Of course its personal, thats what makes (small) business great

businessWe may not have met Don Vito Corleone, but how many times have we heard the expression “It’s not personal, its just business” The context in which we hear this is usually one where the speaker is attempting to make us feel better about the bad news he or she has just delivered. Who amongst us has not heard at least one of the following:

  • “Your fired, it’s not personal, it’s just business”, or
  • “I have to put my price up 20%, it’s not personal it’s just business”,
  • “I can’t afford to provide that level of service to you anymore, it’s not personal, it’s just business”

Expressions like these are just an attempt on the part of the speaker to soften the blow.

The thing about small business is that it IS personal. Successful small businesses are successful in the main due to the personal efforts of the owner. Given a choice between a quality owner operated restaurant, and a quality national chain, I know which one I will choose every time because I can rely on the personal attention of the owner in my transaction, on the personal intervention of the owner in the delivery of service to me, and as a consequence I can expect a better outcome.

For the business owner this requirement for personal involvement can be a douTruman_pass-the-buckble edged sword.  Former United States President Harry S Truman famously had a sign on his desk in the Oval office which read “The Buck Stops Here”. As customers or clients, our desire to deal at a personal level, is in part driven by a requirement to have a person rather than a company to blame when things go awry. This means that there is pressure on the small business owner to accept a responsibility he probably has anyway, in small business or not, and this pressure is felt most keenly, because it IS personal.

Of course there is a personal side to our interactions with large business as well. How often have we all experienced a level of personal service from employees of large corporations which has taken our breath away, I know I have. These guys treat the business of their employer as if it were their own and as a consequence are often the gun salesman, the memorable customer service representative, the perfect waiter, the one who your friends tell you you must ask for when you patronise this business. Coincidentally ( or not actually), these are often the most valuable employees a large organisation can have.

You see, nearly all business interaction involves one or a series of one on one, person to person situations. This is why we get so frustrated by help desks where we cannot return to the guy we dealt with only an hour ago, or by the inability to talk to real humans when we navigate an endless series of touchtone menus when calling customer support. Many businesses would do well to employ a gatekeeper who can direct our call to the appropriate person. In fact it is likely that our relationship with the company will be founded on our now personal relationship with this gatekeeper.

It is similarly personal when a business owner is dealing with employees. Of course it IS personal when carrying out performance appraisals, salary reviews or even delivering the difficult news, especially in small business. After all, the performance of your team directly impacts the performance of your business, and that impacts your ability to buy your groceries and educate your kids. How much more personal can it get? Your decisions in respect of employees’ positions and careers have a similar impact on them of course and it is no good telling them “it’s not personal”.Groceries On the line

For those of us in the fortunate position of being actively engaged in small business, with the excitement and rewards comes the personal commitment. Our businesses become a reflection of us, both as professionals or manufacturers or retailers, but most particularly as people. I have said on many occasions that unless your groceries have been on the line, you have never been in small business, so yes it IS personal, but I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

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