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How the ‘boss’ attitude is killing small businesses

Many owners put their feet up once business is good instead of keeping tabs

In Summary

• Successful entrepreneurs realise they do not hold all the answers


Do Kenyans getting into business inadvertently carry a boss syndrome that ultimately dooms their enterprises? Could this explain why most small businesses hardly survive a year?

An entrepreneur spots a business opportunity. Could be a shop, supermarket, bar, restaurant, salon, motor vehicle garage or any other type of business. The entrepreneur starts business and gains a loyal following, mainly from his or her charm and good service.

Problems start when the entrepreneur decides the business can “run itself”. The person employed to deal with customers may not have the same motivation and customer service skills as the business owner. Within a few months, the bustling business becomes an empty shell as customers stay away due to poor services.

The tragedy is that most entrepreneurs who experienced this problem had no good reason for staying away from the business premises. They just wanted to sit at home or hang out with friends without checking up on the business. Important decisions were not made, or decisions were made with wrong information, which doomed the business.

On the other hand, successful entrepreneurs keep a keen eye on their enterprises. They go to work even after taking on employees to handle growth in business activity. These are businesses where the owners have sat in the same chair every day for more than 30 years.

They identify promising employees and mentor them so that the employees take up greater responsibilities in the business. An entrepreneur should constantly be laying out strategies: how to get more customers, how to grow revenue and how to cut costs.

Employees are, therefore, necessary to reduce the entrepreneur’s workload, but they can make or break a business. As noted in a previous article on finding the right employee, too many people will take on the first desperate jobseeker walking in through the door. Competence and prior experience are disregarded. In addition, most owners of small businesses have no way to monitor whether the worker is performing as expected.

Wolfgang Fengler, a World Bank economist, spent several years in Kenya and noted two habits of successful local businesses. The first was that employees were empowered to improve productivity. The owners of successful businesses are not micro-managers who must authorise every step their employees take. Successful entrepreneurs realise they do not hold all the answers.

Second, successful companies measure the output of their employees to reward good performers. Fengler recalls getting impressed by the performance reward system of a cut-flower company in Naivasha. “They recognise the most productive worker on a daily basis. The worker, typically a woman, receives a salary top-up and a flag that everyone can see from across the factory floor,” Fengler explains.

A reward system not only incentivises hardworking employees; it also encourages everybody else to learn from them. With good, productive employees in the business, the owners can spend more time on the big picture rather than worry about routine activities.

If your business has taken off, don’t stay at home. Continue showing up. Mentor your employees, reward the performers and make plans for growing beyond your current status.