“The Business”

Frequent commenter Rob Eamon suggested a topic for me, hopefully he won’t mind me copying his email verbatim here:

One term that is starting to bug me more and more is “the business.” There is an implicit definition about this group and in IT circles that group is almost always referred to as “they.”

“That’s for ‘the business’ to decide.”
“We need to touch base with ‘the business’ on that.”

IMO, this tends to reinforce divide between groups.

So what exactly is “the business?” Why is IT typically assumed to be excluded from this group? Aren’t all groups in the company part of “the business?” Why do so many refer to “the business” as “internal customers?”

Smaller companies seem to embrace this seemingly arbitrary division much less so than do large companies.

I’m with you Rob. Many organizations have a separation between IT and everyone else, and even worse, it’s always IT referring to everyone else as “the business,” versus the non-IT staff treating IT as if it weren’t part of the company (although that happens too).

Part of the challenge is that IT works with nearly everyone outside of IT, and there isn’t a good term to describe them as a whole. Unfortunately, you hit the nail on the head. By referring to them as “the business,” there’s an implication that IT is not part of “the business.” It’s a shame that this is the case. I remember back in my days of focusing on usability where I had the opportunity to work on a cross-functional team with members of the Internet marketing group on an application. It improved things tremendously when we were able to work as a team, rather than as “the business” and IT. Unfortunately, this still tends to be the exception rather than the norm. So what should we do? Well, I don’t think we need another term to use. What we should be doing is getting off of our IT floors, and actually learning about the rest of the business. When we need to refer to a group outside of IT, refer to the group by their organizational name. If the application is for marketing, don’t call them “the business,” call them marketing. If it is for HR, call them HR.

One other question Rob asked was around the notion of “internal customers.” Like him, I don’t like the customer metaphor when talking about internal IT. The scary thing is, if IT had more of a customer service mentality, things would actually be better. The fact is, IT doesn’t have a good track record of customer service. We get away with lousy service because we’re part of the business. If we were an outsourcing company, we probably would have been shown the door a long time ago. IT should be better, not worse, than an outsourcing group. The only way to achieve this, however, is to get everyone in the company operating as a team, and continuing to emphasize that team mentality. It’s far too easy to get away with poor behavior with those you know, because the ramifications are usually less. As a testament to this, I think of my kids. First off, they’re great kids. But, if you’re a parent, I’m sure you can relate to this. My kids typically have excellent manners when dealing with the parents of their friends. When they come home, though, manners can be forgotten at the door. From a ramifications standpoint, my wife and I would probably be much more upset if they took out a bunch of toys at their friend’s house and didn’t help clean them up than if they took them out at our house and didn’t clean them up. Wouldn’t it be great if we had consistent behavior at both?

Part of this is human nature. This is why the “team” mantra must be something that is continually communicated over and over. The company I work for has a huge emphasis on safety. Not a day goes by without safety being brought up in some discussion. If they were to stop communicating about safety, I’m sure the behavior would eventually trend toward less safety. The same holds true for a team mentality. You can’t spend one year emphasizing teamwork and expect everything to stay that way when you stop. If teamwork is important, make it a part of everything you do, and keep it a part of everything you do. If you want to start from a grass roots effort and you work in IT, stop using the term “the business.” Instead, find out what group in the business you’re referring to, and use their name. I know I still use that term on many occasions, so I’m going to eat my own dog food and try to improve from here on out.

3 Responses to ““The Business””

  • ââ?¬Å?Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.ââ?¬?Galatians 6:2 ââ?¬â?? 3

    Whenever I need help remembering what teamwork is all about, I reflect back on the cattle drives of the old west. The cowboys had a single well-defined goal. The objective was to deliver live cattle to a specified place at a specified time. There were no tangents, no individual interests, and no manager coming in at the last hour changing the objective. They had a simple common goal. Everyone knew the goal and could recite it by heart. Each morning, the cowboys reminded themselves of the common goal and did everything in their power to ensure that the team achieved that day�s target. How well defined are our team�s goals? Can everyone recite the goal? Does everyone know his or her part? Is the team�s goal simple or so complex it takes a three-ring binder? In addition, a common problem is not acknowledging goal achievement. Once you obtain your goal, you should disband the team. This doesn�t always happen. This would be like reaching your destination in Dodge City and then to keep driving the cattle into Alberta. Sounds silly, doesn�t it, but that is what we often do. Michael L. Gooch, SPHR Author of Wingtips with Spurs: Cowboy Wisdom for Today�s Business Leaders http://www.michaellgooch.com

  • […] final thing I wanted to call out was a reference to a blog I posted yesterday at the request of Rob Eamon. Someone asked a question about how to get the stated goals from […]

  • […] I agree Todd’s and Rob’s thoughts about the term “The Business” – my observation is that this is not limited to IT Organizations. This is true for all […]

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