Leading for Profit or Purpose?

The purpose of a business at its core is no different today than it was back in the days of the great traders of the Indus Valley 1000’s of years ago, for example. To these traders it was simply, I have something that you want which I trade for something I want, or for $. Why? To support myself, my family and community. Trade has always been at the forefront of innovation which has propagated new things that people wanted and have traded since time ad infinitum.

From the 1950’s it seems that the essence or purpose of ‘trade’ was replaced by volume. The focus was no longer upon what I produce or trade for my tribe who want to trade with me, but rather on volume and as much profit as possible. Fast track to today in our digitised global world of shareholders who are from all over the world, not delivering as much as possible means unhappy shareholders and bad press. For these businesses the focus is on getting more and more sales, rather than focusing on delivering excellence, which means ensuring that the people delivering your product or service can do so and are supported and recognised for the value they add.  For the profit focused business it is about keeping the shareholders happy, which includes family members in some family owned businesses. There are many exceptions to this thankfully, and most smaller businesses are still traders – value is the focus.

When there is a focus at the ‘top’ within a business on crating as much profit as possible, what tends to happen is that the pressure to ‘deliver’ is passed on to ‘operations’ and that pressure increases the further down the line you go. This does not sit favorably with the majority of operational employee’s, who come to work to deliver value because they want to feel good about what they do. They care and are motivated MORE about what they do in delivering the product or service to a customer, than they do about making profits for the business.

Yes granted making profits for the business is important as it keeps them in a job. However, they are employed to ‘do something’ in the delivery chain – that is what they are good at and is what ‘rings their bell’. What occurs with an overemphasis on ‘profits’ is that operational people don’t feel valued. They don’t feel valued for what they do, their specific unique contribution and why they turn up to work each day. People believe it or not are really only concerned with their own contribution. Sure they are part of a team, but really the bit that matters most to them is their bit, the part they play. Trust me this is a great thing for businesses – those businesses who are most successful today are so because they get this and they leverage it. They are the employer’s of choice, the businesses where time fly’s because people are getting what they want, they feel good because they matter and know that what they contribute matters and is valued.

We all need to ‘feel’ valued, and to feel that what we contribute at work matters. What people actually want at the end of each day is to go home with the feeling that what they just spent 7+ hours doing, was valued and mattered. In businesses that are purpose driven rather than profit driven, the way things are done around here – their culture – is different. Managers or people leaders know that their primary default role is to support and acknowledge their people. Their prime focus and main job is to recognise their people’ and acknowledge their efforts, with results usually being that excellence is delivered on time every time.

However, in a profit focused business – these same ‘people’ managers are more worried about the pressure of volume and increasing the return for shareholders, and in many cases their remuneration is linked to the bottom line. Recognising and acknowledging their people takes a back seat – something that they do if they get around to it, because they are too busy meeting the pressure from above.

What we find is that these business have to create systems, and processes to make sure that people managers recognise and reward their people – it is almost as though it gets in the way of business – “you mean I have to take time to say well done?”  To the purpose driven business – which by the way all employees want to work for, the very idea of this is madness. The irony is that profit comes from purpose, it doesn’t work the other way around.

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