Purpose over Profit

Many com­pa­nies appear to have for­got­ten the very pur­pose of their exis­tence. Most employ­ees there­fore answer the ques­tion about the pur­pose of their employ­er with the appar­ent­ly cor­rect answer: “To make prof­it”. But prof­it is nev­er an end in itself; rather, it is like the air we breathe to sur­vive and yet our lives thank­ful­ly do not con­sist only of breath­ing. Prof­it is there­fore only a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for the sur­vival of the orga­ni­za­tion and the yard­stick for prop­er­ly ful­fill­ing an impor­tant pur­pose for the cus­tomer.

Prof­it for a com­pa­ny is like oxy­gen for a per­son. If you don’t have enough of it, you’re out of the game. But if you think your life is about breath­ing, you’re real­ly miss­ing some­thing.

Peter F. Druck­er

Orga­ni­za­tions that declare prof­it to be an end in itself should not com­plain about employ­ees who are focused sole­ly on their eco­nom­ic advan­tage. If there is no oth­er ori­en­ta­tion, they will max­i­mize their indi­vid­ual bonus. This is a log­i­cal con­se­quence where a high­er pur­pose for ori­en­ta­tion is miss­ing or not suf­fi­cient­ly promi­nent. And so the uni­lat­er­al focus of the orga­ni­za­tion on prof­it leads to the con­cept of the gen­er­al­ly lazy employ­ee, who needs to be bribed with mon­ey. But what else could moti­vate employ­ees in this envi­ron­ment?

Prof­it is not the expla­na­tion, cause, or ratio­nale of busi­ness behav­ior and busi­ness deci­sions, but rather the test of their valid­i­ty.

Peter F. Druck­er

Like a self-ful­fill­ing prophe­cy, the behav­ior of the employ­ees in such a mean­ing­less orga­ni­za­tion con­firms this con­cept of man. But the rea­son for this is not human nature, because the same employ­ees are high­ly moti­vat­ed in the club or church or oth­er main­ly pur­pose-dri­ven orga­ni­za­tions and often even with­out pay. The cause lies rather in an orga­ni­za­tion that cel­e­brates the dance around the gold­en calf and has raised prof­it to an end in itself.

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gath­er wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and end­less sea.

antoine de saint-exupéry

Con­verse­ly, a good pur­pose can pro­vide incred­i­ble inspi­ra­tion for peo­ple and moti­vate them to peak per­for­mance. Daniel Pink there­fore describes in his book “Dri­ve” that peo­ple are pri­mar­i­ly pur­pose-max­i­miz­ers rather than prof­it max­i­miz­ers. As social beings, peo­ple feel the need to be part of some­thing big­ger than them­selves that out­lasts their own finite exis­tence. Good lead­er­ship there­fore starts with that high­er pur­pose.

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