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January 27, 2013

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There’s a short conversation in the movie, “You’ve Got Mail” that is appropriate here (bear with me). Behind the quirky romance, the movie is about the big box super bookstore driving the neighborhood bookstore out of business. At one point the big box manager (he) and the small bookstore owner (she) are having a heated discussion about the situation and he says to her (as many people in this situation do), “it’s not personal, it’s just business.” She finally snaps back “What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All it means is it's not personal to you, but it's personal to me, it's personal to a lot of people.” She then continues, “What's wrong with personal anyway? I mean, whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” It ought to begin by being personal.

That’s what we have lost, I think: the idea that it might be possible to run successful businesses with an equal (or greater!?) weight given over to the personal. We have instead made it okay that business decisions be made without consideration for who is impacted and how. I worry a lot about this from the perspective of HRD professionals – we’re in the people advocacy business in a lot of ways, but we have been urged to take on a business mindset and to hold performance as the ultimate end game. I worry that this approach places people advocacy in the back seat. If we question the human impact or try to steer decisions down a path that is more people-friendly, we are too often dismissed as being idealistic or out of touch with the realities of the business world. It’s hard to advocate for putting people first when our own positions and job security is at risk if we do.

I fear that change will only be possible when organizational leaders truly hold themselves accountable for a triple bottom line (people, planet, profit) – at the moment, it would seem that profit is first, planet is trendy, and people are still expendable and interchangeable.

So, so true, Catherine and I love the reference to that scene in You've Got Mail. It completely captures what we're talking about here and what is really bothering me about all of this.

To the extent that I see anything that's related to bringing the personal into work, it's as a marketing ploy. We need to be "authentic" and "bring the whole person to work" so we can make more money. And, as you point out, anything that isn't focused on the bottom line is seen as idealistic or being "out of touch."

As always, you give me further food for thought!

This is yet another way to clearly see that corporations are not people. And if they are, they are too often heartless, calculating, money-grubbing, inhumane people.

Somehow it's become ok for corporations to exhibit behaviors that we would detest in our fellow human beings, yet hide behind the it's only business veil as if that makes it all right. It's not.

Thanks for the article.

Eric--Agreed 100% that corporations are not people. What I find particularly disturbing though is that they are made up of people and it's not a company that's behaving without humanity. It's PEOPLE who are making that choice. We have to stop giving the "it's only business" thing a pass. It's not just business. It's people. Plain and simple.

Here's an antidote to disposablity. Not being allowed to fire people would also make you more inclined to help them find roles which take advantage of their gifts. A mutual responsibility rather than on the employee only. Just a thought.
http://pro.gigaom.com/blog/what-does-a-no-fire-policy-change-everything/

Wow, Catherine--this is pretty amazing! I love the idea of hiring as a sort of "adoption," with all the responsibilities to each other that that means. This is the kind of pledge I wish more companies would take on. Thanks for sharing this!

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