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Friday, October 31, 2008

Healthy business

Clearly, in business, your clients/customers are the basis of your success -- if they truly enjoy working with you, and pay their bills at profitable levels, you will do well. However, unless you are a sole practitioner/one-person-band, you also need to connect and build a culture of co-operation, initiative, and growth among your employees and key contractors. And this is perhaps the biggest test/challenge for any entrepreneur.

One approach is to regard all employees as owners/clients, and treat them like that. If your selection/hiring practices are solid, you won't be risking much with this policy. This approach to business turns the cliche "empowerment" into a practical reality -- your employees will respond with independence, respect, and treat clients like you would treat your clients if you didn't have any employees.

Of course, you need systems, processes, and rules, or things could get totally out of hand. And you cannot escape responsibility by careless delegation. Regular meetings with structured guidelines help here. In the meeting context, you can usually smell if something isn't quite right, and take measures to remedy the problems.

When things are working really well, you can almost sense you can 'go away' and employees will make the right decisions. You don't really leave, of course, but you don't need to micromanage them. Usually, you are in the enviable position of saying 'yes' to requests or deflecting the questions or concerns to other employees who can help better than you.

Don't doubt it -- your clients can sense this chemistry, and they will want to do business with your company when they do. Your employees don't fake it; they don't suck up, they aren't artificial, and they aren't following canned scripts when they encounter situations where creativity rather than rote processes are necessary.

When all is right, you'll find they contribute far more than you would expect otherwise, and you all can share in the prosperity.

It took me almost 18 years in business -- and a near disaster with the company -- to discover these processes. I have always thought that employee independence and freedom are the best ways to run a business, but needed to learn the structural systems required to manage the process and ensure responsibility, accountability, and shared respect.

These qualities, and this communication, is why we assessed the economy at our planning meeting and then projected significant growth this year. Best of all, I believe that the clients who chose to do business with us will grow as well.

(I give credit in this posting to the late Sonny Lykos for his thoughts, and to Bill Caswell of Caswell Corporate Coaching Company for solid advice. And, of course, to this company's employees.)

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