A lesson in the importance of being earnest

One of my favorite plays is The Importance of Being Earnest. Written by Oscar Wilde, it is a witty, fun spirited play that delivers an important message.

The plot centers on two friends who carry on secret lives—one in the city and one in the country. Each assumes the name of Ernest during his escapades, and each manages to capture the affections of a woman who insists on marrying a man named Ernest (note the spelling difference from the title). The story follows their adventures, and after several strange and humorous twists, the characters achieve their desired ends.

Such stories provide valuable emotional fuel. They show us—sometimes in a humorous fashion—that success is possible, that our dreams can become a reality.

No long term goal—including building a small business— is easily achieved. Many obstacles and challenges must be overcome. Sometimes the odds may seem overwhelming and success seems like a distant and impossible outcome.

We might feel frustrated, or even depressed, but if we wish to achieve our goals we must press on. We must continue to do the things that will lead to success. That is the importance of being earnest.

The culture of your small business

Company culture could be defined as the character of your business. It is the spirit that emanates in your words and actions. You, as the owner of your small business, define your company’s culture.

A company culture that stresses efficiency, customer satisfaction, and pride in the work performed will attract a certain kind of employee. A company culture that tolerates mediocrity, sloth, and apathy will attract another kind of employee.

You communicate your company culture in myriad ways, many of them subtle and implicit. Certainly, explicit statements regarding policies, procedures, and plans can communicate your company culture. But the real demonstration of that culture occurs in your actions.

For example, if you complain about customers to your employees, you send a certain message. If you are apathetic about customer complaints, you send a certain message. If you are late for appointments and your paperwork is messy, you send a certain message. If your words are different from your actions, your message is confusing and hypocritical. All of these things and more establish and communicate your company’s culture.

You begin communicating your company culture to employees from the very first contact. The wording of an employment ad, your manner of interviewing, and your hiring process all communicate your expectations and your willingness to hold individuals accountable.

If you wish to attract and retain competent employees then you must act with competence. If you want to attract motivated employees then you must create an atmosphere that encourages efficiency and pride. If you want to attract loyal employees, then you must act with loyalty and consistency.

In short, if you want a certain kind of employee, it is up to you to build the kind of business that will allow him to flourish. You must create the kind of business that will appeal to him. And this culture must permeate every aspect of your business, particularly your policies and procedures.

Operations manuals: the “recipe book” for your small business

Would you try to bake a pie without a recipe? You could spend countless hours mixing ingredients trying to find the combination that produces a tasty pie. And in the end, you could wind up with a gooey mess that tastes nothing like what you intended.

The same thing can happen with your small business. Without operating policies and procedures, you and your employees can waste hours trying to complete a task, only to find that the results are not what you wanted. You can work conscientiously and diligently, only to discover that your “recipe” was wrong. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Consistent actions produce consistent results. Documented systems, processes, and procedures–when followed–create consistent actions. With operating systems and procedures, you can get consistent results–the results that you desire.

An operations manual is the “recipe book” for your small business. It provides step-by-step instructions for the tasks you and your employees perform. When the procedure is followed, the results are predictable. Just like following a recipe for a pie. Except a lot more is at stake with your business.

Many small business owners know that they should develop systems and processes for their business, but find the task overwhelming. They don’t know where to start, how to proceed, or how to develop procedures.

With procedures and processes in place–with your business systematized–your employees know what you expect and can deliver. Your customers will receive more consistent quality. And you can delegate, confident that your business will produce the results that you desire. It is a win- win- win.

If you wouldn’t try to bake a pie without a recipe, why would you want to run your business without an operations manual? No matter what type of small business you own–internet marketing, home based, service, real estate, contracting, manufacturing, retail–systems, processes, and procedures will help you consistently get the results that you desire.

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