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Business is all about people

01 Sep 2010

The Commonwealth Games are almost here, and that got me thinking about the last time they were held in New Zealand, which was in 1990. There were lots of memorable moments, but for me a lasting memory was seeing a very old Dame Whina Cooper on the giant screen talking to us all. She quoted a Maori proverb and this is the final line: "he tangata, he tangata, he tangata” (It is People, it is People, it is People).

Traditionally we think about businesses in terms of products and services. When someone asks us what we do, we tell them we "make widgets” or we "service appliances”, and it’s true they are what the business is founded on. But we are so focused on our product or service that we forget the most obvious point: we make the widgets for people! We service appliances for people!

Our customers are people, our suppliers are people, our staff are people, all our other stakeholders are people (shareholders, regulators even bank managers).

When we wonder why the great product we make isn’t selling as well as we expected, or why the service we so carefully devised isn’t as big a hit as we thought it would be, perhaps it is time for us to reflect on the relationships we have with the people who make up our business. If we don’t nurture and care for them, we get what we deserve!

Even the way we use those terms to describe who we are dealing with can, if we are not careful, make us distant. Perhaps we should think about our customer as ‘Joe’ so that we acknowledge who we are dealing with. When we think about our staff member, we need to think about ‘Jane’ and why she chooses to work with us.

How can we expect customers to continue to buy from us, suppliers to continue to provide us with the things we need, and staff to have the same passion for our business as we do, if we don’t take the trouble to understand why they continue to deal with us, work with us, support us? After all, without them we don’t have a business.

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