attract younger people, and later in this blog I share how we did, but at the beginning I fell into the same traps as other organisations.
Using purpose and beliefs in recruitment and avoiding wallpaper status
In our early recruitment, one of my first mistake was assuming that talking about “making a difference” was sufficient. Not inspiring at all.  When I first started to plan recruitment for our Community Circle Connectors, I asked,
“Are you someone with a passion for people and community who wants to make a difference?”
Luckily, I had Neil Eastwood, author of Saving Social Care, working with me, and he challenged this. He said,  
“The headline is exactly right BUT heavily overused by traditional home care organisations, so it has hit wallpaper status. I think we need something completely fresh emphasizing the uniqueness of this role.”
This was the same issue that services supporting people with learning disabilities had grappled with two decades ago. Most providers had a purpose, mission, or vision statement that incorporated John O’Brien’s Five Accomplishments. If you wanted to demonstrate that you were values-driven at that time, it was expected that you would mention these accomplishments in your vision. In recruitment for learning disability services, it was wallpaper too. 
Putting our purpose and beliefs into action in recruitment
Wellbeing Teams started supporting older people alongside other home care organisations. We were intentionally not looking to recruit people who already worked in home care, and we wanted to demonstrate that we were different. 
On the websites of what are considered to be the best home care organisations (from CQC ratings and customer reviews), there are no explicit purpose or value statements, but the home-page text often reveals their purpose. For example:
  • “Home care and support allows you flexibility to live safely in your own home”
  • “Providing quality, award-winning care in the comfort of your own home”
  • “Delivering personal care and support for you or your loved one when you need it most”
The themes are care, comfort, safety, and flexibility, and these organisations’ recruitment processes attract people who want to deliver this. This is also the reason why we were keen to recruit people from outside homecare. It is not just that candidates would need to unlearn traditional ways of working—it is also likely that what attracted them to homecare, the purpose, is very different from the purpose of Wellbeing Teams.
My mum receives care three times a day from a home care organisation. Their website states that their purpose is to keep people at home and avoid having to go into a care home. Their focus is on keeping mum safe through medication, meals, and personal care, as outlined in the care plan developed by the social worker. This reflects our second belief, about the importance of home, but I wanted Wellbeing Teams to go beyond that and reflect purpose, wellbeing, connection, and community. We needed to make sure our recruitment demonstrated our purpose, beliefs, and values explicitly and implicitly at each stage of the process.
Purpose statement
Key elements
How these can show up in recruitment and induction
Examples from our recruitment process and workshops
To live well at home and be part of a community.
Live well 
Related values:
Emphasis on living well, what matters to candidates, wellbeing, and happiness
  • Explain through an animation how we want to address the challenges of being older—loneliness, helplessness, boredom
  • Ask candidates to create a one-page profile in order to learn what and who matters to them
  • Use values card questions in the recruitment workshop to explore how they take care of their own wellbeing
At home
Related values:
Goal for each of our visits to ‘make people’s day’
Ways to enjoy being at home
Bringing whole self to work
Being safe and well at home
  • Hand massage part of face-to-face recruitment workshop to reflect compassion and ways of making people’s day 
  • What-if cards in the workshop looking at scenarios around keeping people safe at home
  • ‘Could this be you?’ explicitly mentions hobbies and interests
  • Find out what gifts and contributions people bring to work through one-page profiles 
  • Role description describes how we keep people safe and focus on making their day
These are explained in more detail in subsequent blogs.
Part of a community
Related values:
Focus on connection and belonging
Bringing whole self to work—how can one bring their talents and gifts to share?
  • ‘Could this be you?’ talks about candidates’ connections to their community
  • Values card questions look at being connected to one’s community

Does reflecting purpose in recruitment make any difference? 

I am not sure that we can separate out the impact of our focus on purpose from that of the other elements of value-based recruitment—the sum is greater than its parts. One positive indicator, however, is the percentage of millennials we attract, compared to the NHS and Adult Social Care. 20% of our teams are from Generation Z (young people born between 1995 and 2010), compared with only 1% of the adult social care workforce and less than 5% of the NHS workforce. 
Whilst our purpose passed Andy’s Ronseal test, I am still not sure it is wildly inspiring. It does reflect what we believe about people and communities, yet it does not communicate our vision for the future of work, which is about autonomy, relationships, and wellbeing at work. 
Peter Drucker, a pioneering thinker on leadership and business wrote,
“The 20th century was the era of management. The 21st century is the era of self-management.”
Purpose is critical and I think our recruitment process reflects our excitement about self-management, as well as our values and purpose. At this challenging time for recruitment in health and social care, focussing on work with purpose feels more important than ever, to attract young people and people outside of health and care. 



Lisa Wilson

When I read this for the first time it was in the middle of a busy day and I didn’t feel I had absorbed the words on the page and really thought about what they meant to be able to share my reflections straight away. I wanted to find a time to re read it, away from the busyness. That really gave me time re-connect with my ‘why’ – my own purpose, why understanding the purpose, beliefs and values of any organisation I work for is so important to me and drives my decisions. 
My purpose, my ‘why’ – trying to explain what being a commissioner means is sometimes hard, I now really try to explain our, and my purpose differently. Rather than give some technical uninspiring answer to people, instead I reply in a way that is understandable and connects people to it, effectively the Ronseal test Helen speaks about.  I also often go back a bit when people ask what roles I’ve done, my career history etc and talk about the ‘why’. I had been a young carer, along with other life events, this had given me a fire in my belly. A driving force that meant I headed in a direction in my career – this was my inner purpose talking.
My beliefs – when I think about the things/the people/the way the world works which unpin my purpose I can identify things like ‘I believe in co-production because i know how important lived experiences are to making sure we can deliver on our purpose’
My mission – is to ensure my efforts help us, and me, to achieve that purpose – what gives me the energy to fuel that mission goes back to that heart and gut thing, connects back to my purpose. 
After this blog – I am still working on refining my purpose so haven’t included it here!
Taking the time to connect to what the blog meant for me in my own context has really made me think hard about what it means for my organisation and for the sector. We have much work to do to inspire new people, help them to see how organisational purpose being clear to them could attract the new talent we so need right now. To ensure we align with what people in communities are looking for, to ensure they are able to live well, at home and be part of their communities. Helen’s 20% of teams being from Generation Z should be a beacon for us to aspire towards.
We really have to rethink our approaches, so the key things discussed in the blog are seen, felt and heard throughout recruitment processes and that people are able to clearly get purpose and why it is so important for the people who have so much to give in a sector which desperately needs more people with fire in their bellies.  We also need to pay attention when we are trying to retain the amazing talent we see when people are inspired and excited by our purpose and see the links to their own. Really lovely ideas to help us here, I particularly like including approaches in recruitment to bring out people’s talents, show compassion and ways of ‘making someone’s day’. How can I/we make someone’s day, how does it feel when someone makes mine/yours? Pretty powerful I think and the last year has shown many of us its these things that matter. Helen comparing what organisations describe their purpose is and how this links to the people they attract was helpful.  I also like the ‘Could this be you?’ – it really could be any of us. My why is what gets me up in the morning, with fire in my belly, drawing on my beliefs and values in how I get my job done. We are learning together, there is much we can learn from each other but also from the direction we head in with these new ways of attracting people to what is a wonderful place to spend the many hours we work in life.
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