Do You Have a Noble Purpose? Or Do You Just Sell Stuff?

by Lisa Earle McLeod

business-purposeIf someone asked your employees, “What’s the purpose of your business?” how would they answer?

If the majority of your people believe that the primary purpose of your business is to make money, you’re on the road to mediocrity.

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. Consider Monster was originally founded on the belief that helping people find jobs was a noble endeavor. Founder Jeff Taylor’s mantra was, “It’s half about a better job, and half about a better life.”

In 2006, Monster was one of the 20 most-visited websites in the world. Monster employees were on fire for their Noble Purpose — they were using the Internet to help people find jobs and, in turn, create better lives.

Yet by January of 2011, a scant five years later, Monster was rated the worst stock of the year. Taylor and his team of true believers were gone. Once the darling of the Internet, Monster was on the verge of becoming irrelevant. By 2014, things had gone from bad to worse; when CEO Sal Iannuzzi departed at the end of 2014, the general consensus was that Monster was out-innovated by more modern platforms like LinkedIn.

The general consensus is wrong.

Laggard product development was a symptom of Monster’s fall from grace; it wasn’t the cause. Monster floundered because under Ianuzzi’s leadership it lost the Noble Purpose that had originally driven its growth and innovation. During a Monster town hall in June of 2014, when Iannuzzi launched the company’s rebrand, he didn’t mention job seekers once. Instead, he told his entire organization that the goal of their new strategy was to increase the stock price. Not create better lives, just increase the earnings.

Iannuzzi might not be a bad guy. Like all CEOs, he was under pressure to drive the numbers. Yet he made a classic, common leadership mistake: He focused on profit instead of purpose. In doing so, he eroded the very thing that had once made Monster great.

Monster is not unique. The same thing happens in conference rooms and boardrooms every single day. The narrative of profit, earnings and bonuses that was supposed to improve employee performance has had the opposite effect. It has stripped the joy and meaning from work in ways that have a chilling effect on company performance, customer service and employee morale.

Organizations like Blackberry, Blockbuster, Sears and Toys “R” Us were once giants in their space. Yet they all took a gut-wrenching tumble when they lost their sense of purpose. It wasn’t a loss of earnings that caused the loss of purpose; it was a loss of Noble Purpose that caused earnings to decline. In each of these organizations, the leaders were so intent on making money from their existing business model that they lost sight of the true purpose of their business: to improve life for their customers. With no lens on the customers’ world, they were out-innovated, outsold and out-maneuvered. They became dinosaurs because they focused on profit instead of purpose.

Peter Drucker once said, “Profit is not the purpose of a business; it’s the test of its validity.” It’s ironic, focusing on something other than money winds up making more money. The data is clear:

  • Businesses with a Noble Purpose outperform the market by almost 400 percent. This data comes from Jim Stengel, my former colleague at Procter & Gamble, who, as Procter & Gamble’s CMO, tracked earnings across the S&P for more than 10 years.
  • Salespeople who sell with Noble Purpose outsell salespeople who focus on targets and quota. Research from our firm, McLeod & More, Inc., across hundreds of sales organizations, reveals that salespeople who earnestly and factually want to improve their customers’ lives consistently win more business.

People want to make money. They also want to make a difference. When I work with organizations like Google, Hootsuite and Roche, they experience that Noble Purpose increases sales, and it creates emotionally engaged employees. When senior leaders are authentic in their desire to improve customers’ lives, they drive innovation, competitive differentiation and, ultimately, profits.

The idea that a leader’s primary purpose is to drive earnings is pervasive in many, if not most, organizations. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. If you truly want to achieve greatness, name and claim your Noble Purpose. 

When I work with leaders, I ask three questions:

  1. How do you make a difference to customers?
  2. How are you different from your competition?
  3. On your best day, what do you love about your job?

If you want to settle for mediocrity, keep focusing on the numbers. If you want to create a tribe of True Believers who drive revenue through the roof, find your Noble Purpose.

Lisa Earle McLeod, author of bestseller Selling with Noble Purpose and upcoming Leading with Noble Purpose: How to Create A Tribe of True Believers (Jan. 2016), is the sales leadership expert who created the popular business concept “Noble Purpose.” She has worked with such organizations as Google, Flight Centre and Roche to help them increase competitive differentiation and ignite employee engagement, and is the Sales Leadership Expert for

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