Managing the very small business

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How do you find, lead and manage employees in a tiny business (two to nine people)? This is an organization that’s bigger than a solo operation, but it almost certainly involves everyone reporting to the boss. Consider three options: A team of equals: This is an organization staffed with…

How do you find, lead and manage employees in a tiny business (two to nine people)?

This is an organization that's bigger than a solo operation, but it almost certainly involves everyone reporting to the boss.

Consider three options:

A team of equals: This is an organization staffed with people who have particular skills, skills that you don't have. This is the Beatles. Or a three-person design firm in which each person is more skilled than the others in a specialty.

These organizations will never get big, and that's fine. They are cooperatives of artisans, and two things have to happen for them to work. First, team members have to be truly gifted, as the entire enterprise depends on the unique qualities of each individual. That means that hiring and ongoing improvement are essential. Second, the 'boss' has to be a coordinator, not an iron-fisted dictator.

The pitfall: Sometimes talented equals forget that the key to their job is coordination, which often means letting someone else lead. And sometimes talented people come to believe that being a prima donna makes one more talented.

Fellow travelers: This is a group of people with similar goals, approaches and perceptions. As a result, the boss can say, "use your best judgment" and the right thing happens. This group is led more than managed. The good news is that it's possible to train people to see and to care.

The pitfall: this isn't fast, easy or cheap. Businesses often fail to spend the time and money to recruit, hire and train fellow travelers, instead, hiring what they can and then being disappointed when they try to lead.

Industrialized employees: These are cogs in the system, people who want to be told what to do, who are hired and trained to obey. These are jobs that get outsourced or people who work cheap. This team needs a manager, a manager patient enough to instruct, teach and measure.

The pitfall: Sometimes the boss is also busy getting new business, inventing new products and generally engaged outside the organization. As a result, he is hoping that he's the leader of fellow travelers, but of course he never built that organization, so he's disappointed, over and over.


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