“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
—A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
This is perhaps the single most important passage penned in English literature, and in business writing.
Every human is in the people business. Regardless of your upbringing, your religion or lack thereof, we are constantly engaged with other people. As such, we are perpetually responsible for our effect upon people. Some may avoid being their brothers’ keeper, but they cannot help but be their brothers’ benefactor or antagonist.
And this is a critical aspect of business.
Life and business are about people
Every business involves people. If you don’t believe this, try running a business without customers.
Every aspect of business involves people. Customers, employees, bosses, shareholders, vendors, technical support teams, regulators, the community at large. Each of these touchpoints involve people. In a free society, each of the people – save perhaps regulators – are voluntary associations. You engage them in part because they want to engage you. Hence, any attempt to divorce the business of business from the business of people is doomed to failure. Interwoven, people and their humanity make the most fundamental aspect of business.
And it is how you view humanity that determines your success.
Treating people first as people
When writing my second book, Zen of Zinn, I presented one element throughout – that your attitude defines how you relate to people. This inarguable aspect of life shows why some people and some companies thrive or fail.
Put yourself in any of the aforementioned roles – customer, employee, boss, shareholder, vendor, technical support staff, regulator, or the community at large. Now imagine every mode of interaction and the values presented during engagement: kind, angry, honest, deceitful, generous, stingy, helpful, indifferent, etc. In any of these roles, your reaction is based mainly on what you encounter. A customer receiving an indifferent sales clerk will shop elsewhere. A vendor who must badger to have his invoice paid will stop shipping goods. A regulator who encounters evasion or belligerence will throw the book at you.
This is the essence of you being in the people business. How you treat others, and how you teach your employees to treat others, defines their reaction to your company. Your business depends on your humanity.
Know your business
If your corporate culture is not one that cherishes people, then you need to work on your culture. Mankind requires nurturing, and that is your first job. Mankind is your business.