Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Why a 'Jack (or Jill) of All Trades' can damage your business

Many years ago, before I became self-employed, I worked for a large corporation.  They were going through a period of ‘streamlining’ and as a result weren’t replacing staff who left their employment. 

One day I overheard my then boss (the finance director) having a rather heated discussion with the personnel manager.  Personnel wanted to redeploy a member of the department.  This employee was an excellent Purchase Ledger clerk (looking after all the invoices from suppliers).  Personnel wanted to move them to Credit Control (where they would be chasing customers for payment) and couldn’t understand why there should be a problem!

In small businesses, the business owner is usually keen ('though a bit anxious) to take on their first member of staff and finally get some help.  This is such a big step for any small business and needs to be carefully thought out.

A client I worked with recently had employed someone to look after incoming phone calls and her team’s online diaries.  This employee, (we’ll call her Susan) was very efficient and the office was soon running like clockwork.  My client (we’ll call her Barbara) decided that Susan would be the ideal person to take on responsibility for making phone calls to get appointments for the sales manager.

Soon after that, the wheels started to come off the efficiently run office.  Barbara was puzzled and said to me “I don’t understand it, Susan’s always been so good at her job.”  I suggested to Barbara that while Susan was probably very happy to answer the phone to incoming calls, making outgoing calls was a very different matter.  The penny dropped.

As the owner of a small business, you need to work to your strengths and employ people to do the work that you’re either not very good at or don’t enjoy doing. 

When you employ someone especially for their particular skills, let them do what they’re good at and everything will be fine.  Just don’t expect them to be as capable (or willing) with tasks outside their skills and experience. 

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