It's an old cliché, and we've all heard it: "It's not personal, it's just business."
Anyone who can dismiss a business as being anything but personal probably never owned one. As entrepreneurs, our business are a huge part of who we are; it is our art, our concerto, and our masterwork. For most entrepreneurs, the very mention of being a business owner invokes a feeling of personal pride.
What entrepreneur hasn't personally sacrificed time, money and sweat (and probably blood and tears) to make their business grow? For a true entrepreneur, a business is not just a way to make money, it's the way we show who we are, prove we are capable, resolve our insecurities and learn some of life's most important lessons.
Of course business is personal.
It is by allowing business to be more personal that we maximize potential and reach our goals. Beyond our own feelings for our business, any business is ultimately based on relationships: the relationships between people in your office, the relationships between you and vendors, the relationships between you and your customer. In fact, if you're not forging personal relationships with your clients, you're probably doing something wrong. Overwhelmingly, business is about people, and people are emotional beings, whether we want to admit it or not. We have a saying in our office: "You don't have awesome companies; you have awesome people." If more entrepreneurs and business owners would stop denying the personal, emotional, human side of business, and embrace it, their businesses would thrive.
How does embracing the personal aspects of a business make it grow? For one, it increases morale. It is now a generally accepted fact that people don't just want a paycheck, they want to have their contributions matter. They want to be a part of something. This isn't a business desire; it's a personal, emotional desire. By acknowledging that business is personal, you're also acknowledging that the people who choose to work with you form a team who offer mutual support to each other, rather than just workers filling a role. Your team members want to matter, so let them know that they do matter, and matter beyond the role they fill. If you subscribe to the cliché, "It's just business," you're effectively ignoring the emotional and human impact business decisions can have on someone. You're ignoring their humanity and the incredible opportunity we have as entrepreneurs to use our companies as incubators to help people grow.
So what can you do to acknowledge that yes, business is personal and yes, business can have a profound effect on people's emotions and lives and still move the business forward?
The first step is transparency.
Transparency is terrifying for most leaders because somewhere along the way--in a company we worked with, in a class we had in college, by observing other leaders--we learned that it is best to keep most things to ourselves. Yet life and business are both so much easier when you just let everyone know what is going on.
Through transparency you will quickly find:
• When your team knows what is going on, they are more willing to help.
• You will gain trust the more transparent you are.
• When you are not transparent and holding back, everyone knows.
• It is easier to tell people the truth since what they can imagine is probably worse.
Acknowledge that tough decisions may sometimes affect team members adversely. Work with those team members and offer them support. Remember, the greatest investment you make in any business is the investment you make in your people. By nurturing their growth and being transparent when it comes the personal and emotional impact of decisions, you're treating them with the respect you'd want to be treated with.
Recently, we had an outstanding team member whose role became obsolete. We'll call him Adam. Adam was a trusted team member for years. In his role he got us through some tough situations. It was a highly specialized role that we simply didn't have the need for anymore. We looked at placing him in another department, but realized pretty quickly that nothing we had to offer would really play to his strengths and allow him to grow. Rather than shrugging the decision off as "just business," we sat down with him, transparently, and explained the situation, how disappointed we were, and told him we'd do everything in our power to help him move on, including a months-long transition period in which he'd work for us while searching for a new role elsewhere. We talked about it as a company, and the outpouring of support was overwhelming. Every team member offered support and assistance, we used our contacts as owners to find as many opportunities as we could for him, and within a couple of weeks he had several great offers, one of which he accepted. Instead of quietly dismissing him and telling our team that he had "chosen to pursue other opportunities" we rallied around Adam and created a win.
Another way to embrace the personal side of business is through this model we live by and we have posted in our office:
Putting responsibility over blame and acknowledging when there is an issue is the fastest way to move towards correcting the real challenge, especially when it concerns clients or vendors. Remember, there are people on the other side, and when you blame, you're attacking the person, not the problem. If you take responsibility, own that there's a challenge and commit to correcting mistakes and moving forward, you're not only acknowledging and respecting the emotions of others involved, but you're putting yourself in a position to move forward much quicker.
Make it Personal and Create Clients for Life
One of our clients who we trust for market information, feedback on how we are doing, and market analysis is Joe Pryor. Joe runs a dynamic real estate firm in Oklahoma, The Virtual Real Estate Team.
Our relationship with Joe had not so impressive beginnings. In 2009, one of our companies grew from 2 people to 20 and from $500,000 to over $7 million in a single year. We were having a tough time just keeping the doors on. One morning Alex received a Google alert that 45 minutes earlier someone had published an article on a well-known industry site about our product. The title was "Don't Rush Out and Buy the CDPE Designation" (our product) and described how we had missed on a commitment--and Joe had called in and no one had called him back.
If you are a business owner and you are reading this you know just how damaging an article like this can be. Instead of dismissing the article and doing something else or lamenting how terrible it was or calling a firm to try to move it down in search engine rankings ...
Alex picked up the phone and called Joe Pryor, the author. He remembers the call vividly, the phone rang a couple times and Joe answered.
"Hi this is Alex Charfen, I want to thank you for letting us know what was going on through the article you posted."
There was a long pause followed by "Wow, that was... fast."
Once he got over the shock of the call, Alex let Joe describe what had happened and how he felt, and quite honestly he had a point. When he was done, Alex took full responsibility and apologized, explaining to him what we had going on, how fast we were growing and the issues the growth was causing. He painted the vision for him that we have of how we treat our members and apologized for missing, saying there was no excuse for what had happened. He thanked him for letting us know about the issue, rather than just walking away without giving us the chance to correct it and make things right with him. We then offered him a full refund.
Here is where the magic of making it personal really revealed itself.
Once Joe understood what we were doing, what our mission was and how much it meant to us, he made it personal for him. Not only did he refuse a refund, Joe did and still does refer a ton of people to us; he is one of our most vested customers we have, and when he and his wife Charlene (one of our clients as well) got married last year, I had the opportunity to congratulate them!
While there are pragmatic, business-centric reasons for acknowledging the personal side of business--increased morale, increased productivity, team alignment, quicker resolution to challenges--all of which affect your bottom-line, perhaps the bigger rewards are intangible. By recognizing the personal side of the business and acknowledging the people you work with day in and day out, you're giving the team a strong purpose and giving them a better chance for growth.
Make business more personal and you will be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Alex & Cadey Charfen are the co-founders of the Charfen Institute.