Your Priorities Are Wrong

I recently attended Dibi Conference 2013 in Newcastle and had the pleasure of attending one of the keynotes which was given by Dan Rubin about “Why We Do What We Do”. In essence he was speaking about motivation, the “reasons to wake up each morning”. Interestingly he didn't stop at the personal level, i.e. what motivates individuals but took it a bit further into the world of business priorities. According to him - and I think that many of us would agree - most companies have the following priorities:

  1. Profit
  2. Customers/Product/Quality

Now of course this is incredibly difficult to ascertain because no business leader in their right mind would openly tell you that as a customer you are less important to them than making money. So in the real world this ordering of priorities is either perceptible through their actions or by working for them so you understand how they think and work on the inside. From my personal and anecdotal experience I would have to agree with Dan, although I'm not particularly happy about it (the fact that things are this way, not that I have to agree with him).

To some extend perhaps this order of priorities came about because profit (and before that, costs) are so much easier to measure and manage than product quality or customer experience which are hard to measure and thus often come in as an afterthought. There are some successful companies however which ignore this traditional approach but they are generally regarded as edge cases: for example Apple and Walt Disney.

Both were led by charismatic and passionate visionaries. Steve Jobs at Apple cared about changing the world, while Walt Disney wanted to entertain it. Both were outstanding visionaries but terrible business people. Making money for them was a way to make their dreams come true. It wasn't their priority and fortunately they had the right people around them at the right time to ensure that that money was being brought in.

No make no mistake, money needs to be made! It is not optional. However, while both companies acknowledge the need to make a profit and pay shareholders they treat profit as a byproduct, something that will inevitably come as a result of their relentless focus on their customers and attention to detail. So the “passionate” priorities should then put Customers first:

  1. Customers/Product/Quality
  2. Profit

This stance seems to be incredibly hard to attain though and the question that remains is why so few companies are able to set their priorities this way. Is it that you must have a visionary leader to focus the organisation this way? Or is it something that many more companies could adopt but don't because of fear and unwillingness to really challenge and change their behavior? Perhaps the fate of Apple, now without its leading visionary, will offer some clues.

© 2013-2014 Henning Hoyer