What is a Moral Compass?

The CEOs of major corporations earn multiple millions of dollars. The press and public often express outrage at how much these business leaders earn and yet almost everyone agreess that good CEOs and leadership teams earn their money. What exactly is it that these great leadership teams do that makes their companies so great?

One way to examine this question is to look at what is common to all great businesses. One thing you will notice in all great organizations is that all the employees have a real sense of purpose. They work hard, efficiently as a team, innovating and improving both product and process rapidly day after day.

A major task of company leadership then is to promote this type of behavior in order for the organization to be very successful. A weapon for senior executives to promote these behaviors is the moral compass.

Moral Compass

A moral compass (or moral purpose) is a meaningful value that resonates with employees, appeals to their inner self, making them believe (not think) they are doing something worthwhile. Essentially, the employees must feel they are working on a mission, not just working on a project or in a 9 to 5 job.

A great story illustrating moral purpose comes from the time of the Nasa space programme to put man on the moon. It is about a janitor who is asked by a reporter what his role is within the organization, and replies, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. That’s moral purpose! Where everyone is committed towards the same goal no matter how large or visible their individual contribution is.

Another simple example is Wal-mart, where staff have the simple purpose of giving customers a great deal, or Apple, who make customers love the mundane but necessary task of interfacing with computers.

Notice that the moral purpose should never be about making money. An organization making more money is not very important for almost all employees. Social contribution and making the world a better place however, is. Organizations need to work to find the moral purpose closest to their strategic intent.

In terms of how to spread your moral intent through the organization in a way that connects with people, some simple tactics include:

  • Turn your vision into a story
  • Tie a part of bonuses to behavior and realization of the moral intent
  • Create a moral purpose strong enough that employees want to rise above average
  • Leverage the energetic people within the organization to act as evangelists for the moral intent.


The moral compass is a conceptual tool which appeals to a higher sense of good within employees, enabling them to rise above a standard level of employee performance. The key to creating a moral compass is to create a sense of contribution to society or of doing good for mankind within your employees. Great CEOs and leadership teams know how to tap into the moral compass of their employees to make their company successful.

* Image by daynoir