Home Leadership Rethink this Leadership Belief: The Purpose of Business Is to Make Money

Rethink this Leadership Belief: The Purpose of Business Is to Make Money

by Guest Writter
Susan Fowler, Senior Consulting Partner, The Ken Blanchard Companies

What if you changed the belief that the primary purpose of business is to make money to a different belief: The purpose of business is to serve.

Hard-nosed businesspeople push back on this idea with a traditional argument: “You can serve all you want, but this soft stuff doesn’t make you money, and if you don’t make a profit, you will go out of business. Then you won’t be serving anyone.”

True, a business must make a profit to sustain itself. However, it is an illogical leap to conclude that profit is therefore the primary purpose of business. You need air to live, plus water and food. But the purpose of your life is not to just breathe, drink, and eat. Your purpose is richer and more profound than basic survival. The more noble your purpose and developed your values are, the more they influence how you live day to day.

When you hold the belief that making money is the purpose of business, you are likely to focus on dashboard metrics instead of focusing on the people responsible for providing quality service to your customers and clients. You are apt to overemphasize results and resort to pressuring people to get those results. You may be tempted to employ questionable ethical practices. When given a choice, you might choose quantity over quality, short-term results over long- term results, and profits over people.

How would your decisions and actions be different if they were based on the belief that the purpose of business is to serve?

Think how this reframed belief could transform your organization’s dashboard metrics to include goals focused on your employees’ well-being. Imagine the vitality you would unleash through  goals that focus on the quality of people’s efforts as well as the results of their efforts. When you release people from the tyranny of results they are free to be creative, innovative, efficient, dedicated, and healthy—to be their best selves at work.

The nature of human motivation is not about making money. The nature of human motivation is in making meaning.

Making a profit or serving your people who serve your customers is never an either-or decision. It is always both. But service comes before profit. To paraphrase what I have often heard Ken Blanchard proclaim, “Profit is the applause you get from creating an optimally motivating environment for your people so they want to take care of your customers.” Definitive evidence shows that organizational vitality measured by return on investment, earnings by share, access to venture capital, stock price, debt load, and other financial indicators is dependent on two factors: employee work passion and customer devotion. It does not work the other way around—organizational vitality is not what determines customer devotion or employee work passion.

When you focus on satisfying your employees’ psychological needs so they can serve customers’ needs, your organization prospers. An old sports analogy works equally well in business: Focusing on profit is like playing the game with your eye on the scoreboard instead of the ball.

Challenge the belief that the purpose of business is to make money, and consider an optimal motivation belief: The purpose of business is to serve—both your customers and your people.  Profit is a by-product of doing both of these well.

Watch how people respond to your changed belief. When you believe that the purpose of business is to serve, you lead differently. Your decisions and actions are more likely to cultivate a workplace that supports people’s optimal motivation. Then notice the results and accept the well-earned applause in the form of organizational vitality.

What Doesn’t Work 

Drive profit at the expense of people.

Delay skill-related feedback or punish lack of competence.

See people as tireless machines.

What Does Work

Help individuals align work-related values and a sense of purpose to their goals.

Frame actions in terms of the welfare of the whole.

Provide an honest assessment of skills and training needs.

Clear time for inherently motivating projects.


About the Author

Susan Fowler is Senior Consulting Partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies, and author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging (Berrett-Koehler Publishers; September 30, 2014)

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