The technician and the businessman

Many small business owners believe that technical competency will translate to business success. While some level of technical competency is certainly necessary, it seldom ensures success.

A business owner may be good at fixing computers, baking pies, or recommending a travel itinerary. But there is much more to running a business than providing a product or service. A business involves accounting and finance, marketing and sales, production and delivery, management and administration, and much more. A business requires a broad skill set to function successfully.

Certainly these skills can be hired. An accountant can be hired to do the books. A graphics designer can be hired to design marketing materials. A salesman can be hired to generate revenues. An office manager can be hired to oversee administrative functions. But many, if not most, small business owners wear all of these hats and more.

Regardless, the owner must possess some level of knowledge regarding these areas. He is the final decision maker, and without a reasonable level of knowledge he will be unable to make competent decisions. In other words, his technical expertise will not help him when it comes to making decisions regarding finance or marketing.

The failure to obtain this skill set—whether through personal education or by hiring others—is the downfall of many small businesses.

To use a football analogy, the business owner is the head coach. The greatest head coach is not an expert in every aspect of his sport. His primary job is to hire experts, delegate responsibilities, and then organize the entire operation. He is responsible for the final decision making, but he does not need to micromanage every aspect of the team.

This is true even of those football coaches who were stellar players, that is, superb technicians. An all-star football player will not necessarily make a good coach—the two roles require vastly different skill sets.

The coach must be able to organize, teach, encourage, and lead. The same is true of a business owner.

Overcoming fear of change

As business owners we are often eager to improve the operations of our business. Unfortunately, we often meet resistance from employees. This presents a challenge to the owner who wishes to improve his business. If employees will not make changes in their behavior, improvements are very difficult.

The key to overcoming the employee’s fear of change is to create an incentive for them. While money is not the only incentive, it is usually a powerful motivator. If the desired changes will result in increased profits, a bonus system to share those additional profits with employees can help them overcome their fears.

Enlisting employees in the improvement process can also help. When an owner acts like a benevolent dictator and imposes change on the employees, they often resist. However, if the employees are involved in the process of identifying and planning the needed changes–through a process like Total Quality Meetings–they are much more likely to “buy in”.

Involving employees can begin by simply asking them what improvements they would like to see. Ask them what frustrations they experience in their job. The answers may surprise you, and prove enlightening. Too often owners view the business only from their perspective. Employees however, often have a much different perspective.

Owners typically embrace change much more readily than employees. Consequently, the owner must address the concerns and fears of his employees. He must help them see the benefits of change. If he can make them willing participants the changes will be far more effective.

At the same time, the owner must set realistic expectations regarding the speed and extent of change. In this regard, slow but steady change is ultimately more effective than rapid change that is quickly abandoned.

Employees are a part of your team. If you want them to perform at their best, help them help you. If you work together they will be much more willing to help you build the business you want to own.

In lieu of shoes

One Christmas my wife wanted a pair of expensive athletic shoes for a gift. I was unable to find the shoes, even on the internet. So, in lieu of shoes my gift to her was a curio cabinet to house her pig collection. (You are probably thinking– A pig collection? But she has some neat pigs– fat pigs, skinny pigs, pigs made out of rock, short pigs, tall pigs, and even a piggy clock.)

Over the years I’ve built numerous pieces of furniture. While some were rather challenging, I thought that a curio cabinet would not be my most difficult project. Boy was I wrong.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this was a much more demanding project than I had imagined. Despite careful planning, there were many details that had initially escaped me. Despite carefully measuring, I found myself making wrong cuts and drilling holes in the wrong places. With each piece of wasted wood my frustration grew. But I persevered and eventually completed the cabinet.

So it often is with our small business. Despite careful planning, we often find ourselves confronted with situations that we did not anticipate. Despite careful execution, we often find ourselves with less than desirable results. And we find ourselves with a similar choice—throw our hands up in despair or learn from our mistakes and move forward. Or perhaps more importantly, we can learn from the success of others and avoid the mistakes all together.

Fortunately, with our business we can learn from others. We can avoid biting off more than we can chew. We can avoid putting ourselves in difficult situations. We can prevent many of the mistakes and frustrations that might result when we choose a course of action, in lieu of shoes.

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