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Business culture

Do you wear their t-shirt?

The “Business is Personal” origin story is at the core of what “Business is Personal” is. Back in 2005 I started talking to my sales manager about selling the business. They decided they wanted to buy it. This was good because they understood the business, as well as the value of the business. I knew they could take care of the customers, so I wasn’t really concerned about the future of the business from the customers’ perspective. Some people may not care but I didn’t want to sell the business to somebody who would promptly goof it up. We took something that was struggling, fixed it, and grew it 12X. It meant something to me.

What made it gel?

Over the next couple of months, we were getting things figured out and settling on a price, among other things. One day, they made a remark that didn’t sit well with me at all. I remember taking whatever it was as an insult.

It’s funny that I cannot remember the specifics of what they said, despite being a seminal moment in my career – at least from a “I stand here” perspective. It wasn’t simply a “you rubbed me the wrong way” thing – it was fundamentally a “This is not how things are done” sort of thing.

When I reacted to this, they said “Mark, it’s not personal. It’s just business.” Their explanation was that their comment wasn’t a personal attack on me – and therefore it was ‘just business’.

I disagreed. Not because they were insulting me, but because I believed business IS personal – and I proceeded to explain why. While we got the transaction done and I moved on from the business, that conversation remains with me to this day. Not the long-forgotten conflict, but the clarity that business is indeed personal and the reasons why.

Even my kids know

Back when we got together with other people, it wasn’t uncommon for work to come up in conversation. When that happened, how you’re treated by your employer will color your comments – or have you keep them short. Whether you’re treated well or poorly at work, it’s difficult not to take it personally – and it’ll show in your conversations with others.

If your kids hear you and your significant other talking about how things are going at work, they get it. Maybe not all of it, but kids are not stupid. They listen, and learn. They understand when work is treating their parent well, even if they don’t understand the details. They can tell from the look on your face and the tone of your voice.

Would you wear their t-shirt?

When your employees walk through the grocery store with t-shirt or a ballcap that has the name of your business on it. Some people walk by and might say “Yeah, love that place.” Some people won’t say a word. Some people will nod or tip their cap. Some might make a negative comment.

Is the person wearing the hat or shirt ambivalent to the comments? Perhaps. There will be some who don’t care, but most will elicit a personal reaction – even if they keep it to themselves.

It’s their place of work. It’s where they spend a fair amount of time learning, refining, working as a expert in their field. Even if you hate the company, you’ll likely have some reaction if someone says that place’s work sucks – because it reflects on your work, even if in a small way.

I think back to the places I’ve worked since 1983 and asked myself whether I’d want to wear a t-shirt with each employer’s name on it. There are a couple that I wouldn’t choose to wear. The reasons don’t matter. Maybe it seems like a trivial thing, but wearing them reflects upon me. It’s personal.

Would you wear your employer’s t-shirt around town if you had a choice? Why? Why not? Is it personal much?

I built that

When you’ve built something from scratch, or you’ve been part of the team who built a company from nothing, it means something. You helped take it from a garage in a back alley to something sustainable and solid.

If I asked you about it, you aren’t likely to say “We built a strong company from nothing against tall odds, but it was just work.”

Nobody says things like that – because Business is Personal.

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