Ask SCORE: Do you work in your business, or on your business?

Do you work in your business, or on your business?
By Richard Walton

Question: Do you work in your business, or on your business?
Answer: Working on the business pays off long term whereas working the business is basically a short term measure that is required because of poor training of employees, a lack of management trust and willingness to delegate, or perhaps the most classic statement of all: If I want to get it done right, I have to do it myself!
We all know that the statistics on small business survival are basically negative for long term survival. This situation has been particularly severe in the recession of the last few years, and has forced cutbacks and downsizing among almost all firms. What has resulted is a struggle for survival and more work 'in the business' while allowing less work 'on the business'.
In this article we propose a solution to this problem by changing the way managers work with their employees and the way that they view their businesses. In particular it addresses an often heard comment made by the harried small business manager, which is 'I don't have time for all this theory. My day is made up of handling crises, responding to trouble and making payroll. When things get better, then we can talk.'
Step 1. Focus on where decisions are made in the key managerial functions of Marketing and Finance. Marketing decisions are usually concerned with promotion, salesmanship, pricing and service/logistics. Financial decisions are usually concerned with availability of funds, level of profitability and reporting.
Step 2, for each functional area, establish a policy and communicate that policy to all employees. For those who are in direct contact with the function, provide training for them in both the policy and its implementation. Assign responsibility to employees for the functional area.
Step 3; establish a new way of working with employees that emphasizes development of decision making capacity. Encourage employees to take responsibility and provide coaching (beyond training) to enable them to become more proficient in their work.
Step 4, Create personal space that enables managers to work 'on the business', rather than strictly 'in the business'. This could include appointments with self, the creation of a 'future book', development of a passion for improvement, and a new emphasis on quality in processes and products, and finally focusing intelligent effort on the future, and not just the present. And above all, make employees a partner in this effort, sharing input through improved communication and sharing positive results through productivity gain sharing.
Using this simple program, we can shift the dialogue away from being reactive to being proactive and change the world of small business, thereby reaping the ongoing rewards of entrepreneurship.

Mr. Walton teaches Entrepreneurship and Quality Management at Frostburg State University. He is also Assistant District Director for SCORE, Western Maryland, and the President of ERMACORP, a Hagerstown based Management Consulting Firm. He may be reached at 301-462-9850, or by email to