'The business of business is business'

Milton Friedman, the 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, tells us through this celebrated mantra for corporate leaders in the late 20th century, that business has no other purpose aside economic advancement and expansion. Trusted advisor to Reagan and Thatcher, the 1980’s focus on wealth creation and modern capitalism have routes in Friedman’s bold, and largely unchallenged, statement.

How relevant, if at all, is Friedman’s economic philosophy today? Do we still believe that business really has no role in society other than increasing profit and developing commercial advantage, with none of its activities routed in altruism?

We’ve all heard – or participated in – the conversations around the many and varied ‘ethical’ business values, ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, Diversity & Inclusion etc., but most people would still argue that the primary purpose of any business is to make money.

Now well into the 21st Century and the fourth industrial revolution, there is no doubt that the way we do business has changed, perhaps beyond any recognition for Friedman and his contemporaries. Customers – internal and external – have very different concerns than those of Friedman’s day, when our choices were confined to product and service availability as we understood them locally, or through relatively sterile media channels.

But the fundamental point remains: to do business is different from doing business well.

Doing business well includes creating and maintaining a happy and productive workforce. Producing consistently high-quality, cost-effective products and/or services, with the minimal amount of waste, will result in the best possible level of profit. Being socially accountable and financially viable are far from mutually exclusive. Responding to constructive feedback from customers and employees to drive change is bound to positively impact the bottom line. Exploring new ways to manage talent, sustainable growth and stakeholder expectations will help a business remain attractive to new and existing customers.

These sentiments have all been expressed many times before now. Any business leader or student of the dark arts of business, economics or management in want of success probably subscribes to these universally acknowledged truths.

How can a business truly monitor the extent to which it is doing business well? What does ‘quality’ management look like from a subjective, external point of view? How can business leaders benchmark their activities and evaluate their performance beyond internal measures of profitability?

While businesses will use KPIs based on their own objectives, there are various generic business improvement tools on the market which are designed to bolster organisational excellence and support growth. Numerous digital solutions and a plethora of other resources to help ensure quality permeates every process are available. However, there is only one internationally-recognised framework for quality management: ISO 9001.

ISO 9001 addresses the concerns of any business with ambition and dedication to quality. It helps a company develop a management system based on quality processes with a requirement for improvements to be continuously identified, actioned and documented. As a solution employed by over a million organisations across the globe, ISO 9001 is a true essential if you want to capitalise on your commitment and passion for a quality approach to doing business well.

So, ‘The business of business is business’? Whatever your view on the relationship between your business and its social responsibility, let’s ensure you’re always doing business well.

Find out more about ISO 9001 here.

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