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Friday, May 22, 2009

Remembering the basics: Owner or employee (or both)

This blog's readers fall into two groups, I think.

One group are architectural, engineering and construction practitioners and business owners looking at marketing as part of the overall business picture. They may be in charge of large businesses, or small one-person start-ups.

The second group are marketing employees or consultants seeking to come up with ideas to help their businesses. They have important responsibilities, but ultimately don't have final decision-making authority (or responsibility).

In most organizations, owners and employees see things through different eyes. Owners, of course, set the leadership style for their business. If they are selfish, arrogant, and cynically opportunistic (lining their personal pockets at the expense of their employees and the long-term health of the business) they may survive in business as long as they have a market, enough power, and the ability to either exploit or coerce their employees. Maybe if they are dumb they deplete capital and carry on until they fail.

Employees see the world from their paycheck, "job security" and (in the ideal circumstances) their pride and ownership and satisfaction in doing their work well. Hopefully you are in the latter category -- probably you wouldn't be reading this blog if you weren't.

Many successful businesses meld the vision and needs of owners with the respect of employees through variations of employee ownership models. This is the stuff of "open book management" and various employee share ownership and profit sharing schemes.

Note that implementing these processes in a half-hearted manner is worse than doing nothing. I've heard laughable stories of employees given senior responsibilities and then deciding this entitles them immediately to private club memberships, leased BMWs, and the right/ability to hire their friends for whatever jobs they want filled (and without a need to ensure clients pay their bills).

I admit my limitations. It has taken me many years in business to see things from different angles and perspectives, and to realize you need to observe these rules:

  • Owners need to be sensitive and responsible about their discretionary expenses, perks, and "extras". They need to behave as much as under the same rules as their employees for what they take out of the business. If they are successful, they can collect their dividend cheques from profits and live well (and capital gains on selling the successful business.)
  • Employees need to think like owners in having a big picture perspective of how their work relates to the overall enterprise. Sure short-term requirements and issues must be resolved -- especially cash flow -- but great employees think like great owners (and follow the basics of the principals above).
Most importantly, both owners and employees need to understand how marketing principals relate to the overall business and its success. You need to know the details of the marketing discipline, but you also need to see how it fits in the big picture.

It is wise to think like a (successful) owner and employee at the same time.

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