Mixing up the Business and the Personal

The Best Bet Is to Keep the Lines Clear

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
How often have we encountered the statement that a business is like a family? As I once heard someone say, don't compare your company to a family until you start doing performance reviews at home. To anyone who has ever run or worked at a small agency, there is a push and pull between the personal and the business that can be a challenge to reconcile.

As owners, we strive to bring together a team of people that genuinely like each other. Abiding friendships and loyalties develop that last a lifetime. One of the great freedoms small-agency owners have is to make decisions that run counter to the profit factor. We can make sacrifices to the bottom line to protect jobs and take care of people. We can make loans to employees buying their first house, offer extended leaves to people who need to take care of family business, and invent jobs to accommodate people looking for new opportunities. Aren't those all the gestures that we would extend to our family?

As much as I sometimes want to believe differently, what gives us the freedom to act generously is our business success. Peter Drucker, the management guru, said, "Even if corporations were run by angels, they would still need to make a profit to survive and prosper." It's profit that buys us the right to treat employees like family. Still, you can't escape the fact that sometimes business realities throw a wet blanket on the family metaphor. Bad performance can jeopardize relationships. Recessions can force layoffs. New strategies can demand new skills and make other skills obsolete.

Who can blame people for outrage and disappointment when the personal language of family suddenly morphs into the hard language of business? It's inevitable.

I believe that agency owners owe it to their employees to keep the distinctions clear. First, and above all else, at PJA Advertising we hire people because we believe they represent the absolute best talent for the job. We expect that they will play an A-level game, and we've tried to create an environment where mediocrity gets weeded out. Sometimes, I feel like that's a harsh reality, especially when someone is not cutting it. At the end of the day, clarifying the lines between the business and the personal is the best way to support and reward the agency stars. Everyone shares an equal hand in the success of the agency and the rewards go to the people who most deserve them.

I consider it an awesome responsibility to manage people willing to put so much on the line. For their talent and effort, I'll go to the end of the world to take care of them, in good times and bad. It's business. It's personal. At its best, it works.
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