The word ‘purpose’ is a really important one – and it is one people find difficult to articulate. It is quite easy to have a technical debate about what you produce but the bigger debate is to ask why you are doing it. What is the purpose of your efforts and therefore what is the purpose of the organisation you have aligned yourself towards?
Those who are courageous enough to have that debate and go beyond profit for profit’s sake suddenly find themselves more enthusiastic about what they do, which in turn enthuses their people, which in turn enthuses their customers and clients, which in turn enthuses people to innovate alongside them in the supply chain.
It is really having the courage to say that joining these things up genuinely produces better people, better quality of profit, and just as importantly, a better place to live.
Can the system change?
The profit motive is a strong business discipline – it is not a purpose. It is a discipline to work out how a company can survive, prosper and invest. But then when you ask people to invest in that company, to join that company, to buy from that company – what they are looking for is a little bit extra. What does this business stand for? Why do I, as an individual, want to align myself to it? It might be aligning by allocating capital, it might be aligning by buying the goods and being seen as a brand advocate, it might be aligning by saying ‘I like working for this company’.
The profit discipline is good to give you the ability to invest, but what is there for the long-term is to focus on and ask ‘Why am I doing this?’. But there needs to be a connection between the purpose, the benefit to society and the needs of all the other stakeholders – the investors need a return, the employees want a job and want to be invested in, customers want the right goods at the right prices, suppliers want to be treated properly and want to get the right price. Profit is the discipline and purpose is the glue that brings together all the component parts to make a successful business in the long-term.
Click to see a Framework of Principles designed to be used to guide decision making in a business context