“Just” a business decision?

Photo of a Black businesswoman sitting in front of a laptop, gazing thoughtfully out the office window“It’s just a business decision.”

That, my friend, is an excuse for doing something you know is going to hurt someone – maybe multiple someones – and not taking appropriate responsibility for it, nor finding a way to mitigate the impact.

It’s never “JUST” a business decision. 

Many (many) moons ago, I worked for a software company where the CEO had risen through the ranks of finance.

I have good friends who are CPAs (hi, Sherry!), so this is in no way a knock on all accounting and finance folks.

But this CEO fit the stereotype exceptionally well.

In hindsight, I can see that he never learned that empathy and vulnerability are actually leadership — and life — strengths. But that showed up in the office as rigidly fact-based, unwilling to admit that emotions might play a part in the workplace, and almost relentlessly unaware of how his decisions impacted others.

This CEO “eliminated my position” as Director of the Knowledge Management department … by email.

It was “just a business decision.”

But here’s the thing: every decision you make has an impact on someone, and usually multiple someones.

The decision may very well be the right decision. Sometimes things have to be done that hurt people. Sometimes layoffs are necessary. Sometimes people have to be fired because they’re not the right person for the job. Sometimes restructuring and upheaval is required to accomplish objectives.

And sometimes strategic change is necessary to keep the business growing, even when that change is hard for some, maybe all, involved.

But calling it “just” a business decision is a cop-out. It’s an attempt to avoid the messy, but inevitable, emotional reactions and resistance. It’s an outdated commitment to the old lie that emotions don’t belong in the workplace, as if we could somehow take them off at the office door, hang them on a peg, and collect them on the way out.

You’re human. Your employees are human. We’re all human. And therefore, we have emotions. We react to things that feel hard, things that aren’t what we want.

You’re going to make decisions that hurt people.

It’s never “just business.” And there are always ways to make things easier for the people impacted.

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Decisions, decisions, decisions. Effective change leadership is different from change management; both are essential, neither are sufficient on their own, if you want to succeed. Learn more about change leadership here.


gljudson Professional empathy