It’s not business, it’s personal

Fuck things not being personal, of course it’s personal

People will often tell you “it’s not personal, it’s just business” and it’s a common phrase passed on from generation to generation on how to handle hard decisions and the steering of your company. I say: fuck that.

When I founded my business I felt like I had no place working for somebody else. I had felt mistreated, often like I could be doing so much better than the tyranny of poor decision making and bad direction that I was working under. I was left thinking “this could be done so much better” instead of being invited to participate in the conversation to shape the company. This is what I call a business-only environment.

Here are some of the key things that are often justified in a business-only environment:

  • always working 9-5:30 as everybody should be in the office at the same time of day you’re told to travel during peak hours, forced to endure an hour of travel each way
  • if you need extra money you're left to find freelance work in your spare time
  • if you want to learn something new then do it elsewhere
  • your opinion stays your opinion: nobody wants to listen to anything that you would have to say beside those who don’t matter
  • rules rarely have an exception, and they have to be stuck to at all costs

Businesses in web design and all walks of life too often follow the same rules set before them by previous business in an effort to be as efficient as the next guy and turn over the all required profit that should be strived for above all else. The thing is; I wouldn’t work for a business that held these values and I put it to you that you shouldn’t be running your business this way either. There’s an opportunity as a business-owner not afforded to anybody else: you have the power to ensure nobody has to put up with that crap.

Business in my opinion should be personal. It should be about creating an environment that is for the employee first and the employer second. About listening to an employee and making their life easier. It’s my belief that if we can blur these lines as much as possible, we produce better environments for everybody to work in. I don’t want to be the only one enjoying coming to work each day because i’m the boss, I want to look around the room and see people talking about how they’re having a great day. Not just this; but I want to give people the power to change things that suck in their day too.

At JH we have broken ourselves down into small teams: development, design, project management and operations. Each of these teams is responsible for key areas in our project processes but also have the power to control how each project is ran. Given reign to experiment, make mistakes and to strive for improvement every day each team reports to a team lead who they can bounce ideas onto who wants to listen. Every week each team lead meets to discuss how things are going as well as if anything is needed to make their lives better. Fundamentally this moved us from a ‘business only’ business to a business that became more personal.

Putting the key areas of expertise at the company into the hands of those who had the expertise in the first place makes everything tick better.

Our teams work with key areas in mind:

  • each member of a team has a voice and is often more passionate about one or multiple areas of a team’s discipline.
  • a lead is given the power to change their team’s practices around feedback from others within and to pivot when they see an opportunity to better anything in their process
  • each lead reports to the operations team who control globalised items like working hours, holidays, overtime and other items so operations can pivot as often as needed to meet the needs of the overall team

This lack of strict top-down approach within the company makes things personal to the team that run their area of expertise. It also allows team members to bond in order to embrace their passion and get better at what makes them happy.

At a global level there’s several policies we implement to make everything more personal too:

  • health of you and your loved ones is always without question more important
  • happiness around what is being done as well as who we’re working with is key
  • flexitime means team members can work the hours they like, from home or in the office, so long as their monthly total averages fine over a two month period
  • quality of work should be valued above all else
  • clients should match with our cultural and working patterns, not the other way around
  • our long-term desire to better ourselves should be applied to our clients at all times

For those that read this and embrace a more personal approach to their business going forward: I salute you.


This article was written for The Business of Web Design 2014 conference. If you haven’t got your ticket already: go buy one, i’d thoroughly recommend it. We as a community have a responsibility to help others learn the lessons we’ve made from our mistakes and it’s conferences like this that better the entire industry around us. We need to embrace that with open arms and do whatever we can to make sure it happens more and more often.