It’s all too easy to forget the human side of business. We get so bogged down in the processes and procedures, the board meetings and balance sheets, that we forget that business doesn’t exist for its own sake. Business is about human beings. It was invented to serve human beings. It employs human beings. It rewards, develops and sadly sometimes discards human beings. And any business has an impact on the human beings all around it.

People Over Profits

Profits are important to a business. They allow it to keep going, to reinvest and to grow. They also help to serve the people who have invested their livelihoods or their long working hours in the business, providing them with rewards.

But we have to remember that people should still come before those profits. The profits come from and go to people. Their side effects have an impact on people. And when divorced from their human impact they are nothing more than cold numbers on a balance sheet, electrons firing off meaninglessly in our increasingly computerized financial system.

Profits are worth nothing if we forget or ruin people to get them. Because without people there are no profits.

Society Over Individuals

We default to thinking of ourselves, whether as people or as businesses, as separate from the others around us, functioning on our own. But that simply isn’t true. No individual can function without society. Society provides us with our education, our transportation, our means of communication. It lets us live and work with others. It provides the complex infrastructure without which modern life and modern business could not exist.

And so when thinking about the impact of our business we need to think about its impact on society. Do the products we provide and the services we render leave the world a richer, better place? Do they support the institutions that support us? Or do they undermine the very things that allow us to work?

Looking out for society, remembering how we are entwined with and reliant upon it, makes for better business as well as better people.

A business that poisons local rivers will worsen the health and productivity of its own employees and eventually undermine its customer base, even leaving aside how unpleasant it will become to work there. Looking out for society, remembering how we are entwined with and reliant upon it, makes for better business as well as better people.

Business Karma is Going to Get You

Whether or not you believe in the mystical concept of karma, you can see the very human equivalent around you every day. Companies that forget the human factor and that disregard their impact on society erode trust in their brand, lose sales and lose access to many of the most dedicated potential employees. When Nike’s brand became associated with sweatshop labor they didn’t just lose customers, they lost the opportunity to recruit some of the most caring and considerate employees, ones who could have helped improve the smooth running of their business. Apple’s decision to be careful about the environmental and social impact of the minerals it uses has had the opposite effect, consolidating good feeling around the brand, increasing the loyalty of its customers and turning them even further into advocates for its products and services.

Companies that forget the human factor and that disregard their impact on society erode trust in their brand, lose sales and lose access to many of the most dedicated potential employees.

It might take time, but business karma will get you in the end, one way or the other. In Nike’s case the answer has been to start addressing the concerns raised about its products, though it continues to face periodic protests and boycotts. Similarly Nestlé has never entirely emerged from the shadow of unpopular practices in Africa.

Business is not just about money, it is about people; both as individuals we can support or hurt, and as members of a wider society. Remembering that is just good business.

Originally appeared on Switch and Shift: http://switchandshift.com/the-3-beliefs-of-human-business

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