Making meaning
Seeing the invisible

Two kinds of people

 Somebody once said that there are two kinds of people: the kind of people who divide the world into two kinds of people, and the kind of people who don’t. Beautiful paradox. But I guess dividing the world into two is hard-wired into us : as the Tao Che Ching says. From the One came two … Yin and Yang. The brain itself has its left and right hemispheres; and when we think of good we almost always become aware of bad.

 Thus it is that I – very consciously – divide the business world into two types of business people: commodity driven businesses and “value” driven businesses. And in my experience this is an 80-20 split. 80% of businesses are commodity driven, and 20% are value driven.

 What do I mean, then, by commodity-driven versus value-driven businesses/people? What I don’t mean by commodity driven is that these businesses/people are necessarily in commodities – like oil or gold or even commodity trading. I am sure there must be some ‘value’ people in these areas just as in the ‘value’ areas – say, charity organisations – there must be commodity-driven people.

 No. what I mean is quite simply this ; after over 15 years of being in business, and having experienced large numbers of SME’s, Corporates, and public sector organisations I have noticed a pattern which has become almost visceral with me now.

 There are people – businesses – who, whatever their overt principles, values, mission and vision to the contrary – are only concerned about one thing – selling their commodity – whether you want, need or can use it, they’ll sell it to you. It can truly be said about them: ’it’s all about the money’. These are the kind of organisations that underpay and under train – often now in India – large telesales forces to besiege and badger you in your office or home – download unwanted fax crap on your line – with stuff you don’t want, but with a sales process to ju-jitsu the unwary.

 Frankly, it’s stinking capitalism at its worst. And a profit is the only consideration.

On the other hand, value-driven organisations quite overtly seek customer satisfaction – customer delight – customer astonishment first and foremost – and profits follow as a consequence.

 In short, the value-driven organisation is ethical to its core and one consequence of this is its tendency to longevity. At one time Marks and Spenser had this sort of reputation; now John Lewis has it. In the nineteenth century the Quaker enterprises like Cadbury, Rowntree, Fry had it.

 But I have found one thing in my own dealings. Namely, I don’t want to do business with the commodity-driven people – they are boring and greedy. No, it is much more fun working with value-driven people – and much more interesting too. Sometimes, with all the rhetoric, and smoke and mirrors, it takes a while to work it out.

 What kind of organisation are you in!

Comments

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Roy Duffy

In difficult economic times many organisations tend towards the commodity-based model, but this is often because the values and principles we would otherwise espouse have not been properly defined, announced and adopted in the "good" times. In his book "Obliquity – how our goals are best pursued indirectly" Professor John Kay argues that many of our most profitable companies did not set out to be just that, they set out to be excellent, successful companies embracing and vanguarding best practice with values at the heart of their raison d'etre. Organisations would do well to become values-based now in readiness for the economic upturn when employees, clients and consumers will feel better equipped to exercise their right of choice.

james sale

Good point - thank you.

Tim Gomm

As we enter the Big Society idea in the UK - many people's values system will be challenged and pressured. It will be a temptation to go to the easiest solution of material gain rather than looking out for the next door neighbour. Let us not let it happen, and start with ourselves. Rev Tim Gomm

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