Can a company’s Why be to make money?

Peter Docker|11/01/2015

Quite often when we’re conducting a Why Discovery for a company we’re asked, “Can a Why be to make money”?

The answer is: yes. Indeed, we all know organisations out there whose Why clearly is to make money. They will talk about increasing individual, economic or shareholder value. Take a look at pure investment banks – lots of examples there.

However, ‘to make money’ is not an honest Why. What we mean by that is it doesn’t fulfil any higher purpose beyond a result. And when a company defines its Why as a result then they tend not to be great places to work. Moreover, it stunts innovation and ultimately ends up hurting customers. Such organisations are not sustainable in the long-run because they simply cannot command the kind of loyalty, trust and innovation that an organisation with a purpose enjoys.

There are some other tell-tale signs of a Why based on a result. For example, the investment bank solely focused on making money has the power to destroy economies. There’s an inherent tendency to lie, cheat and steal – to which the regular City scandals stand testament. They simply have no moral code. There’s no capacity for innovation, they don’t create trust, either inside or outside the company walls, and everyone is constantly watching their backs.

Defining an organisation’s purpose by a result such as money is a short-sighted strategy. In the near term it may well get ahead of those with a true Why, but in the longer term it will inevitably falter and will be left behind by those with a clear purpose. Apple spent years quietly plodding along, staying true to what it believed while others ignored or ridiculed them. Many commentators thought Apple would never be able to viably mass-produce their aluminium-encased products even if they could generate the demand. And yet now they are the largest market capitalised company in the world and no one can touch them.

If you’re a chief executive who maintains that your company purpose is to make money, you will uninspire your people. You’ll find that the only way you can hold on to them is to pay them more and more, since that’s the very thing you claim drives you and everyone else in the organisation. Or, you can inspire them through having a true Why – a true higher purpose. Then you will retain your talent because they want to be part of your cause, not just because at the moment you offer the largest pay cheque.

Do you think you’re driven by money? Then ask yourself this: when faced with a decision that can either make you more money and yet hurt your people, or make less and do right by your people, which do you choose? Do you always, always make the money decision? If not then clearly your assertion that your Why is about money is false.

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Peter Docker

Speaker, Teacher, Navigator

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