Monday, September 26, 2011

Is Your Small Business a Parasite?

Dear Imminent Entrepreneur

Something is bothering me.  Something, I often wonder about. Something, I don't have the answer too. But, I feel I have to say it. Here it goes; I sometimes feel like many of the small business owners, in our country are, how can I put it?  ... well  like parasites.  Maybe I am completely wrong about this, but hear me out. 

Parasites live to take energy and life from other creatures. School biology taught us that parasites benefit at the expense of other creatures.

A business with a parasitic mentality will drain the energy, creativity, and funds from others, without the readiness to reward and to give back in a fair measure.

The cruel irony is that when parasites withdraw too much energy, they can actually kill their hosts. Businesses that continually pay their suppliers late is just one example. So also are those that overwork their staff without paying overtime. Maybe you could think of some more examples.
I recently followed a discussion on one of the big social networks. The discussion was directed at small business owners about the employment of staff.  I remember a comment from one of the participants, a business owner, who in no small measure described how employees generally are unreliable, lazy, and only out to rob her business.

It's a common perception among some business owners, isn't it? Luckily you don't have to take my word for it, Douglas McGregor's in his famous Theory X/Theory Y studied the effects of such a management perspective in detail. Not going into too much detail, we have to recognize that the beliefs and expectations we have about people typically have ways of coming true through something called self-fulfilling prophesies.          

I know that there are some unscrupulous employees out their. People you really do not want in your business. I get that such people have done much damage to businesses.  I get that, but I've also seen on numerous occasions how business owners, especially small business owners, actually harm their own staff.     

Let me illustrate through some examples I've seen: 

1) Small businesses often fail causing staff to lose jobs vital to them.  

2) Small businesses are often understaffed, causing employees to work too long and too hard, often up to the point of burnout.   

3) Many small businesses do not invest in systems, training, and measures that allows staff to succeed.   

4) Many small businesses do not adequately define and structure work in the business, which causes a lot of stress on employees and managers, as everyone scrambles to keep tabs on everything and no one is responsible for anything.    

5) In reality, small businesses cannot provide the same career opportunities to staff as larger firms are able to. Yet small business owners typically expect "A plus" performance from staff. (They have to because staffing is critical, smaller numbers are employed, and each position, in a small company, is critical to the success of the business).   

6) Some business owners have unrealistic expectations, expressed by an attitude we may phrase as: "we want someone good with marketing, with sales skills, able to do also the books, fix the computers, solve problems, and make coffee". Unfortunately, I am yet to meet such an employee.

In recruitment we called this the search for the "superhero employee". An employee that's expected to, like superman, to "swoop in" to put out all the fires and emergencies produced by poor systems and management.   

We live in an age where the employer typically has more power than the one being employed.  Employees typically do not call other businesses for character references on a potential employer,  as is nearly always done on potential employees. Maybe this has to change.

We have to recognize that we may also become one of those bad employers in our businesses.       

I've met people who've burnt out in a small business settings. Believe me, a small business environment is often the ideal place to cultivate employee burnout (or even owner burnout).

The sad reality seems to be that it is often the best, most motivated employees, who eventually burns out. I have often heard business owners recount how they were harmed by employees, but I am hoping to show that it goes both ways.

Inherent to a new businesses, you'll often find lacking business systems and inexperienced management. Clearly not a well ordered business environment - an environment which is not always good to the people working their.         

So why I am telling you this? Why I am I speaking in such a negative tone?

I am doing this to remind you that it is a privilege to live in a country that makes small business and entrepreneurship possible. It's a privilege to be a business owner. With such a privilege comes very real responsibilities.  

It also because I want to remind you that we are ultimately  responsible for our businesses. And we are responsible to act in the best interest of our stakeholders; our investors, our employees, our families, and ourselves (last but not least).       
Remember, we're responsible to control our business's environments. Were responsible for our products, services, and for what happens in our companies.

Micheal Gerber tells us, in his highly insightful book, the Emyth Revisted, that as business owners, we have to develop a 'game' our staff (and investors) wants to play with us.

We have to develop a game that inspires employees to new heights, a game of learning, a game they would be proud to participate in. A game that properly rewards and empowers  performance. A game that energizes and motivates. A game that does not cause harm to those coming in contact with it.  

Fortunately, Imminent Entrepreneur, you can set the stage, you can write the rules of the game in your business, you control the game.  So why not develop the best, most inspiring game for your people to follow? Why not think of creative ways to empower your staff to succeed? Why not build a business that adds real value to the lives of people, instead of one seeks ways to rob their lives of life?

Don't be ignorant of Karma, the sowing and reaping thing. To get, we have to give. To succeed ourselves, we have to empower others to succeed.  To be empowered, we have to empower others.    Please don't leave the development of the 'game' up to chance.

Yours sincerely,

Your Friend in Business.  

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