Monday, November 17, 2008

Job Security, Where Art Thou?

This is not an "I told you so" post, but I would suggest that now is an opportune time to consider personal biases about job security.  Personally, I'm not sure that such a thing exists anymore, but for those that do, I think it's hard to argue that Corporate America shares your opinion.  See today's news from Citi as just the latest example.  It is simply the latest, unfortunate example of the need to keep your head up and look out for yourself.  Here in Richmond, we continue to watch the slow, painful death of Circuit City.  Some of the quotes coming out of those let go remind me of the admonition to be careful how much you love a company, because it can't love you back.  

Reframe your thinking about skills and the investment you are making in your future.  This month's INC magazine has an interesting article that helps to reframe the influence of small business in America.  How are you investing in your future?  

Job security is up to you.  It is imperative that you create and build a strong and competitive skill set.  It may be easy to think of job retraining and job loss as something that happens to auto workers in the Midwest, but the current changes are broad and large.  As the country's economy evolves beyond manufacturing, the impact of job losses are necessarily going to extend beyond the traditional sources.  

Small business can also be an area where your skills are more essential and flexible.  These are key variables during a downturn.  Cuts at major corporations are made at an impersonal level.  You have an ability to establish your worth in the small business space and also to extend a network of contacts to many businesses that operate in this space relative to the smaller number within Corporate America's industry verticals.

Some food for thought during these rapidly changing times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Partnerships are Challenging: Part 1

In a class in business school on purchasing companies, the professor said on multiple occasions that "partnerships are hard." It occurred to me recently that I have yet to write a post on this topic directly. One reason that I call this point out in particular is that many people take it for granted. For those coming from Corporate America, you may have the experience of being able to escape those with whom you have challenges. In small business, however, there is no place to hide. And when you are partners, you will learn the extent to which many things you take for granted (priorities, decision-making, etc.) are not necessarily shared by others.

I definitely do not go as far as some to say "never have partners." I believe and have first hand experience with the benefits that you can enjoy (that will be a separate post), but these benefits can be quickly overshadowed by the challenges if you are not alert. Rather than a litany of the challenges, let's focus on one.

Shared focus is one challenge within partnerships. In small business, organizational structure is typically either non-existent or less meaningful than in Corporate America. One result is more of an "all hands on deck" approach. Another result can resemble "swarm soccer" (think: 6 year old soccer game where positions mean less than chasing the ball). For those looking to stay within lanes, this can quickly become frustrating. For those looking to micro-manage, you will quickly frustrate those around you.

The solution (are you ready for this?) is communication. Ta da! Seriously, though, there are ways to define roles and responsibilities and to invite group participation when appropriate. For those who can't wait to jump into someone else's business, your challenge is to give direct feedback if that is the heart of the matter rather than the passive-agressive approach of bypassing this and just jumping in "to help."

Successful partnerships rely on establishing clear expectations. I would suggest focusing less on trying to translate that into an org chart, since it will likely be obsolete by the time the ink dries. Do focus, however, on roles and responsibilities and establish communication intervals and vehicles that work. Setup check-in's every other day at 9am and make them sacred, for example.

Partnerships can work and may be necessary in certain businesses, but beware the rose-colored glasses. Raise the bar on your communication and keep an eye out for the assumptions that I guarantee will come back to bite you later.