The one with the secret society

We (not the royal we, but the people I work with) have recently been through an office move. Lots of stickers on everything, drawers packed into boxes, shelves reassigned and a general state of upheaval. Whilst the office was being transformed I decided to employ by best attempts at channeling Sherlock Holmes in the search for a secret society I often hear reference to and have never found – they call themselves ‘the business’.

I must confess I wouldn’t want to be part of ‘the business’ because they are to blame for EVERYTHING. Anything and everything that people can’t or don’t want to do seems to be the fault of ‘the business’ so I can only think what a strange and dissociated bunch they must be…

Having worked in my current organisation for a little over 15 months I have never met anyone who claims to know or be part of ‘the business’ but yet some must be because something big enough and influential enough to block every kind of initiative and proposal, to ignore such great ideas and to general overlook everyone MUST have some members. Maybe it is so secret that people can’t even admit to being part of it?

Sorry? Everyone is WHAT? Everyone in the organisation is part of ‘the business’? This can’t be true! ‘The business’ ignores everything and everyone, doesn’t it?

Oh, it isn’t a secret society that no one can join? What do you mean it’s made of teams and groups and they are made up of individuals?! This can’t be right because that would mean that every individuals contribution makes up the actions of the business. That everyone has the opportunity however small to influence the business. That it is not a static thing that no one can alter but a dynamic thing made up of the collective efforts of all who are part of it. Well this really is quite strange…

OK, odd one-sided conversations aside, I often hear ‘the business’ being blamed for a lot of things and whilst I understand at times it’s difficult to influence a big complex organisation maybe, just maybe it’s not about one attempt and then futile resignation (possibly in both senses of the word). Surely if governments can be influenced by public opinion then organisations can be influenced by stakeholders – and if you don’t think you’re a stakeholder in your organisation then think again!

The next time you are about to blame ‘the business’ for something stop yourself, take a moment and ask yourself the following question,

“What could I do about it?”

  • It may be you need to talk to some other people and get them onboard with your idea
  • It may be you need to contribute to a meeting or forum where bigger more influential people will be listening
  • It may be you need to try something different and build consensus and influence on a positive result
  • It may be that you need to be brave and pluck up the courage to challenge someone in authority

Someone once said to me that if I didn’t vote in an election I gave up all right to complain about the activities of whomever won. Before you blame the business ask yourself if you voted…



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5 responses to “The one with the secret society

  1. Was having a discussion yesterday that converges with this – an organisation that is reformatting from profit any way into ethics + transparency = sustainable profit. Each individual is part of the system and regardless of what the top lot. that lot over there, etc are up to, it’s about you, not any one else.

  2. I believe that when someone talks about “the business” in the way you describe it subtly confirms that persons view of their position as “servant-to-the-business”. Following orders, not challenging, stuck in the system… When that’s your position (rightly or wrongly) then you may be part of the organisation but you aren’t part of “the business” of that organisation. You’ve chosen to be that “servant-to-the-business”, nothing more than a mute provider. [BTW if we’re looking at secret society then there’s a real one for you right there!]

    So if that’s your position then I wonder whether the starting point is actually to question do you really want to be this “servant-to-the-business” or would you rather be a “partner-in-the-business”?

    The large majority of people “voted” to be in the organisation they are in and continue to maintain their “vote” until they depart, if not beyond. So understand what role you want to play and whether you want to make a positive difference for yourself & others. The choice is always yours!

  3. Great post, Rob. I just wrote a post on the use of metaphor which got me thinking about ‘the business’ you describe as a metaphor. Like the ideas of George Lakoff ( on framing and metaphor and how this might impact on how workers think of ‘the business’ as a result.

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