Power, Profit, or Purpose: What Drives Your Company?

In a recent coaching call, one of my culture clients (a senior executive of a major retailer) described his upcoming meeting with the CEO of his organization. “I’m going to ask him whether he thinks we are a power-driven company, a profit-driven company, or a purpose-driven company,” Joel said. I’d not heard about those differentiators, so I asked Joel to define them for me.

I learned that organizations are not exclusively driven by a single one of these approaches. And, their primary drivers are not that difficult to diagnose. An organization’s plans, decisions, and actions, Joel explained, provide very clear indicators of their core interests and drivers.

A company that is primarily power-driven seeks to be a standard-setter, a “big player” in their industry that others must work with to gain a foothold in their marketplace. A power-driven organization certainly seeks to make profits, but their primary actions are designed to increase their influence, their market share, their breadth. The power-driven organization’s behavior can be seen as self-serving and arrogant.

Based on these criteria, I see Microsoft as primarily a power-driven company. (Full disclosure: I’m running Microsoft Windows 7 on my desktop and Microsoft Office 2011 on my Mac; I’m as culpable as any other Microsoft product user for helping them extend their power.)

A company that is primarily profit-driven seeks to create organizational wealth, first and foremost. It analyzes potential products, services, and markets carefully to identify the most profitable avenues, then pursues those avenues for as long as the profits meet expectations. The profit-driven organization’s behavior can be seen as self-serving and manipulative. Such organizations have been known to take advantage of existing rules and/or laws to create profits.

Based on these criteria, I see pharmaceutical companies as primarily profit-driven. (Full disclosure: I’m a big believer in Western medicine. I take prescription medications daily to keep my heart healthy and my knees working smoothly.)

A company that is primarily purpose-driven seeks to engage employees and customers in helping the organization’s service vision to become a reality. These companies often promote social responsibility and demonstrate service to their communities regularly. In purpose-driven organizations, employees typically are very vocal about their organization’s purpose and community benefit. Certainly, purpose-driven companies must be profitable in order to continue their good works; profits serve purpose, rather than being the primary desired outcome.

Last year, socialbrite.org celebrated four terrific examples of corporate social responsibility. Based on these criteria, I believe that Newman’s Own, the late Paul Newman’s charitable organization, is a purpose-driven company (they’ve given over $300 million to charitable causes since 1982). (Full disclosure: I LOVE Newman’s Own products, particularly their black bean & corn salsa. Amazing quality & taste, and I’m helping community organizations every time I inhale a jar of it.)

The Rest of the Story

I connected with Joel after his CEO meeting. Joel said the conversation was a rich one. “He thinks we’re a profit-driven company that wants to be a purpose-driven company,” Joel related. “I like that – it means we’re not ‘done,’ that we can evolve to the kind of purpose-driven company I think we can be.”

I’m optimistic, as well. Creating a purpose-driven company is more art than science, pulling together key pieces that make a cohesive, vibrant whole. Joel has the heart, skills, and commitment to help his organization evolve.

Where does YOUR company stand? Is it primarily power-, profit-, or purpose-driven? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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