Idealistic as it may sound, altruism should be the driving force in business, not just competition and a desire for wealth. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
Let’s start with a definition of altruism. From dictionary.com, we get “the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others.” But how does this apply to business?
When you realize that altruism does not preclude profit, but instead, seeks to meet the needs of the customer in a useful and beneficial manner, things become clearer. At least it does to me.
What should one charge? What the market will bear is one common answer. Another might be the one which does the most good for the most people. The former is easier to determine, but what of the latter?
I don’t know how to calculate that. But what it comes down to is at some point, if the price goes up even a bit, it ceases to be win-win, and becomes win-lose, where the customer loses. For me, that is too high a price.
Why is altruism important?
Altruism, as defined in the prior section, is an important part of our lives as humans. Most of us could stand to do it a little better, but that could be an excellent starting point. Where in our business life are we less than altruistic? Even those of us working for the boss can be more altruistic, can’t we?
Consider the people you have known in your work life, and how many of them do just what is necessary to stay employed. Is there any altruism there? How happy are they, doing just the minimum? What of the people you know who go the extra few steps, or even the proverbial extra mile? Are they, in general, more or less happy than the slackers?
Being kind, being nice, not just to customers, but to your co-workers is part of how you can help drive your business forward. You’ve all been treated badly by a ‘customer service’ person before, right? How much better do you feel when the representative treats you with kindness and compassion? How does that impact their business? Does altruism seem a bit more important now?
Where can I apply this in my life?
If you are in business for yourself, it is as simple as trying to figure out how to better serve the needs of your customers. What else can you do? How can you get them more for their money? How can you differentiate yourself from anyone else out there? How can you be kind to your customers and help them be happy?
For those who work for others, who might your customer be? For those working a sales floor, as a cashier or any other ‘touch’ portion of retail, your customer is pretty clearly defined. How can you be altruistic? How can you better care for them? How can you show kindness and compassion for their situation?
What about those who work behind the scenes? Who is your customer? That would be the person or group to whom you are handing your work product to when you are done. If you make shovels, it might be your foreman. If you write software, it could be the people who hired your firm to complete a task.
Once you know who your customer is, the question is how to show your altruism. To me, it starts with kindness to your fellow workers, and harmony within the company. I imagine most of you have seen a cranky person who seems to enjoy making life difficult for some of the other workers. You wouldn’t want to be that person, would you?
Altruism is all about the other person, and how you treat them. It doesn’t mean you have to do nice things for them at your expense. It just means that you have to show them that you value them, not just their money. That is something we can all do. We can treat each-other with care and kindness.
Take a moment to think about how you work with others at your job. Who is your customer? Is there more than one? Who else do you interact with in your daily activities? How could you bring the principle of altruism with you to your job? Just thinking about it has changed your attitude. Acting on it will change you even more.
There is usually more than one way to solve a problem. Without breaking the bank, select the one which does the customer the most good. That is altruism in business. Yes, you won’t make as much money as some, but I bet you will sleep better at night. You probably already do.