It’s never ‘just business’: business is now more personal than never

By Mike Cook
Special to The Bellingham Business Journal

We’ve all heard it said, maybe it has been said to us, maybe we have been the one speaking the words.

“Don’t take it personally, it’s just business!”

Honestly, did the words ever seem true to you? I doubt it, unless of course it was you saying it.

Usually, we tend to think of the phrase “It’s just business” being spoken in connection with an individual termination, layoff or some other dramatically negative event affecting one or more employees.

As it turns out — and research backs this up — it has never just been business, it has always been personal, every moment of every work day for every employee and every customer. Here is a sample of some of the results from a report by ethics and compliance company LRN, which reveal emphatically that it is all personal:

♦ Ninety-three percent of employees at high-trust and truly values-based businesses observe financial performance greater than their competitors vs. 48 percent of those at strict top-down organizations.

♦ Employees functioning in a high-trust organization are 22 times more likely to take a beneficial risk – which, in turn, enables eight times the level of innovation as compared to the competition.

♦ When it comes to loyalty, 92 percent of employees of businesses based on values and trust plan to be working for their company in a year, compared to 46 percent of those in strict top-down organizations. Ninety-eight percent would recommend their values and trust-based company to a friend vs. just 33 percent at strict top-down organizations.

And there are more results like these where this information came from: check in with Forbes contributor and LRN CEO Dov Seidman, author of ‘How is the Answer’.

We know the results, more or less, from the survey cited above before we even read them. We know them from that other role we play in our lives as customers of businesses like the ones we work in. We are all customers in our lives as well as employees and as customers how many times have we decided to do or not do business with an organization based on HOW they conducted business, the experience we had or whatever you think of when that company comes to mind again.

Just this weekend I was asking my daughter where she purchased a shirt she had given me for Father’s Day because I wanted another one like it. She said the company name then added, “But don’t do business with them, find someone who sells their stuff because their customer service is terrible!”

There is a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one. Chances are good these days the company has its garments manufactured by someone else and does its own customer service. Yikes!

If you are going to sell me a high quality shirt and charge me a premium price at least give me service that matches the merchandise. A high quality garment does not excuse a poor customer service experience.

What I find compelling in the results from this survey is not that they are informing us of something we do not know. Some time back I shared with you an experience of what it was like for me as a customer to be treated with respect by the employee of a local business in a sticky situation. It was not simply satisfying it made me want to do more business with the company. That is the power of HOW that Siedman wrote his book about. We know this to be true.

In the saddest news from the How Report, only one company in 30 of those surveyed met the standards of being based on values and trust. Here we are, just over 150 years since the industrial revolution and we still operate most businesses on some form of top-down management. We have met the enemy and we are it, with all the information available on what works to make companies their very best we can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse. So how do you explain your own tolerance for working in a less than fully satisfying environment? How do you justify employees who don’t leave your customers wanting to come back? Siedman uses the term “informed acquiescence.” Based on my experience, that works for me.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He teaches in the MBA program at Western Washington University and also runs a CEO peer advisory group in the Bellingham area.

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