Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Which Side Are You On?

I have been reading numerous books on Business and Internet Marketing lately, and frankly, it leaves me somewhat confused. 

Let's start with "Profits Aren't Everything.  They're the Only Thing."

Self-proclaimed contrarian small business guru George Cloutier says:
"You must micromanage and then micromanage some more.  With a small business you have to know everything that is going on at all times." 
"It's OK to be a control freak". 
"Fire and hire faster. Don't tolerate mediocrity.
"I want my employees to do what I say, not what they think." 
You are starting to get the picture, right?

On the other end of the scale Josh Bernoff's latest book "Empowered" says the opposite:
"Your company is not and cannot be nimble enough to serve them. With our established processes and departmental boundaries, you move too slowly."
"To succeed with empowered customers, you must empower your employees to solve customer problems."
The ideas don't come from management:  management's new job is to support and empower employees."

Both books were published during the past year.  How can both modern business books punt two opposing points of view and both be right?

On moral grounds the principles of empowering employees and unleashing collective creativity for the greater corporate good sound like a good idea.  

From my small business experience I tend to understand the authoritarian stance.  Even if there are cheques in the cheque book, you cannot write them if there is no money in the bank.

So, like so often the case, is the truth not somewhere in the middle?  Experience has taught me:
  1. Train and mentor employees to deliver great service, BUT stay close to your valued client.  Staff come and go and as business owner, the client remains YOUR customer.

  2. Empower, but do not abdicate. Once a clearly defined task has been delegated, check in to gauge progress. Follow up afterwards to measure success and to give feedback, thanks or rewards. My business associate Cathy is a proponent of checklists. I am a fan of our internal project management system. The secret lies in clear instructions.

  3. A small business has less leeway than a larger organization.  Each employee in a small business sits directly on the profit line and the business can ill afford the luxury of learning from mistakes. Social media and social networks expose our businesses daily, and everyone has a direct line to almost everyone except the most untouchable deity.

    While this connected world offers vast business potential that HAS to be harnessed within a clear policy, agreed use and measurable outcomes,  social media is an emerging technology that requires time to mature. A small business does not have the flexibility of allocating staff to research trial and error in a new media world.  Hire an expert and pay for results.
Although I do not particularly subscribe to the authoritarian language in Cloutier's book, he is very clear in what he believes.  Simply put, if we are not in business to generate profit, our energies are best utilized in a different environment than the world of hard commerce.

On the other hand, although I do not believe that Bernhoff's book was born from the school of hard business knocks, we have to acknowledge that this millennium is giving birth to a generation of Internet-connected employees and customers who are changing the world - one click at a time. Ignoring this emerging force is business suicide.

What do you think?  Share your comments here and let's continue the discussion...

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