Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping up with Trouble

Two weeks ago, my wife broke her arm falling on a slick floor. Since then she has had to be operated on to get the bone set, have a cast put on, and is handling all the other difficulties involved with a broken arm on her dominant hand.

Thankfully she is healing and I have been able to accommodate the changes in my schedule without too much trouble.

Most small business owners do not have that luxury of rearranging their schedule. Someone in the family gets sick, or has an accident or other issues - all of these cause the owner to be pulled away from the business. Yet, being away from it can cause other problems to creep up.

You can't avoid the possibility of someone being sick; what you can do is have a plan for your being out. Are there certain duties you do regularly that you could train another person to do (in your absence)? For example, scheduling employees, or ordering food items. Do the employees know what they need to be doing while you are out? Who makes decisions when you are unavailable?

Now is also the time to have your key tracking financial numbers worked out - so if you are distracted or not able to read through all your normal work activities, you can still keep up with the business. Whether table turn for a restaurant, sales/employee hours or whatever ratio is relevant to your business, now is the time to work that out.

Having processes in order will not avoid all the difficulties, but it will mean that when you are out, there is a lessor chance of major problems arising.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Starting the day off right

Every weekday morning, about 7:50am, in office buildings throughout Japan, managers and their teams get together for a brief overview of the day. When I lived in Japan, this meeting was announced by a bell, and ended about 10 minutes later with everyone saying they will work hard together that day.

The meeting gives the team a chance to fill everyone in on who is going where, doing what, and what is important to be handled for the day.

The meeting participants speak one at a time round-robin, starting with the most junior employee and working up to the manager.

I liked this type of a meeting, and recommend it to small businesses. Once you have more than one or two employees, it is amazing how disconnected the owner gets from what his employees are doing each day. Many times I have spoken to exasperated owners remarking they can't understand why their employees are not doing what they are supposed to!

A daily quick recap meeting allows the entire team to know what's going on:
  • When the phone rings for Sam and he is gone - everyone knows where he is - and why he is out of the office,
  • By getting a sense of what his team is doing for the day, the manager understands where to better place staff or arrange schedules,
  • Each team member is able to show that his or her work is important,
  • There is a sense in which saying what you will get done out loud, motivates you to get it done.
Try adding a short - very short - daily recap meeting and see if it helps overall communication in your company. You may be surprised at what your employees are doing each day!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hiring the right person

To continue with a theme from my last posting, finding the right employees for your organization will be critical as you grow.

Know who you want and need - but also be knowledgeable about what the market will demand and adjust accordingly.

Here is an example. A technology incubator in a mid sized southern city is looking for a CEO to head the incubator. Their press release says the
"candidate should have 10 or more years of professional management and leadership experience, preferably in the incubation industry, strong fund raising skills and financial management expertise, a successful entrepreneurial experience and demonstrated success in program development and implementation, marketing and administration."
The first thing that should strike you is "wow, this would be a pretty heavy hitter - successful entrepreneur, 10 years management, strong fund raising with demonstrated success". Second, think of how many organizations are looking for this type of person - pretty in demand person. Third, what would it take to get this person to come on board?

Then you get to their next sentence,
"A new CEO will get a mid-five figure salary, benefits, and incentives for fund raising"
Huh? Mid-five figures is what, $50,000? A successful manager, 10 years experience in any sort of technology company - entrepreneurial, take charge person, looking for a new challenge. Your probably making $100k, plus bonuses right now.

Why would you take this job?

Anyone in the incubation industry with 10 years of management experience is going to be making more than that already.

I am sure they are limited in what they can pay, but why ask for all the above if that is all they can offer? They'd be better off saying:
"Ready for a second career working with entrepreneurs? We are looking for a middle aged manager with a technology business background who wants to work with new businesses. We can't pay what you'd made at ABC, co. before they laid you off, but it is a fun environment. Come talk to us!"
At least that might get you someone close to what you are looking for.

If you are a small business, maybe you cannot afford to pay for the talent you need. But you have to give in on something to make it worthwhile to get the right person. You have to be creative: you are not IBM!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Stages of Group Development

As you run begin to develop a team of employees around you it is useful to know some basic information about groups and group formation.

Bruce Tuckman developed a 4-stage model for group development back in 1965, and it has been a major component of the study of group dynamics since.

He labels the stages:
  1. Forming: the group comes together and gets to initially know one another and form as a group
  2. Storming: a chaotic vying for leadership and trialing of group processes
  3. Norming: agreement is reached on how the group will operate
  4. Performing: the group practices its craft and becomes effective in meeting the objectives
The first consequence of this is to note that even if you are 'the boss' there will still be a vying for leadership and contention about the group processes. We have all been in situations where the group seems to operate in ways opposite to management expectations!

The second consequence is that how you generate the culture of your organization is going to have a large effect on the way it operates. Culture is the norms, values and methods of interaction between the group. As the employees come together, they will take on the character of the organization.

Once settled in, a culture can be very difficult to change. In fact, short of removing all the employees,I would argue it cannot change - and that businesses that seem to 'run down' or fail after a number of years are suffering from some form of cultural sickness.

By being aware of the process of group formation, you can try to influence the way the group comes together. And of course, since you will likely be the person hiring new employees, it is important to consider how they are going to fit into the group, and how the group will react to those changes. Don't be surprised if the addition of a new employee causes the entire organization to reach in unexpected ways.