Forbes: Why Business is Personal

This article was originally posted on Forbes.

One of my former teammates, Mohammed, is an intensely talented ketchup salesman. It’s unlikely that he grew up thinking he would dedicate a third of his life to selling ketchup, but that’s exactly what happened. Mohammed spends a third of every day, for as long as he’s with his company, selling ketchup on a massive scale.

So is ketchup a lifelong passion? And if not, why would he invest a third of his life in it? Maybe he’s truly motivated by the ketchup company’s vision, mission, and goals. Maybe he loved ketchup as a child and is fulfilling a lifelong dream by working in the ketchup industry. Perhaps for some, this might be true, like my sister-in-law who loves ketchup, but not for Mohammed. He just wants a good quality of life, and to care for his family, like most of us. Yet he dedicates a third of his life every day to moving various forms of tomato paste around the world. And that’s not a small amount of his life.

For Mohammed, ketchup is personal. He’s a center-field attacker on a ketchup team. Every sale he makes improves his ability to care for his family, and every sale he misses reduces that same ability. His personal vision for his life is accomplished today by his playing his position on a ketchup team to the best of his ability. For Mohammed, ketchup is intensely personal.

Early in my career I often heard the phrase, “It’s just business, nothing personal.” If you’ve ever heard that phrase, then you probably saw things going differently at that moment; you heard someone else’s intent to help, and then you felt the impact of their decision that wasn’t in your favor. Those are all very human experiences for a situation that isn’t supposed to be personal.

The “it’s nothing personal,” idea started way back in 1776 when Adam Smith added the idea of specialization of labor in The Wealth of Nations. This led to a person-as-machine-cog approach to management that remained dominant until the late 20th century. The fact is, all business impacts people. Every transaction, every product or service, every tender awarded or missed, has a human impact.

So is business personal? and how can we get more from our team for an effective organisation?