Words can inspire. And words can destroy. Choose yours well. 

Those wise words are from author and leadership expert Robyn Sharma and it’s a maxim I try to remember. 

Have you ever been told to be ‘more commercial’? Or have you criticised someone for not being ‘commercial’ enough?

Commercial is a word that I am starting to hate. 

The definition of ‘commercial’ is being ‘concerned with or engaged in commerce’ or ‘making and intended to make a profit’.  I have nothing against any of that. I have no problem with wanting to make a profit. But there is the ‘what’ of business – to make a profit – and then there is the ‘how’…

I think the word ‘commercial’ has been misappropriated and often used as a kind of ‘stick’ to encourage leaders to make less people centric decisions. 

When you’ve heard or used the word ‘commercial’, what was the intention behind it?  Was it to excuse behaviour that was potentially de-humanising? I don’t see that intention anywhere in the definition. Nowhere does it say ‘make a profit at all costs’ or ‘with no regard for people or the community’.   

The tide is turning. We saw in the recent PWC CEO report (which I wrote about here) that trust in business and institutions is rapidly declining. In the same report the data showed CEOs overwhelmingly agreed having a strong corporate purpose that is reflected in values, culture and behaviours was a priority and 91% of CEOs rated leadership as the most important skill in their organisation. Clearly, people are integral to an organisation’s success and focusing purely on profit, at the expense of how we treat people, will no longer cut it. 

Language of Love

As leaders, we need to think about how the words we use can build or destroy the culture of our organisation. We need to pause and question the intention behind commonly used business language. 

Words are powerful, and we need to think carefully about how we use them.

Last Tuesday night, I was lucky enough to see Tim Lebrecht speak. Tim is an author and highly rated TED speaker who published The Business Romantic: Give Everything, Quantify Nothing, and Create Something Greater Than Yourself.

It’s not often that you hear the word ‘romance’ in a work context. So, why use it?  What does it communicate?

There were circa 50 people in the room, many of whom are heads of businesses and partners in firms. People at the top of their industry. ‘Commercial’ people.  Why had they taken time out of their day to listen to Tim discuss ‘romance’? Maybe we were all there because we want to fall in love with business again and this was a first date. 

I think we were all there because we know that, ultimately, business is about people. It’s about relationships. It’s about trust. Clearly, we need to know how to make the Balance Sheet balance, that’s crucial to a sustainable business, but referring to leadership skills as ‘soft skills’ and Human Resources as ‘fluffy’ sends the worst kind of message. We know ‘culture is king’ and yet we demote the processes that can help to create culture.

Tim noted that we spend five hours a day on our phones, and that the average American has just one close friend. One. We are more connected and, yet, lonelier than ever.

He quoted Richard Bach who said: ‘The opposite of loneliness is intimacy’. That’s another word not often heard within a work context. Yet, isn’t that what we’re looking to create with our customers?

A Uniquely Human Connection

People want to connect, they want to be part of something that is bigger than themselves. Our focus on optimising every aspect of ourselves and our lives – being the best possible version, is more in our reach than ever. We can track and measure every aspect: our health, our food, our sleep, our biorhythms. But behind the inspirational quotes, the endless data and the buzz-words are real people with real needs. 

There is a growing discord between what we are relentlessly told we should want and what we actually need as humans. The setting of impossible to reach standards and the resulting disillusionment when they are not achieved (or maintained) is the unspoken problem many people face today.

With the advancement of AI, we know that robots will eventually outperform us in terms of efficiency.  So, the future of work for humans is likely to focus on what makes us uniquely human – character, empathy, intuition, belonging.

If as a business we value efficiency and commercialisation above all else we risk disconnecting from our customers and our employees. And without them, there is no business.  Think carefully about the words you are using and allowing to be used in your business.

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Jules Smith1 Comment