07/01/2014 10:48 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2014

The Big Mistake People Make About Noble Purpose

Do you have a Noble Purpose? Or do you just sell stuff?

We all want to do good. But doing good outside your business is not enough, if the actual business itself does not have a Noble Purpose.

Purpose has become a hot topic in business. Thanks to some great research, we now know that having a purpose correlates to profits.

Former Procter & Gamble CMO Jim Stengel's book Grow, documented that businesses driven by purpose outperform the market by 384 percent. Deloitte's latest workplace study revealed a direct link between purpose and profit. My firm's research with sales teams documented that salespeople who sell with Noble Purpose, who truly want to make a difference to their customers, outsell the salespeople focused on quotas.

Having a Noble Purpose beyond making money, winds up making you even more money.

Yet leaders are often confused about what Noble Purpose really is. I routinely get emails from people describing how "noble" their business is because they "give back" to charity.

Giving to charity is lovely, but it misses the entire point of Noble Purpose.

Businesses with a Noble Purpose don't merely do good outside their business; their whole business model is based on adding value to their customers.

Compare these two examples:

The CEO of Company A says, "Our purpose is to increase shareholder value. Earnings are our top priority. That's what we talk about in meetings, and it's how we evaluate our leaders. Our employees know that their primary job is to hit the earnings target. Because we are nice people, we also "give back" 10 percent of our profits to charity."

Company B takes a different approach. Their CEO says, "Our Noble Purpose is to improve life for our customers. Customers are the nexus of our business. In meetings, that's what we talk about, our customers. Every single employee knows that making a difference to our customers is our primary purpose."

Which company do you think is going to provide better customer service? The employees who have been told that they are merely a vehicle to drive earnings?
Or employees who have been told their Noble Purpose is to add value to their customers?

Which set of employees is going to be more likely to innovate? The team spending time with their noses in spread sheets? Or the team with a laser focus on their customers?

Now the bigger question: which company would you want to buy from, the one focused on earnings, or the one focused on you?

Organizations with a Noble Purpose outperform organizations focused on earnings because Noble Purpose prompts an outward focus, towards the market and customers. The result is great innovation, better service and more engaged employees.

Focusing on targets and earnings points an organization's focus inward, which rarely creates competitive differentiation.

Many businesses talk about "giving back." The words themselves are quite revealing. "Giving back" subtly implies that the business itself didn't create value for anyone other than the owners. They took and now they are "giving back" part of it.

Here's the Noble Purpose reframe: Provide real value to your customers, whether you make widgets or water pumps, your job is to improve your customer's condition. When you make money, and you will because organizations with Noble Purpose outperform the market, give a portion of your profit to charity.

You're not giving back something you took. You're putting forward a portion of the value you created.

Lisa McLeod creator of the popular business concept Noble Purpose, and author of the CEO Read bestseller Selling with Noble Purpose. For free videos click here.

Lisa is a sales leadership consultant. Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces. She has appeared on The Today Show, and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches.

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Copyright 2014 Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.