By Kathy J. Marshack, Ph.D., P.S.
Which would you rather have, an educated customer or one who requires that you walk them through everything? Would you rather have a customer who is familiar with your product or industry, who has background negotiating business deals, who uses normal business systems such as estimates and purchase orders, who can read a schematic? Or would you rather have a customer who knows nothing of these things and you must explain and justify every painful detail, every step of the way.
Let’s put it another way. Wouldn’t you rather that your customer already knows the basics of building a warehouse, so that you can get down to negotiating price and materials? Wouldn’t you rather that your customer is already knowledgeable about farming equipment in general so that you can quickly explain the benefits of modernizing with your new machine? Wouldn’t you rather your customer have purchased and sold a home before, so that they are more realistic about the home-buying marketplace?
Of course there are times when a naïve customer is easier to deal with than a sophisticated one. Occasionally the sophisticated customer thinks he or she knows everything, when they really have just enough knowledge to be dangerous. But by and large your work is cut in half when you have a knowledgeable, educated customer who knows what it takes to get the job done with you. At the very least it is easier if your customer is bright enough and open enough to learn quickly and accepts your expertise.
Ah, but the world is not perfect. So much of your professional time is spent educating, persuading and hand-holding in order to complete your job. But for yourself I would suggest being an educated consumer as often so you can. If you are a family business owner, this means becoming knowledgeable about the connections between your personal life, your family life and your work life. Understanding your personal family dynamics and how they interact with your business creates a more successful business and family life. Even if you are not a family business owner, your personal life influences your business decisions, and vice versa. Therefore, it is well worth your while to become more knowledgeable about your personality style, your family values, your blind spots and how they shape your daily actions.
Come to terms with family, business
Darvin, for example, never really considered that growing up under his authoritarian father affected his business, nor his parenting style. As a child Darvin was expected to work in the family business from the time he was about nine. Whether he was sick or home from school on vacation, Darvin was expected to pitch in. Darvin’s father meant well enough. He was trying to prepare his son for the future and he wanted an heir for the business. However, Dad never considered that his son might have other career interests. He also gave Darvin little time to have a childhood.
When Darvin grew up, married and started having his own children, he was determined that his own sons would be free to choose their own direction. Darvin was now the owner of the business his father had built, but he didn’t want his sons thinking they were obligated to work in the family firm. He encouraged their other interests and gave them liberal time to play. He coached soccer teams and volunteered in the boy’s classrooms, something his father never did.
However, one day, one of his teenagers implied that he expected to work for Darvin when he grew up. In fact the boy suggested that he wanted to be the president of the company some day! Darvin was shocked at his son’s interest, especially since Darvin did not think this particular child had what it takes to be president. Then another even more shocking realization came over Darvin. After spending all these years encouraging his children to follow their hearts, he had paid no attention to grooming as interested child for coming into the family business. In fact, he had almost resisted the idea.
So, to avoid Dad’s mistakes, Darvin made different mistakes, which is a common problem for family business owners who do not recognize that childhood experiences shape you as a business person. Now the task for Darvin is to educate himself about all he learned and interpreted as a child and their connection to his current adult life as a business owner, husband and father. If he is to be a success at all these roles and prepare the business for s healthy transition when he retires, he needs to be educated about family dynamics and how they interact with business planning.
Not everyone is an entrepreneur
Elliott is not the owner of a family firm, but he feels very close to his staff, many of whom have been with him since the founding of the firm. He literally built the business from nothing into a respected national manufacturer.
Elliott is a “can-do” guy. His technical training helped him create the idea for his business, but he had neither business nor marketing training when he set off on his own. Nevertheless, Elliott believes that he can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to. If he lacks knowledge or a skill, he learns it. He reads books, attends seminars and asks experts, then applies the knowledge to his own unique business. This flexibility is the reason Elliott’s business has grown so rapidly. He is adaptable.
Elliott’s problem is the exact opposite of Darvin’s. Because of his confident and flexible approach to problem-solving, he has extremely high expectations of others. Elliott naively thinks his managers, staff and line workers have these same abilities. While it is important to encourage the best in employees so that they can rise to their highest level of competence, Elliott often promotes untrained, unskilled workers beyond their capabilities to a level of incompetence.
For example, he has promoted a welder to a position requiring an engineering degree and a bookkeeper to a position as controller. Even if these employees have the potential to grow into these positions, they do not currently have the skills to handle their jobs, which leads to failure — failure for the individuals, as well as for the company.
If Elliott is going to grow his company further, he needs to get a handle on this problem. As he understands better that his unique personality is not the standard for all people (in fact, very few people are entrepreneurial), ha can make better use of his employees’ talents. He can’t always promote from within, but he can find other ways to honor employee loyalty. When a business gets as large as Elliott’s, it’s time to hire professionally trained managers and staff.
Being a success in business means being honest about your personal limitations too. It means becoming educated about the unique way your personality, childhood lessons and adult business decisions interact. Knowing your values and where you learned them enables you to choose which ones you want to keep, which ones are practical. Knowing your personality better enables you to design systems that complement your contributions. Darvin has been trying to set his children free to follow their own calling, ignoring that at least one of them may be a lot like himself. Elliott, on the other hand, has been grooming everyone to be like him, ignoring that his employees may have a different calling and different contributions to make.
How many of you have problems brewing that are similar to Darvin’s and Elliott’s? It may be hard for you to define your problem even though you know you have one because you don’t have the required education. But the solution lies in becoming educated about the interaction of personality, family dynamics and business systems. When you finally develop enough insight into how you came to be who you are and how others came to be who they are, you can correct subtle problems such as Darvin’s and Elliott’s and avert major disaster when the problems are still small. Remember, we must know who we are first in order to be true to ourselves.