In Pursuit of Profit or Purpose?


What would employees say, in this moment, is your team, department, division or organization's purpose, it's reason for being?

Most employees say, “To make money.”

Why would they say this? They believe it because so much attention is typically paid to revenues, production, and profits. Leaders measure, monitor, and reward financial success more intently and more frequently than they measure anything else about their team's “being.”

Profit is certainly important – organizations can't survive without it. Even non-profits must generate revenues greater than expenses, or they're unable to keep their doors open. Even government entities must manage taxpayer investments well, generating value through services and programs that provide worth to citizens that is seen as greater than the investment required.

And – profit alone is not compelling or inspiring to 99% of employees.

In an interview, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told Oprah Winfrey that, “It's not what you do, it's why you do it that is important!”

Schultz described the “spiritual crisis” that Starbucks created for itself at the beginning of the global recession. Despite record growth, the company had stepped away from it's core values. The company was measuring and rewarding the wrong behaviors. “Our values were compromised by yield and profits,” he said, and he took responsibility for that.

The turnaround began with an apology, delivered by Schultz in person to over 10,000 Starbucks managers. He promised trust and transparency moving forward as the company returned to it's roots – creating a respectful work environment for employees and a delightful community for customers.

Starbucks needed to get back to it's original, core “reason for being” – to inspire and nurture the human spirit.

Schultz asked these managers to help him help the company focus on the “only number that matters: one cup, one customer, one experience, one employee at a time.” Their focus would be to meet employee expectations first. Only after they did that could customer expectations be consistently met.

Schultz created clear expectations for leaders – their job was to put their feet into the shoes of Starbucks' employees. Schultz surrounded himself with “people of like-minded values.” If leaders couldn't demonstrate Starbucks' shared values, they didn't deserve to be on the team.

Focusing on purpose and values enabled Starbucks' return to being a company that employees – and customers – are proud of.

In turn, the organization's profits have grown to record levels. Schultz would say it is all due to human connection – Starbucks' employees' hard work, crafting coffee and experiences that customers love, every day.

What is your team's purpose? Is it a compelling and inspiring “reason for being,” or is it the practical yet ultimately deflating purpose of making money?

Today and each day, you choose. I encourage you to choose – and create – a purpose-driven business.

What do you think? What would employees say is your team's purpose? What would they say gets consistently measured, monitored, and rewarded? How are you refining your team's compelling and inspiring “reason for being” each day?

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Photo © Sattva – Adobe Stock. All Rights Reserved

S. Chris Edmonds is the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. After a 15-year executive career leading and managing successful business teams, Chris began his consulting company in 1990. Under Chris’ guidance, culture clients have consistently boosted their customer satisfaction and employee engagement rates by 40 percent or more and results and profits by 35 percent or more.