What is Business?
Not long ago, I was asked to give a couple of presentations at a District meeting of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLE), a nonprofit organization aimed at helping high school and middle school students prepare for careers in business. My sessions were based on my book, “Morphing Into the Real World – A Handbook for Entering the Work Force.” In between sessions, I had a student approach me. He was a young man, probably 18 years of age, with sandy hair and dressed in a suit and tie which he looked uncomfortable in. I remembered him from my first session and he wanted to question my interpretation of business and how it should be conducted. Although the question sounded rather innocent, I suspected he was looking for something else.
I began by explaining that business was primarily concerned with building, marketing, and delivering a product or service in exchange for compensation; that the goal was to achieve profit by maximizing income and minimizing costs, all of which should be performed by operating within the rules and regulations of the law, even though some people will circumvent the law in order to make a profit. I described business as a truly capitalistic concept which encourages the individual to pioneer, invent, innovate, and assume risk. In return, the person can prosper if successful or suffer the consequences of failure. In other words, conducting business means assuming a certain level of risk and responsibility. It is certainly not for sissies. Beyond this, successful business people have implemented standard practices to cultivate trust with customers, vendors, and employees. This means conducting business with a sense of urgency, honesty, dignity, quality, and pride in workmanship. A little class doesn’t hurt either.
I observed the best business relationships were based on what W. Edwards Deming called a “win-win” scenario, whereby both parties prosper cooperatively. Some people believe in win-lose relationships, meaning one party wins at the expense of the other. Instead, “win-win” establishes a long-term relationship whereby both parties prosper over an extended period of time.
I told him ideally a person should find a career as opposed to just a job, although necessity may force a person to do otherwise. In my many years in the Information Technology sector, I encountered several people who fell into systems and software work by accident, not by design. As an aside, some of the best systems people I’ve met along the way had no computer background whatsoever, but rather began in such fields as music, construction, even library science. These were all fields based on some form of discipline and science. Such people may have been lousy programmers, but they had a keen sense for total systems and how to manage them. They may not have planned a career in systems, but the necessity of possessing a job forced them to embrace a new career which they flourished in. The ideal career or job is one which you take pleasure in performing. Some people though are forced to take positions out of necessity as opposed to choice. However, you can find pleasure in just about any task if you master it. Therefore, it behooves you to put your best foot forward even in the face of a seemingly boring or difficult job.
“Not everyone can be boss though, what about the rights of the workers?” the student asked.
True, not everyone can be the owner or boss, some simply do not have the inclination and prefer being followers. I admonished the student as long as he receives wages from someone, he should do it with loyalty and dedication. He should not malign the character of his superior and respect his/her wishes. If he doesn’t like the person, he should move on to another job, but as long as he accepts the wages of the boss, you are beholden to the person and deserves your loyalty. Conversely, the boss should treat the workers with dignity and respect. The objective is to develop a professional attitude on both sides.
“Then why are there so many micromanagers out there?” I was asked.
“Megalomania,” I answered. Some people wish to dominate others by exerting their will obnoxiously in the workplace, to the point that no decision or action can be taken without the approval of the control freak. Such people are political animals who desperately crave recognition and reward, yet casts blame on others when things go awry. Micromanagement is indicative that respect and trust have broken down between workers and the manager. Instead, managers should manage more and supervise less. This means managing from the “bottom-up” whereby workers are charged with assignments, empowered to make decisions, and work accordingly. In other words managing from the bottom-up seeks to improve the trust and respect of the workers simply by treating them as professionals and holding them accountable for their actions.
The student remembered one of my comments during my presentation where I observed a person’s personal and professional lives were one and the same. “What you are suggesting is that a person should lead a worthy and meaningful life?”
I agreed. There is dignity in all forms of work and I certainly do not look down my nose at anyone who is trying to improve their station in life by doing a competent job, regardless of what it may be. How someone performs their duties and responsibilities is a reflection of their personal character. It expresses their dedication, their sense of professionalism, and whether they care about how they are perceived by others.
“So you believe the employer should provide workers with a meaningful career?”
“Not necessarily,” I countered. Matching a job to someone’s skills and proficiencies should be of concern to the employer, but it’s a two way street. It is in the employer’s best interests to have workers who are striving to improve themselves and, as a result, the company will improve, but for this to work, the employee must demonstrate personal initiative, that he/she is willing to assume personal responsibility and risk. However, if the employee believes the employer is going to spoon feed them skills and knowledge, they are likely to be more parasitic in their approach to work as opposed to professional.
“Then you are suggesting the person’s morality is an inherent part of conducting business isn’t it?”
I was startled by the perception and immediately agreed. It means a person’s word is a measurement of his bond and denotes his integrity. The boss sets the example for ethical behavior, but it is up to the workers to follow his/her lead.
“So, if I understand you correctly Mr. Bryce, business is about people; it involves people working together harmoniously to build and deliver a work product under a win-win philosophy, and that people should be treated as professionals and held accountable as such.”
Yes, then I added one last note; When it comes to conducting business, everything begins with a sale. Activities such as engineering, research, manufacturing, etc. are all important, but none more so than sales. All workers should be mindful of this and every activity in a business should be geared towards producing income, for in the end, without sales, everything else evaporates.
The young man thanked me for my time before scurrying off to another session. I had enjoyed this dialog with him; it was refreshing and demonstrated his perception of what I was talking about. I only hope I had impacted the other students in the same manner.
Keep the Faith!