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It’s not personal, it’s strictly business

It wasn’t true in ‘The Godfather’, and its not true in reality.

Its a phrase which is often thrown about by those who want to seem professional, or ‘bizznessey’. That’s it. Its nonsense.

Don’t worry – it’s just business. In fact, it is masking a completely unacceptable form of behaviour oftentimes.  The phrase is then used as a form of defense, as if to say ‘It’s not my lack of skill or imagination that is at fault for what I have done, it’s just the way it is supposed to work‘.

It’s not my lack of skill or imagination that is at fault for what I have done, it’s just the way it is supposed to work‘.

But firstly, let’s back up. Why, does this approach merit even so much as a word, let alone a blog post?

It is factually incorrect.

Even in the movie reference above, it was ‘all about business’, until it affected them. Then, it became personal.

The feuding families in the film were accepting the losses of members of their troop to a certain point, but when it hurt one of their ‘own’, all bets were off, and vendettas overtook.

The same is true of anyone who uses that phrase (and many often do) to justify their actions. It’s OK, as long as I, or those I care about, are not the ones getting hurt.

It’s OK, as long as I, or those I care about, are not the ones getting hurt.

At a certain level in large organisations, daily tasks and activities are often viewed through the prism of spreadsheets, or status reports. Never at the ground level where the impacts can be felt. It can be tempting to slip into ‘game’ mode in these cases. (And don’t get me wrong, there are a positions where to actually think about the impacts of the numbers you deal with can be the pathway to descent into madness!)

However, actions have consequences, those figures and stats on spreadsheets represent things, or people, and sometimes / often actually – when they are used for decision making, people get discommoded, inconvenienced, hurt, or worse. To them, on the receiving end, it is never ‘strictly business’ – or ‘It’s just business’, as it is often misquoted as.

If a factory which employs a lot of a town’s population needs to close, it may make a perfect ‘business’ decision on the part of those who make the choice at HQ, but it is scant consolation to those losing their jobs.

It masks cowardice and laziness.

Even on a smaller level than globe spanning organisations, we see this phrase used. Very often, it is used as a justification if someone in a small business sees a competitor stealing a lead. Very fast, they may try to follow, and copy-cat, undercut or undermine.  (All possible responses, but not always the best response.)

At the very least using these cowardly approaches to an industry threat does nothing to help move things forward for clients or customers. Normally, such protectionist approaches only work for limited time, until such that they are overtaken, and forced to change or be left behind.

In small business, it very often is quite close to the coal face for the owners, vs an executive who may be many layers removed from the impact of choices they make. The nature of work these days means that business owners who chose this lazy protectionist approach have decided that they view everything as a competition. Apart from, I would argue, catering or selected service industries, most small businesses don’t need to aggressively compete against the shop down the road.

We are looking very soon in the next 10 years at a world where direct competition is a choice – not a necessity. 

With the emergence of online shopping etc, specialization is more becoming the key vs ‘doing what the place down the road does’.