There’s More to ROI Than Money Alone


Measuring success in dollars alone ignores the purpose of work

By Triplebotline (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

My father bought a lottery ticket every Thursday. Each week he told my sisters and me the same thing, “If I win, I’m still going to work tomorrow.”

Frankly, I used to think he was nuts, but many years later, I finally understood the message behind that statement: my dad didn’t work for money alone — his job gave him purpose.

Purpose. People talk about that concept a lot these days. Whether it’s a purpose-driven company or purpose on a more personal level, the discussion drives thoughts on social responsibility and passion.

For a long time however, I felt that one piece of the discussion was missing. It’s tied into my beliefs around work in a fundamental way and a quote from a recent post by John Battelle finally jogged my brain enough for it to crystallize: why aren’t other types of ROI as, or even more, important than making money?

What if beyond capital returned, a business measured the health and happiness of its communities as a primary driver of ROI? What might that business ecosystem look like? — John Battelle

Now, before we jump in here, I want you to know this: I understand that making money is the key to the continuation of any business. My beef is with using money as our sole measure of ROI.

Back in the 1990’s, I was a tech support specialist at the super-hot consulting firm, CSC Index. Rocketed to success by chairman James Champy’s book Reengineering the Corporation,” it was a heady place to work, a company filled with purpose.

Business process reengineering was our meat and potatoes and, at the time, it made so much sense. If you reworked the processes within an organization, you could eliminate so many inefficiencies. Hunting season was opened on operational silos, and walls were falling everywhere.

Unfortunately, so was headcount at the companies that worked with CSC Index. The more efficient a process became, the less people were needed to make it go. It was a good move from the point of financial ROI, but it destroyed the daily purpose of so many people who were caught in the crossfire.

Did a reengineered company need to get rid of those people? Both sides of the argument could be made — why not repurpose those people to create more value for all stakeholders? But executives knew that by becoming more efficient, they’d reap the financial returns of our shortsighted investment markets.

Ironically, it was this shortsightedness that ultimately came to call on CSC Index itself. This was the incident that made me start to realize that something was off in the way we thought about money and work.

You see, CSC Index was supposed to have grown 32% over a certain amount of time. Instead, we only grew 30%.

How horrible.

Apparently, 30% growth, a solid-seeming number to me then as well as today, was not enough for our investors. Management was called to the table, jobs were lost, and money won the day over purpose.

People need to work — we have a psychological drive to keep busy. Our focus on money as the sole ROI of work is flawed, both from a company’s view as well as an employee’s.

Just because you can make more money by focusing solely on financial ROI doesn’t mean you should do so. Healthy civilizations are not built on money alone. Perhaps today more than ever, businesses need to focus beyond capital returns and start thinking about other types of ROIs, including:

  • Happiness of their employees;
  • Health of their communities; and
  • Positive impact their products and services have on their customers.

Focusing beyond financial ROIs opens the door to so many possibilities while not shutting the door on financial reward.

What types of ROIs would you focus on first?

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