A Means to Ends Sleight of Hand

Usually a business begins with an idea: An idea to deliver a product and/or service that meet the needs of people is the seed of a business enterprise.  As needs are satisfactorily met a share of market is realized along with it revenue with profit.  Share of market, revenue and profit are the material means that afford the organization the ability to continue meeting the needs of those it serves.  In turn, the enterprise will continue in its existence as long as the initial intent to provide to the needs of those it serves is the focus of its attention.

Moreover as the business continues to place the focus of attention on the quality of its products and services those served become loyal customers—a share of market condition that minimizes rivalry.  Moreover, as long as the implicit contract between the enterprise and its’ customers is maintained the business’ share of market will not only solidify, it likely will increase—thus ensuring the continued existence of the enterprise.

However, if those in authority place the focus of their attention to increasing profitability or market share of the enterprise, then the business of the business becomes the growth of its measured ends.  In so doing leadership essentially performs a sleight of hand, whereby the measures become the ends.  In effect those in authority lose sight of the customer and the associated quality as the reason for the business.  The ends and measures become the thing, not the quality of what is produced!   In effect the production and delivery of the enterprise’s product and service becomes a cost—something of instrumental value—to the business of producing material growth and profit.  There is a switch between means and ends.

Repeatedly, history has shown that when this happens eventually those leading the organization find—if not too late—that to regain viability of the enterprise they have to be re-introduced to those they serve.  A case in point is the recent recall and quality issues Toyota is now facing. According to the New York Times, Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, asked why Toyota had moved away from a business model that prized quality and openness, Mr. Lentz (president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.) offered a simple explanation: “We lost sight of our customers.”

More specifically, by focusing attention on becoming the largest automotive company in the U.S., they changed the business of their business from providing quality to customers to providing material gain to themselves. Toyota is not the first to do this, nor are they the last—surely they are among many, as more have done it than not.

Why do you suppose this change in focus of attention—the switching of means and ends—frequently happens in business organizations?

7 thoughts on “A Means to Ends Sleight of Hand

  1. Yes arrogance can lead to feelings of invincibility. However, re-defining the business of the business may not be fully attributable to ‘blind arrogance’. Could it simply be a change in intention? As the saying goes, some people eat as a means to live and others just live to eat.

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