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Andrew Morris

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Searching for Higher Purpose

Posted: 04/10/2012 11:27 am

The number of business leaders that now considers making money less important than making a difference is on the increase. Following Greg Smith's recent outburst at Goldman Sachs (I suspect we might see more of these) this is particularly timely. It signifies a deeper desire to understand why businesses exist and what they are here to achieve.

Do we accept as a given that businesses need to maximize profit and optimize value for shareholders? Or should we accept that making a fair profit and returning reasonable value is okay? Is the insatiable appetite for profit and ROI blinkering us to the wider context in which we operate?

The need for companies to make money is as necessary and obvious as the oxygen we breathe. Without it we would suffocate and die. But what should we do with it?

These are some of the BIG questions vexing CEOs today, brought into sharp focus because of the widening gulf between haves and have nots, and the political correctness of CSR policy. With many businesses prospering during these tough times, whilst others struggle to survive, the battle between smugness, humility, generosity and austerity creates much debate and potential conflict.

So, what to do about these issues when scratching your head at your next strategy off-site.

The answer may lie in the Value Pyramid that lies at the heart of today's visionary thinking. At the very top is the Strategy and Vision, above Business Model (how we make money), People (how we get things done) and Market Differentiation (how we stand out). And within Vision lurks the illusive Higher Purpose.

Why Do We Exist as a Business And How Do We Make a Difference?

This is at the heart of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs which are as relevant today, perhaps even more so, as 50 years ago. The answers are unique to each organization but there are a couple of common themes:

1. We are all here to enrich the lives of our stakeholders -- our people, our customers, our suppliers, our shareholders, our community.

2. We make a difference by innovating -- ensuring we add value for our stakeholders every day, never stopping in the endless task to do what we do better and better.

Finding your own Higher Purpose is like finding the source of the Nile. The journey is just as important as the destination, and when you get there it can often be a bit of a disappointment. So keeping focused on the journey, your attitude to your individual contribution to your company, and the impact you are having on those around you, may be enough to encourage a sense that you are always working toward the two themes above.

Stepping into any company for the first time gives an immediate impression of this attitude and the Higher Purpose of the organization. You can feel it in the place, the people, how you are welcomed. You don't need to read it on a statement on the wall. It lives in the DNA of the company and is bred from the top.

So the real key to searching for your Higher Purpose is to be conscious of it and keep searching. Dream the impossible dream, search for the mountain top, and maybe, just maybe, you will find it.