By now, most business people are familiar with the triple bottom line philosophy: A business is only really 'successful' if social and ecological considerations are taken into account to complement the financial bottom line. So, the key argument is that long-term financial sustainability is only possible if social and environmental costs and dividends are considered as part of business strategy.
One could argue that true business success should also consider the triple top line of offering Personal fulfilment, promoting the Public good and providing meaningful Purpose. In short: a new PPP.
The work we do has both objective and subjective meanings. The objective meaning relates to the outputs, like the projects we complete or services we produce. But our work – where we spend an enormous proportion of the day – also gives subjective meaning to our lives. So, 'successful' people are those who enjoy their work and have a passion for what they do. Personal fulfilment becomes a key to long-term success.
What does it help if you make good money but hate what you do or resent the people you work with?
There is a symbiotic relationship between a business and its immediate and wider social environment. A sense of 'success' should also be derived from being a good corporate citizen.
By recruiting and training workers, by paying local and national taxes, by procuring from local entrepreneurs, by selling products in demand, a business – by implication – contributes to social stability. By pursuing its own good and by also considering the needs of its local or global context, it is able to promote the public good as well.
What does it help if you make good money – for now – but eventually spend unnecessary energy defending your social reputation?
Both psychology and religion teach us that a life worth living is one with a purpose that exceeds the attainment of mere personal objectives. Purpose arises from a perspective where my own efforts and (business) accomplishments serve others and make the world a better place for all.
Building a school is not merely a construction project – it will open doors of learning for children and give them a chance in life as education is the surest path out of deprivation. Designing a medical application on a smart phone is not merely a technical achievement – it spreads the benefit of primary health care to rural people excluded from such benefit. Running a postgraduate business school is not merely about teaching managers new technical knowledge – it is a life-changing journey of self-exploration.
What does it help that you make good money but drift aimlessly from one project to another without a sense of a bigger purpose?
Thus, Personal fulfilment, the Public good and a sense of Purpose may be suggested as the 'top line' measures of success.
Prof Piet Naudé is director of the University of Stellenbosch Business School.