A Q&A flashed up on my LinkedIN home page recently asking “What is Your Biggest Business Frustration?”Reading through the many responses I was reminded of what I was taught at IBM, focus on those things that are within your ability and facility to fix and a much later lesson that being held responsible to fix things for which you have no authority will send you insane.
Using my 23 years of experience owning and operating several small businesses I created the following approaches to help any business owner address the frustrations from the LinkedIN Q&A:
1. Turn your frustration with customers failing to value your ideas, time and assets by building real partnerships with your customer or supplier to increase the value of your services by improving productivity and quality and then share the dividend with them.
2. Work with industry associations to develop partnerships with governments for when they are both providing services (licence, regulate, delivery) to industry or being customers for products and services from industry.
3. Engage employees in the purpose, execution and value creation in your business and share the increased value with them.
4. Engage directors, shareholders, potential investors and experienced entrepreneurs in establishing an accurate appreciation of the value of your business and the future rewards from it so that the risks and rewards from their investment are more accurately able to be identified.
5. Develop strategies that achieve the largest returns on the assets (people, expertise, IP, capital, facilities, suppliers and customers) of your business based on providing products and services at a quality and price that your customers are prepared to pay.
6. Recognise that whilst owners often are employees of a business, employees are mostly not owners in the real sense of share ownership of the business. Confusing this frustrates the owner and irritates the employees.
It’s obvious but worth stating, to survive and prosper all businesses must recover all their expenses plus make a reasonable profit. Some of the profit is rightfully returned to the shareholders and usually most of it invested in improving the business. Therefore it is in the interests of long term customers that their suppliers make a reasonable profit so that the sunk costs of the supplier’s understanding a customer’s business can deliver future value.
When a customer fails to respect the value and ownership of ideas (Governments are the worst offenders) by taking proposals from industry and shopping the best around to get the cheapest company to build it, the customer is increasing the costs for better businesses whose ideas are taken, must be recovered their costs from their other customers.
A variant of this is when a customer demands that suppliers present their design solution, without payment, as part of the selection process. Inevitably, despite claims to the contrary, the ideas provided by the losing companies and not paid for by customers are consciously or unconsciously utilised in implementing the solution. I was outraged recently by the mindless media attacking the Victorian Government when they provided a payment to the losing bidder in the Desalination Plant tender process for recognition that their participation, ideas and comparative value had come at a real cost to the losing bidder and benefit to the project, government and taxpayer.
Governments are lampooned and we all continue to laugh at Yes Minister but despite this, our society would not and could not operate without government. There is too much paperwork for business so governments must be forced to improve how information is gathered and they must ensure that only information that is useful and used should be collected.
Public servants and the public service culture is focused on process whilst industry would prefer a more outcomes focus that supports them in driving value in our economy, yet at the first sign of unfairness or the appearance of unfairness, lobbyists and the media cry foul and demand the Ministers scalp.
In working with government, industry must ensure that outputs are efficient but that value is measured by the outcomes achieved. Too often when it suits us we take our fees and are happy to hide behind the delivery of a specified item knowing that whilst we have delivered to specification the customer will not achieve their desired outcome.
So when we decry public servants for looking busy and executing processes that produce little in terms of value and complaining about their lack of risk taking and constant care to avoid making any mistakes we should recognise we can’t have it both ways.
The solution is for industry to work closely with government, each doing what they are best at, but the tax payer will continue to lose if we privatise the profits and socialise the losses.
In the Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell has written about the vital role played by special people who can ignite a social epidemic. He highlights the critical role Paul Revere played in the mass mobilisation of citizens of New England against the British after the Boston Tea party at the start of the American Revolution. In my local community of Woodend two young mothers; Kellie Duff and Jane Walduck similarly ignited a social epidemic to build a children’s park. Kellie and Jane mobilised 100′s of people to work tirelessly to not only raise $600,000 but provide more than $400,000 of in-kind services to build a wonderful place for our children to learn and play.
Every successful company needs people who not just know how to do things but know how to engage people and they know what it takes to achieve the goals for their company. Business owners can bleat about employees who fail to work at work and employees can rail against bosses who fail to give them the support and authority to get things done. Value is created when goals are set, resources allocated, measures agreed and rewards for outcomes delivered to motivate the team for the next round. The success lies in a team that has complete clarity and unity of purpose, a breadth of exceptional, driven talent that naturally coordinates, overcomes whatever obstacle that is presented and actually emerges stronger for it at the end. Plus of course, leadership that is unwavering, inspiring and supportive.
Whether it is a debate about CEO remuneration or pay for performance for all employees it is essential to match the actual achievement with the reward paid. The complexity comes when outcomes are difficult to measure. At one level sales are easy and a commission rate set but poor sales people know that they can survive for months or even a year or two on a good base with a car and expense allowance. Business Owners learn that top sales people are free (their total costs are met by the additional business they bring to the company) and poor sales people cost you a bomb!
There are dangers in focussing too much on the short term and failing to recognise what builds future value. Valuable employees need time to think to develop their skills and expertise. In today’s 24X7 world, people “jet ski” across a broad ocean of online information delivered to us all by the Internet but make sure that your team does a bit of scuba diving to plumb the depths of real expertise and knowledge.
In the 80′s the Hawke Labor Government introduced the Training Guarantee Act to force businesses to invest in the training and development of their workforce. It did not solve the problem and what looked like a good idea was soon abandoned.
Whatever the process, remuneration must be fairly be aligned to reward the creation of value. Over the 23 years I operated my own business I was often told after I fired someone that everyone in the team resented that they had carried a non performer for too long! People know that when they see a colleague slacking off and working on non value adding activities that it is their efforts and the value that they are creating that is paying that person’s salary. I had a favourite saying that I don’t pay your salary you have to earn it.
Good people don’t blame others when thing don’t work out. They examine what has happened and ask themselves, why did that person not understand my position or point of view? They ask, what did I miss? How could I have presented it better? Good employees know that when a customer rejects a brilliant idea or design then they need to learn why. They never dismiss the customer as stupid or an idiot.
Having written about frustrations with Customers, Government and Employees I’ll take a look at frustration with Investors, Returns and Business Ownership.