By Thomas J. Walter
Dec. 17, 2009
The economic pressures on American business have been unrelenting for over 24 months. No major indicators show a strong upturn. Consumer confidence has waned to a dangerous low. No business leader has experienced this situation. How do entrepreneurs survive these conditions?
Entrepreneurs achieve success by bringing a product to market. Successful sustainable entrepreneurs add an employee driven culture and advisors. They learn how to transition from "I" to "we." That transition is the key for sustainability, because through employee engagement, risk and rewards are shared.
The thrill of being a business owner eventually wanes as growth removes the ability to control all aspects of the company. The business owner should then expand his workforce by hiring staff based on morals, ethics, education and technical ability. The staff members should reflect the type of client desired. If the company is customer intimate, its staff should be predominantly people pleasers.
The start-up business owner must engage key staff members in developing the company culture. The culture consists of core values, core purpose and large visionary statement. Have the key staff members read other successful companies culture statements. The staff members will live the culture, if they craft it
The culture should be placed in areas that would keep it top of mind. This could be in each cubicle, work area and public space. All company meetings should open by reading the culture statements. Following these steps, over time, the culture becomes deeply ingrained.
The company culture is the organization's values, beliefs and behavior. It is a decision maker that everyone trusts. It quickly explains to new hires what is expected. The culture ensures the delivery of the company's value proposition. Clients, vendors and advisors should be held to the culture principals. This will minimize disruptors in business interaction.
The business owner has to enforce the culture by setting the example of always following the culture. Staff never forgets what they see a leader do, nor do they forget what a leader says.
Since there are three generations working, and 2010 should be the tipping point where there will be more Millennials than Boomers working, the culture statements should have key points that stand out to each generation, yet are recognized by all three. These include:
-¢ Always moral, ethical and legal
-¢ Treat all with respect
-¢ Responsibility in work performance
-¢ Freedom to develop new ideas
-¢ Social/community involvement
-¢ Enriching employees
-¢ Respect for company brand
Open book management or fiscal transparency, is not a new idea, but has become a very important management tool. If all staff realizes the financial standing of the company and what is in the future pipeline, doubt is removed and replaced with an internal urgency to produce. Add an affordable profit sharing formula to the financial statements and employee self-motivation will accelerate. Staff will look forward to reading the statements and ideas will flow as to how to earn more net income.
Advisors should be retained to help all phases of the company. They should serve as mentors to all major teams. A Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner should be retained to assist the in-house Chief Financial Officer. A marketing advisor should be retained to assist the in-house marketing team and so forth. The advisors should have multiple clients, with the subject company neither at the bottom nor at the top of the sales chart for the advisor. The advisors will need to be changed as the company grows. Some advisors will be outgrown.
The following are benefits to the company, to the staff and to the owner:
-¢ Advisors bring business acumen gained from working with similar and dissimilar companies.
-¢ The staff teams are grateful for the help from superior mentors.
-¢ Ownership benefits by having talented, educated, experienced experts available to guide the company without having to carry the overhead.
-¢ Ownership is surrounded by experts lessening the need to have to make critical decisions alone, or without prior experience.
-¢ These advisors should be made available to teams whenever they determine a need. However, the team should be challenged to show a Return on Investment of the advisor's cost.
Certain strategic advisors should meet with the owner during the year to maintain strategic planning. Once a year, all advisors should meet with the owner. This encourages an advisor team approach to assisting the company.
Adding an employee crafted culture statement and experienced advisors will provide a commonality of purpose to the company and help it through the current economic minefield to sustainable success. Engaged employees find ways to cut costs and find new markets and/or products. Engaged advisors bring what has worked at other companies. A synergy will develop between the employees and the advisors benefiting the company leaders.
Thomas J. Walter is the CEO of Tasty Catering in Elk Grove Village, Ill., a 2009 Chicago's 101 Best & Brightest Companies to Work For. He can be reached at [email protected].