It’s Only Business, Right?

By Jerry Pett, Thymometrics [caption id="attachment_177" align="alignright" width="220"]Ethical Business? Ethical Business?[/caption] A commonly accepted attitude to work is that “business is business”. It’s one of those “golden rules” and I for one have lost count of how many times I have heard “it’s only business”, or maybe “don’t take it personally, it’s only business”. Let’s spend a few moments to think about these phrases and what they really mean. The general gist is that some things are acceptable in a business environment that would not be acceptable elsewhere. Think back to the last time you heard any of these. It was probably as an attempt to try and suppress your reaction to someone treating you badly, or giving you a bad deal, or behaving in a callous manner. The “business is business” excuse is an attempt to change something that could be deemed unacceptable into something palatable, and more than palatable, normal, the way it should be. It also implies we should take the emotion out of business, and just deal with hard cold facts. Showing emotion by implication is simply not “good business”. So should we behave differently in our personal and work lives? Is it right and proper to develop an alternate ego to use in our business lives that is somehow us, but devoid of our emotions? Is it right that we learn to put away our moral compass that guides our decisions in our personal lives, and replace it with a profit and legal compass during the hours of 9 to 5? I don’t know about you, but when raising my children I didn’t sit them down and say “son, the most important thing in life is to get away with as much as you can, so long as it’s legal.” When my daughter asks me if she can keep a toy she just saw another child drop by mistake, I tend not to say “yes keep it, so long as you weren’t seen, and anyway, possession is 9/10ths of the law”. Incidentally I have no idea when and where in the past that “business is business” became an acceptable norm; but I do know with increasing focus now on Corporate Social Responsibility, Employee Engagement and the sheer power of Social Media there is now a genuine opportunity for us to redefine what drives us in our work lives. Take Steve Jobs who founded Apple, he drove the company with passion. His aim was not to make money but to follow his dreams, to build an amazing company with exceptional products and free thinking employees. Whenever you find people putting passion, drive and emotion into their work you will find incredible results. From the likes of Richard Branson to David Beckham, Pavarotti or even Leonardo da Vinci. But it is not just for entrepreneurs, artists and sports celebrities. In our day-to-day lives we can be touched by this too. Whenever you find a charming waiter in a restaurant or bar, when the shop staff talk to you as a person and show real interest in you and what you want, when you contact a call centre having braced yourself for a poor experience and you get through to someone who cannot do enough for you. The real difference for me is in all these encounters I feel I am meeting a person and they genuinely care. They are not hidden behind some corporate mask, and the experience whether as a customer, supplier or colleague is always the same. I want to deal with these people again, and I gladly recommend them. This in turn drives success for these people and their employers. I heard a great analogy the other day when asked to imagine what my eulogies might say about me. I have heard this technique used before when someone asked me to consider what thoughts I might have on my death bed. I know this all sounds morbid, but the point is simply these are techniques to help us focus on what really matters. When we stop to consider these two scenarios it is unlikely that our aim is to be described as ruthless, or someone who could really push the legal boundaries. Would our regrets be that we didn’t work hard enough, or that we allowed our emotional freedom to stand in the way of our corporate progression? More likely we want to be remembered for our passion and compassion, as a loving parent and partner, as a supportive friend or colleague, as someone who cared, as someone who made other people’s lives better not someone who exploited opportunities for “maximum gain”. So if we accept the most important issues and aims in our lives are not making profit and corporate advancement, also consider that most of us spend more waking time at work than at home. You are likely therefore to spend more time with your work colleagues than at home with your partner. We nurture our relationships in our personal life and we should do the same with our professional lives. In fact, better still, we could strive to drop the distinction altogether between work and home lives and acknowledge we have one life, we just two places where we spend a great deal of time. We are the same person in both places so don’t we owe it to ourselves to let go of out-dated and ill-conceived phrases such as “business is business” to mask any morally questionable activities in the workplace and start to take it all a whole lot more personally instead?
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