2011 January: What is a Business?
A system – just like any other system – a business is a system. Well, that’s a no-brainer, right? But if we know that business is a system – then why do we work in silos, avoid collaboration, and believe that communication is a soft skill? Systems have different parts that work together – supporting the efficiency of each sub-system in order for greater efficiency of the whole.
Let’s consider an analogy. Consider the “systems” that run the human body.
The Circulatory System is described as “the body’s transport system”. It’s made up of the heart, which pumps the blood that is transported by the arteries and veins throughout the body. Arteries and veins carry oxygen and nutrient rich blood to all areas of the body and bring back waste such as carbon dioxide to be disposed of in the lungs. I like to think of the circulatory system as a business’ cashflow. The heart is a customer which pumps cash throughout the business system.
The Digestive System is Finance and the financial system. Its job is to break down the energy pumped in by the customer into protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, and fats and determine how much energy goes to what for maintenance, growth, and repair. Excess energy – or cashflow – is invested in some form for future use.
The Endocrine System is the legal and regulatory system. In the body, this system is composed of the body’s long-distance messengers and chemicals that control the body’s functions. In business, this system is composed of the legal requirements, the paperwork, and the compliance areas that every business must manage to some extent. Unlike the body’s Endocrine System, the legal and regulatory system does not always balance the business body appropriately and can sway to one side or the other allowing uncontrolled growth or stifling growth.
The Immune System is the body’s defense system against infections and diseases. In business, I believe this is Human Risk Management and the role of HR to:
- Prevent threatening agents from entering the body of the business,
- If these agents get into the body despite best efforts, to purge them from the body once they are discovered,
- If a purge is not immediately available, fight threatening agents from the inside by taking steps to counter their negativity and energy and prevent long term damage to the business body.
The Muscular System is composed of tissues that work with the skeletal system to help the body move. In the business body, I think of this system as the operational system. Operations supports the work that is currently being done to produce a service or product for a customer. Operations determines how the business body moves and – just as the cardiac muscle is found only in the heart – so too the customer is served primarily through Operations.
The Skeletal System works with the muscles to support the body’s movement and protect its systems. I think of the skeletal system as the system supporting the business through things like contracts, liability insurance, strong financial practices, legal structure, patents, and copyrights.
Next we have the Nervous System which is composed of the brain, the spinal cord, and the nerves. In the physical body, this is the body’s control system sending, receiving, and processing information. In the business body, I consider this to be the Human Resources System – the employees of the business body managing the work, the information, and constantly evaluating whether the business body is running smoothly or not. In the Nervous System, again I believe Human Resources professionals have an opportunity to support the business body’s smooth operations by supporting the development and efficiency of employees, executives, temporaries, contractors, and anyone else who serves in a role that involves being part of the business body’s nervous system.
The Respiratory System brings air to the body and removes carbon dioxide. In the business body, I consider this to be the roles of marketing and sales. Marketing and sales bring customers to the business like the respiratory systems brings oxygen to the heart. Just as without air, the body dies. So too, without customers the business dies.
And finally, there’s the Reproductive System – the system that should create new offspring in the form of new products, new services, and innovation.
It’s unthinkable to us that any of these bodily system would work in a silo, not speaking or communicating to each other to ensure a smooth, efficient operation. A business body is no different.
This article was posted in HRL’s January 2011 Newsletter.
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