The purpose of a business is not to make money and grow. And it is even less how you motivate teams and people.

A few weeks back I was speaking with someone close to me who works in a hospital. That hospital is very much growth-driven, imposing a certain growth and profit rate per quarter. To reach these goals, they are cutting internal costs wherever possible and imposing tighter and tighter schedules to increase productivity. Regularly, the CEO addresses all employees through internal channels thanking everyone for their contribution and emphasizing how great it is, that the company is growing and maintaining high profitability.

Anything wrong with that?

Just imagine you are a nurse, doing overtime (sometimes unpaid), barely having the time to see family and friends, stressed, probably underpaid and working in a department with too little staff. All of this leads to an environment in which he / she fears for her job every single day and the likeliness of making a mistake is getting higher as the pressure mounts.

These nurses don’t have time for the human side of healthcare, they are industrial workers in a human business. Do these people care if the hospital is growing in any way if they’re conditions are becoming worse and worse?

Why should they?

Aside from the question if capitalistic principles should be applied to that sector, I want to stress the fundamental disconnect, that flaw I see in the way management tries to motivate here.

And this is just one example.

I have seen that happening at many other companies: the fundamental misunderstanding of what motivates people and that disconnect that happens between top level management and employees.

Most of us work because they are passionate about specific aspects of that work. People do something because of how they feel they contribute to something bigger than themselves, they find meaning in what they do.

That meaning is not „so that my CEO and investors can make even more money“. That meaning is not even „because I want to see the company grow“ or „to get a small slice of it all“ (because offten, they don’t).

I am a big fan and believer in Simon Sinek’s „reason why“ concept and his latest book „Find your why“ (with co authors D. Mead & P. Docker) opened my eyes on this dysfunctional way of how companies loose sight of how to connect purpose, growth & profit and motivation.

Purpose provides substance and drive… and if there isn’t a clear one?

Many businesses are not clear about the purpose of what they are doing and even less (and most importantly) what drives the people working for that organization. The purpose is not the shiny tagline on the „about us“ page. It is not the slogan on the marketing material. And it’s not the result of a 1-hour discussion between a handful of executies (unless they truly can speak for the people they manage).

In many businesses, there is a fundamental disconnect between the C-level and people who work below them. And it seems to be inevitable as companies grow, right? As these organizations are split up in various business units, management functions and specialized departments, you are headed towards a dysfunctional group of people with differents interests and goals, unless you make it a priority to build and maintain that sense of purpose for all.

“Management isn’t about walking around and seeing if people are in their offices. It’s about creating conditions for people to do their best work.”
― Daniel Pink

I personally feel like many businesses have lost sight of this, because topy level managers often consider it to be a pure numbers game. So how do they motivate? „Hey if you perform well, you’ll get a fraction from the numbers“. The problem with that? From the top of my head, let me list a few things that can happen:

  • It does not create the right conditions for individuals to feel safe (what happens if I don’t reach the numbers?),
  • it does not reward „trying something new“ but promotes „as soon as something works, do more of it“
  • it can lead a not-my-job-culture
  • it completely ignores the meaning people find in their work (and it can even destroy it),
  • it drives short term thinking and acting
  • and will almost always lead to the best talent leaving as soon as they get a better offer.

Building, managing and growing a business is not about the excel sheet. It’s about what a group of people who work together achieve in a profitable way. But not at any cost.

What do you think? Is that an inevitable aspect of for profit organizations as they grow? Or should we change things?