As I have spent most of my working life in the business and finance world, the word “profit” has never elicited any kind of emotional or value-based response for me personally. There are so many different definitions, but in my mind and in broad terms, it simply represents a factual illustration of how any business goes about their trade by selling their products and/or services at an amount greater than it costs to produce, market and deliver them. In other words, I see it purely as a financial term, but I feel that it has come to mean different things to different people.
As a business advisor, trainer and coach there is always going to be a strong emphasis on improving performance and profitability and so when engaging clients around the topic, the natural disposition is to associate the word profit as a gateway to achieving a plethora of goals in business and in life more generally. This elevated meaning is intended to help create an abundance mindset and produce a vibrant energy that is a wonderful way to enhance clarity, sharpen the focus and build momentum. However, what I have come to learn in recent times is to be more mindful and sensitive when using the term profit, as it seems to not only be interpreted as a simple financial equation but appears to be deep rooted in the power of language and the impacts it has on our psyche.
This observation is not surprising, when the world is constantly questioning the capitalist ideology and how profit somehow gets washed and rinsed with words like greed, usury and cheating or popular phrases like those wall street fat cats and snake oil salesman. Then we have the corporate social responsibility movement happening and the paradigm shift from profit to purpose or the stakeholder vs shareholder argument. To be clear, I am not trying to attack or defend any of these ideas, I am simply taking a bird’s eye view and observing the reality on the ground. What I am interested in though, is the impact these new social norms have on those below the surface motivations, beliefs and values and be able to recognise this when it presents. This will then give me the opportunity to find a way to remove or isolate profit from these perceptions and perhaps help reframe perspectives on all that is good about profit and why it is so important for business success and sustainability.
I usually encounter what I call the “profit apathy” disposition when people skirt around the numbers and use avoidance tactics by defaulting on purpose or meaning and doing what they love and are passionate about. It also comes through in conversation when its about helping or developing others and profit is somehow lumped into the self-interest or even self-indulgence bucket. I can totally relate, as the only reason I do what I do is to help others with the added bonus of enjoying it in the process. I also completely agree with the notion of doing what you love first and foremost and the financial benefits will follow. What I also strongly advocate though is that running a highly profitable business will allow you to not only continue doing what you love but will also give you more options such as investing in your business to improve your offering(s), investing time and energy in your personal well-being and providing the opportunity to develop those around you. If we can reprogram our thinking around the purpose that profit serves rather than focus on the term for its own sake or what it may mistakenly represent, then perhaps those who have held certain unhelpful beliefs can look at their numbers in a different light and engage in the profit growth conversation with a curious and open mind.
After all, if you solely build your business based on following a passion, how is that different from a hobby? Purpose plus profit sounds like a winning formula to me. I may be wrong, but the way I see it is that pursuing either one on its own is a rather naive approach to long term business success.