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It’s Business, Not Personal January 8, 2013

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
Tags: , , ,

The line is from the movie “The Godfather.” Al Pacino as Michael Corleone insists that his plan to murder a New York City police captain and a rival mobster who tried to assassinate Michael’s father is motivated by business considerations, not revenge. As we watch Michael’s rise to power and systematic elimination of his enemies it becomes hard to see any difference between what is personal and what is business, and it hardly seems to matter anyway. But, at least in the beginning, the implication is that “making it personal” is a bad thing, leading to cloudy judgment and decisions that are not in the best long-term interest of the enterprise.

In the world of organizations not characterized as organized crime, “making it personal” is not necessarily a bad thing. When employees feel a passionate and visceral connection to the success or failure of the business, they are far more likely to give their best effort, particularly when they perceive alignment between business goals and values, and career goals and personal values. This linkage is even stronger when personal rewards (salary, bonus, stock, options, other perks) are tied to some measure of business performance.

Of course the wrong choice of performance measures can lead to decisions that are good for individual but bad for the organization, for example bonuses tied to sales and revenue targets that ignore the profitability of the new business. This is why we have laws and regulations governing insider trading.

Unfortunately there are many other potential conflicts of interest. When the reward pie is fixed in size, people will compete, sometimes in unethical or even dishonest ways. I’ve worked at companies where CEOs made strategic decisions that have been attributed to personal motives and perceived threats, although a CEO’s emotions are theoretically supposed to be held in check by the board of directors and major shareholders.

A manager’s job is generally easier when the team is energized, each person for their own reasons. The challenge for the manager is finding a way to “make it personal” without unwittingly undermining the business’s strategic objectives, by rewarding the wrong behaviors, or allowing personal achievement to become more important than business success.



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