I’m a heretic.

Are there things you hear from time to time that get your hackles up?  Well, I heard one of mine recently, “the purpose of business is to make money.”  All I can say to that is NO, the purpose of business is not to make money, the purpose of business is to help people.

What I usually hear when I say that is, “What?” as if I have pronounced some heretical statement that mocks God.  It’s as if I were nailing some business version of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to the door of the Harvard Business School.

If you wonder why I say this, think about it, why do you, when you’re a customer, seek out a business?  They either have knowledge you don’t have, skills you don’t have, or a thing (product) you need or want.  Down and dirty, you need their help.  Businesses are in the business of helping people first and foremost.  Making money is only an outcome of doing it, and if you do it well, you make more money than someone else who does it poorly.

Consider this quote from Peter Drucker, widely thought of as the father of modern management, “Profit is not the purpose of business, it is the test of its validity.”  What this says to me is that profit is your scorecard for how well you help customers.  It’s not the purpose; it’s the measurement of how well you did it.  A business’s purpose is to help people fill in the gaps of what they lack, and then get paid for it, not the other way round.

Why is this thinking such a big deal to me?  Because I think that changing the focus of your business from profit making to service excellence makes all the difference in employee motivation and engagement not to mention customer experience.  It may come as a surprise to some, but making money for the business is simply not as inspiring as impacting someone’s life through service.

Most business leaders are aware that one of the clear problems in business today is the fact that 70%-80% of employees are either disengaged or only marginally engaged in their work.  This is a challenge not only for employers but also for customers who get crappy service experiences.  By changing the dialog about your business’s purpose and making it clear that what you do is to help people get a new shirt, have a great meal, stay safe with new tires, or whatever it is you do, it will change the way your employees do the work and will change the experience your customers have.

How can you, as a leader, influence this change?  How can you make it clear in your business that money is a grade but service is the test, and the key question on the test is, “how well did you help the customer?”

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