All Business is Personal

Here’s a belief that’s evolved as I mature (aka getting older). And this belief is frequently lost in the daily grind.

All business is personal.

Earth shattering? Nope. Do we work that way? Always, or most of the time? Let’s look more closely.

Who performs business besides people? Machines? Animals?

Seems obvious. If only people do business, doesn’t that make all business personal? Yes, but.

Business can be performed AS IF we’re dealing only with machines, or animals.

Think about business processes and systems. The goal is to make them as efficient and productive as possible – like a machine. That can make it hard to keep people impacts in mind when focused on efficiency.

How about turnaround execs making fiscal-only decisions ? Short-term financial results produced at the expense of long-term viability? The easiest cuts (people impacts) are to an organization’s support staff and functions. Just the areas that keep the engine of growth and sustainability on the rails. And the new owners (oh yes, there will be new owners) are left holding the bag of a soon to implode business.

What about company policies that try to steer everyone into the same pasture? Customers and employees alike. The goal is to prevent a few strays from leading the herd off a cliff. But do the majority deserve barbed wire?

Whether it’s a business process, exec decision, or company policy, they all affect people. And these people are our customers and employees. Most of them we know, many we respect and enjoy, and hopefully we wish all of them to succeed as we do.

Business is still Business

The “all business is personal” belief isn’t about trying to make everyone happy, and then waiting for record profits and growth to tsunami in.

Business is still business. Companies must make profits, grow revenue, mitigate risk, and increase performance.

But “how” business is performed matters.

The Best Business is Personal

The “all business is personal” belief is about valuing, investing in, even protecting personal interactions and impacts when doing business.

This is a fundamental truth about all businesses. That the best business is personal. Even more so for service businesses.

An Example From the Past

Do you remember Barton Security, the pre-Allied-merger original? Remember their reputation? Their growth?

Barton was a values-based organization. It made all business personal.

Their strategy of taking care of their employees, so they’d then take care of Barton customers, was a chain of personal commitments.

Barton walked the talk about “employees being the company’s most important assets”. They were living their brand promise – first and foremost to their employees. Barton cared about them in ways their employees cared about.

As a result, their employees cared about Barton’s customers.

And those customers cared about Barton the company. Were fervently loyal. And they spread the word. As golden referrals. As word of mouth to colleagues.

Real Results

Barton grew organically to $350 million when it was acquired by Allied in 2004. That was impressive.

At one point Barton was so much in demand they told Silicon Valley prospects they wouldn’t be taking on any new business for a six-month period. Barton wanted to make sure their existing clients were taken care of first, personally, before trying to bring on others. They didn’t want to risk unsuccessful account startups.

Wow! Telling prospects they couldn’t hire you. That immediately made prospects want to hire Barton.

Their “all business is personal” created a strong brand with customers in local markets throughout the country. Their management teams consisted of loyal and committed staff. And their front line employees felt they were treated as people, as individuals, and that their performance mattered. Business for Barton was personal, and their people felt that.

Then they sold the company to Allied.

The Moral of the Story?

I don’t know if there is one. But there is a strategy. For buyers and sellers of facility services, acting and making decisions as if all business is personal pays off.

A long-term commitment to employee incentives and recognition pays off in retaining the best people at market wages.

Making responsible growth decisions pays off in growing at a rate where commitments to customers and employees can be kept.

Engaging contractors in candid and open conversations pays off in long-term relationships with higher productivity and lower total costs of ownership.

In what areas can you make your business more personal?


Chris Arlen
President, Service Performance

Technorati: security, strategy, management

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