When the Profit Motive Tramples Core Values

Blog Post created by 1049487 on May 15, 2017

The allure of the almighty dollar can be pretty powerful. In the workplace, that 'pull' can cause some people to do things they intuitively know are wrong. Following are some fundamental concepts that involve the sometimes tenuous relationship between a company's values and the profit motive.



1. Incentives often start out innocently enough


Most organizations work to motivate employees, and incentives are a path to doing so. The problem is that sales incentives, on their own, are often untethered.  When incentives become the primary motivator, as opposed to a greater good cause or an actual benefit to the customer, it is a slippery slope to hard selling and short term good feelings. 


 2. Profit priorities, when not grounded in other values and goals, can be a problem

Most companies want to turn a profit, but profit for profit's sake is dangerous.  If a company makes money while at the same time using shoddy business practices, manipulating customers, or causing negative impact on people or the environment, they are sure to eventually crumble. Making money is fine, as long as it exists in synch with, not separate from, a 'real' purpose that actually matters to customers, to employees, and to the world.

 3. Employees copy what happens at the top, often unconsciously. 

Management doesn’t need to tell employees to commit unethical practices. They will do so automatically if it is clearly the path to success at an organization. Employees watch what bosses DO, much more than what they SAY. Without even knowing they are doing so, employees copy what the boss does. 

4.  Money can do strange things to people. 

It likely feels good at first when money rolls in, even when it does so for bad reasons. Most of us will construct a story in our own heads of why what we are doing makes sense. This story helps us to overcome 'internal objections' even if it compromises our values, especially when money is involved. Ultimately, it is up to senior leadership to expand the definition of what success looks like beyond money.

 5. Customers suffer when employees lose clarity about what is right. 

Doing things 'to' customers that are not in their interest (i.e. selling multiple accounts they don’t need i.e. Wells Fargo) hurts customers in all ways. Companies have an obligation to focus on and relentlessly tell the story to employees at all levels that customers matter and that when they do what is right in their job, it is good for customers, and ultimately, good for the business.

 6. When the top loses their way, it is hard to self-right. 

Expecting non-leaders to be the ones to call out bad behavior is unrealistic. The deck is stacked against them as basic human survival needs often come into play (“I need this job to support my family.”) Leadership is, at it’s heart, a relationship between a leader and a follower and it is the leaders obligation to find and hold the way for what is right and true at work. And this includes leadership’s obligation to call each other (peers) for lapses in judgment that steer the company down a slippery slope.

For more information on values and creating a better workplace, please visit Vision and Values.