04 April 2013

Purpose first, profit second

When talking with managers I am often surprised how basic truths are lost in the business world. Like the truth my grandmother taught me about to help out first and then expect something in return. And, she clearly looked through, when I feigned ignorance or inaptness.
Similarly, managers make big announcements on how they will grow the business, increase profits and make shareholders happy. However, little is said about how consumers profit, why they should bother and what benefit they derive. And the employees also do not really build up any motivation for serving, helping out and caring.

In the end no one cares. Neither the employees, nor the customers can find any purpose in the business. Therefore, without purpose the big goals falter, the high aspirations drop to the ground and the daily grind takes over. 

The effect of such a purpose has been demonstrated in a study where two groups of students called alumnis to raise money for their university. Both groups had the same conditions besides one difference. One group was asked to read before the start of work five minute articles on how callers like them achieved personal benefits through this work (personal benefits group).

The other group read stories from university alumni who had received scholarships funded by the money this call center had raised, describing how those scholarships had helped them (purpose group).

The result was astonishing: The purpose group more then doubled the performance. The stories made the work purposeful and gave them a personal meaning. Working for a purpose: helping others and improving their life.  Then this is the well-known "secret": helping others first, getting a response second.

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