The Godfather started it. You may not know the scene but you know the line from Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino:
“It’s not personal Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
It’s a statement being used somewhere today in a conference room or over lunch or on a putting green to justify doing something that’s going to feel personal to somebody but the decision is good for the organization. You’ve may have said this. You may even believe it. Undoubtedly you’ve been on the receiving end of it at some point.
Another movie sought to take this idea on. In 1998, Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail pushed against it. Joe Fox, the corporate book retailer played by Tom Hanks put Kathleen Kelly’s (played by Ryan) little bookstore out of business. He said it wasn’t personal. Just business. But it was personal:
Joe Fox: It wasn’t personal.
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.
She’s right. It should begin by being personal. Your organization is being graded on a variety of things every day like the quality of your products or the helpfulness of your customer service representatives and if your organization’s culture begins by being personal you’re going to make better products and hire better customer service reps.
It’s not the easier path but it is the better path. The implications are vast:
- If business is personal it doesn’t happen at arms length.
- If business is personal it requires transparency.
- If business is personal it demands the truth.
- If business is personal then you’ll honor your word.
- If business is personal you’re looking for everyone to win.
Unless your business doesn’t involve people in any form or fashion (and I’d like to know what that might be) then it’s personal to someone. A particular business decision may not be personal to you but it’s personal to someone else. If you’re lucky, you’ll never meet the person impacted by a business decision, but in today’s connected, sharing, venting out loud type of world, the likelihood that you’ll find out who your decision impacts is more probable than ever and then you’ll have to deal with that in whatever form it takes.
Of course, you could just recognize that business is personal and make decisions with that in mind too. It’s your call.