When I was 19, I was the assistant manager of a late-night sub shop on the beach. I served customers, managed employees, and reconciled any issues. At 21 I was the manager at a sporting goods store. With this position, I was tasked with managing a team of ten people, running the budget for a multi-million-dollar retail operation, all while hiking on the weekends.
Throughout this period of my life, I did one thing above all else – I observed. What experience was created for the customer? How clean was the place? How did owners treat their employees? Were employees empowered to make decisions?
What I learned was that every single interaction would impact the collective experience of employees, customers, and suppliers. And it was entirely up to leadership to dictate if these interactions would be memorable – and for what reasons.
This lesson stuck with me, but it took a while longer before I really understood it in the context of purpose.
At first, I had one purpose for starting a business– to be independent. To never have to answer to the man (or woman). I wanted control. I am not a control freak, but I needed the freedom to define a work culture that worked for me.
For some business owners, there’s a second purpose – to make money or pay the bills – the business is a job. Yet for most, it’s not that simple. Often times, being a business owner doesn’t pay the bills, let alone make money. Years of sacrifice will come before the big payday – and that needs to be ok.
If you’re lucky enough to get your business through the survival years where it’s all about finding any way to pay the bills – if you’re blessed enough to survive – your battle scars will have shaped your beliefs about every single facet of your business. Everything.
Through my experiences in my early employment years and in starting my own business, I have come to understand that there is a third purpose for business: A successful business should operate like a community.
It’s the purpose of a business to provide value, positively impact and change the lives of those who are in their community – their clients, their employees, their suppliers, and other local businesses. Of course, there is a trade-off to not squeezing every dollar into profit and shareholder value. However, in the age of excess, I prefer to think that having enough to live comfortably is more than enough!
Which brings me to one of my favorite stories:
A son comes home from business school to his dad’s incredibly successful sandwich shop. Sandwiches are jam-packed and overflowing, pickles and chips are free and there are lines out the door. The son says, “Dad did you not know that this is a down economy? You need to cut back on the free chips and pickles and make the portions smaller.” The dad, appreciative of his well-educated son, immediately put the suggestions into place. In no time, he called his son and said, “you were right! Nobody is buying any food – this is a bad economy!”
The point being, the more value that you provide, the more you’ll get back. Give your employees flexibility, and you’ll have employees that act like owners. Deliver exceptional service to your customers, and you’ll have customers for life. Do good within the community, and you’ll feel good.
My purpose at Placers is to change lives – and that improves my own reality. I have created a place I like to go, with people I want to be with, doing work that I am proud of – work that makes a difference. The work that I do is a privilege.
What would you define as the fourth purpose of a business? Reply directly and let’s discuss!
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