On December 1, 2021 in the thick fog of COVID pandemic uncertainty with most countries announcing quarantine restrictions ahead of the Christmas holiday season, Simon Sinek tweeted one of his famous timely quotes “Profit isn’t a purpose, it’s a result. Purpose is the reason we do the thing that makes the profit.” About a month after in early January, his frenemy Adam Grant supported with “A better vision for a workplace is a community—a place where people bond around shared values, feel valued as human beings, and have a voice in decisions that affect them.” Despite that dark Christmas, there was much hope as many governments and companies parked their politics & profits and focused on their people.
Equation shifted from “profit = success” to “people > profit = success”
What about now?
This April (2022), McKinsey published their momentous 100th COVID briefing entitled Covid 19 Implications for businesses highlighting “After more than two years of reporting on a destructive force, we look forward to sharing our research and thoughts on how people and organizations can build a better world.”
It seems the equation was enriched with a fresh realization (reminder) that businesses have a purpose that is > profit. The same shift we saw in people seeing more meaning in their jobs via Great Resignation, we see in businesses seeking a greater purpose.
Although some companies reverted to a slightly modified equation “purpose + people + PROFIT = success” (profit returning to its primary focus), many established a more holistic long-term perspective, one that required them to also re-evaluate their purpose…
Purpose X People X Profit = Success
Leaders have gone through a personal evolution themselves, losing interest in chasing promotions and pensions… and shifting focus on finding a greater purpose. One such story is covered in the HBR Managing Yourself article Reigniting Your Purpose in the Wake of the Pandemic opening with “As we contemplate a slowdown or end to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are talking about getting ‘back to normal.’ But others, wisely, are instead using this moment to recalibrate, reset, and reinvent.”
There is a deep leadership insight here: we as leaders cannot somehow separate the PERSON from the PROFESSIONAL. If there was a single leadership lesson learned from the pandemic, it was to embrace our own humanity and the humanity of others, not compartmentalize it. Similarly, businesses cannot separate the PEOPLE from the PROFIT. It is people… who turn the purpose into profit.
We’ve spent years perfecting our companies, structures, and processes to be the instrument of exploitation focusing on profits, expenses, and efficiencies. Despite the pandemic, we are still ill-equipped to be instruments of exploration focusing on people, innovation, and sustainability.
What the pandemic evolved is the person behind the professional. Yet we are still far from evolving our purpose and profit and people business equation.