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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Entrepreneurs’ Giveth & Entrepreneurs’ Taketh Away

You work so hard.  Everything you do is geared toward building the startup.  Time, contacts, money, creativity / imagination, and energy go into your new creation.  You give it your all.

Most entrepreneurs may have experience in their field, but some lack the managerial experience to know what things work and what things don’t.  Many steps you take are based on what you have learned in the past and/or what you believe is right.  Your desire is to create a culture that fosters improved business.  In many cases, the employees are also friends.  Why not, it is “your” creation! 

Sometimes, entrepreneurs get caught up on company ownership and treat it like personal property.  Sometimes, what seems like the right thing to do is NOT the right thing.  The point is that with all the work that goes to building a business, a single wrong step, wrong message, comment given at the wrong time or way, or a wrong action can set your company back.  It can take a long time to return to normal if it ever does.

Two examples (the names are withheld to protect the guilty):

1.     A research facility was making a transition that would result in a major management changes.  Employees were to be repositioned and layoffs were likely.  A senior supervisor told his young managers to not divulge the info to the staff.  One of the young managers had a close friendship with one of his subordinates and believed the subordinate could keep a secret.  In addition, the young manager knew the friend was going to be directly affected and wanted to protect the friend.  So, the young manager spilled the beans! 

It took all of 3 hours for a 100 person division to learn the secret.  Many were speaking with higher-ups in the company by day 2.  The anger and disruption in business went on for 3 months.

When the young manager went to his boss to explain the issue and apologize to his superior, the superior was very understanding.  He realized the friend relationship and desire for the young manager to do the right thing by his friend.  But he provided the following advice:  In the future, NEVER provide life changing info until the day of the event.  If you are going to make cuts, it is better to do it all at once. Get it over with, and deal with the aftermath in a shorter period than the 3 months of hell we just went through. After the announcements, work to retain those remaining employees that may still be unhappy.”

2.     Situation 2 is a bit different.  A different senior manager decided to divorce a wife.  He selected an employee to become the new wife before announcing the divorce intent to the current wife.  This was further complicated by managing all aspects of the divorce and new relationship while at work.  In addition the employee future wife was promoted at work.  The new wife and employee constantly reported back on employees to the senior manager creating great deal of anxiety, animosity, and lack of trust among all employees.  In addition, the new wife had to interact with the public, but was never trained to do so.  The position of the new wife was a rather important one!  Without going into all the issues and background, the situation caused a difficult working environment for all employees.  It also resulted in a major drop in the stock price!  The advice that came from a mentor to the company was (pardon the language): “You don’t S… Where you eat.

Take great care with all your actions in your startup. One slip-up can have a long lived impact on your business and morale in the company.  A few thoughts:

·       Don’t think you can relay messages to people and have it kept a secret (it won’t be).

·       Life changing events may are best relayed to the team at the last minute.

·       Don’t give mixed messages to your team.

·       Keep your friends close, but when it comes to business, treat them like everyone else.

·       Don’t act or speak like you are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

·       Keep your personal business at home.

·       Don’t mix family issues with business issues.

·       Think carefully before you act.  One wrong step will cause you a whole lot more work than you ever dreamed of!

There is too little space to do justice to more examples or provide more detail on the ones above.   The sole purpose of this article is to suggest you proceed with caution when dealing with a wide range of issues.  Don’t Taketh Away” from your Startup.

  Taffy Williams is the author of:  Think Agile:  How Smart Entrepreneurs Adapt in Order to Succeed to via Amazon