Insights on business,
life, and leadership —
right in your inbox!

Money vs. Mission

August 16, 2022

When I stand before a group and share about how to develop leaders, improve culture, or enhance the brand of a business, each message really comes back to this central idea: mission.

When I say mission, I’m emphasizing the fact that we need to know why we do what we do. A sense of purpose (read: mission) is crucial to the success of our organizations. But every once in a while, I encounter a cynic. They will usually wrap their comments in kindness, but the feedback follows a familiar formula. After I give my talk, someone will come up and say, “Can’t we just make this simple? We pay people. They should do the work. We all win. You provide work, the business provides a paycheck, and we don’t need any of this extra stuff.”

Here’s my response to the critics: In short, no, that’s not enough.

Some context: We’ve talked about this before in a previous blog, but today, I want to focus on the danger of elevating money above mission. In theory, it seems like money alone would be enough motivation to perform work with excellence. However, there’s a glaring problem: when the exchange between employer and employee is all about money, we turn our employees into mercenaries who’d quickly sell their services to the highest bidder.

Said another way, if it’s only about money, we would have no loyalty and quickly work for the business down the street if they offer an extra quarter an hour.

Think about this. If you signed up to serve in the US military, there is financial compensation. But, there are many jobs with higher pay and better benefits. If you are signing up to serve in the military, it’s because you have a desire to serve your country and fight for the people in it. And without a doubt, if an enemy military offered you more money to fight for them, you wouldn’t think about doing it. Why not? Ultimately, your work is about the mission.

Similarly, if someone feels called to serve on the mission field, it’s unlikely that a company offering them more money to do a different job would persuade them to stay. They are motivated by the mission, not by the money.

As leaders in the business world, or even education, we’ve got to connect people to our mission, not just the money. The word mercenary means a hand for hire who will always go to work for the highest bidder. If the only thing we’re doing to fight for talent is to offer them more money, we are playing a risky game that we will probably lose.

Some people will say focusing on mission (or purpose, or vision) is fluffy and superfluous. Let me be clear: If your talent strategy is only about money, you will struggle to retain talent.

Mission isn’t just a feel good thing. It’s also not a manipulation tactic—it must be authentic. When done correctly, mission creates employee engagement and loyalty over the long haul.

Money definitely matters, but mission matters more than money.

Spend some time this week reminding folks in your organization why you do what you do.


Insights on business,
life, and leadership —
right in your inbox!