A proponent of "purpose-driven" organizations wants to talk to me this week, about the piece I wrote last week about the CEO Communication Summit I put on the week before, in Montreal.
(Boy, a busy summer so far!)
No offense to this guy in particular, but there's a certain entitled self-righteousness about proponents of purpose-driven companies and lives. They're more principled than you, more self-actualized than you, deeper than you, more "mindful" than you, or "woke."
If they didn't have a point, you'd take 'em out by the dumpsters and drive some purpose into their smarmy skulls.
But they do have a point. An organization whose employees know that it exists for a useful reason in the society they live in will have deeper, more meaningful relationships with one another and also with customers—who will, in turn, become your best salespeople, as the CEO of the purpose-driven Texas Capital Bank told us in Montreal.
Obviously, a company that knows what it is and why it is is better to work for and to give your money to than a company whose highest mission is simply to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.
But a "purpose-driven" company can be difficult to lead, and I think the reasons might be lost on the immaculate moral minds of many purpose-driven proponents. Here are several reasons why I think many CEOs resist making big declarations, internally or externally, about the "purpose" of their organizations.
• They think it's phony. My dad wrote ads for General Motors. He'd pitch an ad that said something like, "We make station wagons because you drive your kids to school." A GM exec would reject the ad, on account of it wasn't true. "We make station wagons to make a profit!" Call the GM exec a blockhead if you like. But at some blockhead level, he might have had a little more integrity than the exec who approved the claim: "Love. It's what makes a Subaru a Subaru."
• What if the opportunity arises to buy a super-profitable car wash chain, cheap?! If you've declared that your whole purpose for being is to make people happy and healthy by selling edible kelp-based clothing, you're severely limited in the kinds of acquisitions you can make, or innovations you can undertake. If you appear to exceed your original mission, customers will notice (which is likely why Southwest "Free to Move About the Country" Airlines has struggled to achieve its international ambitions). And employees will never let you hear the end of it. Employees are like asshole teenagers, always finding ways in which the adults are hypocrites.
• They know how hard it is just to make money, without adding on a layer of "purpose" onto everything. Once it is a week old, the ultimate purpose of an organization, like the ultimate purpose of a person, is to Stay the Fuck Alive.
Yes: If that organization is well organized, if its leaders genuinely enjoy the content of the business, if they see their customers as people worthy of their best service, if they find a business model that works well for all constituencies simultaneously over a long haul, if they can find and afford fine men and women to work for them and treat those men and women well—all the better. And we hope those companies do better than their shabbier, less thoughtful competitors, and we support them. Because those kinds of companies do much to make modern life better.
Their leaders are conscientious. They may be a little more civic-minded than the next guy.
They are a little lucky, too.
Which is the main reason they are rare.
To call their companies "purpose-driven," and delineate them self-righteously from companies that we like less?
That's like calling yourself mindful, and everyone else mindless.
It's probably wrong on both counts.