thoughts

On management (and the beginnings of a business)

Those of you that subscribe to this blog probably don't do it to hear management tips, but as a business owner its probably the thing I struggle with the most. How to manage people. How to get a group of people, each with their own mind and own personality, to help you create a very personal vision.  When I started my business, I thought the hardest thing would be getting people interested in what I thought was interesting, and yes, get them to buy what I was selling (gotta pay the rent). That was hard. I remember the first time forageSF went public. I had come up with the idea for the CSF (wild food CSA) about 2 weeks earlier, had been spending time deciding how much the boxes were going to cost, what would be in them, where I would forage, and how to get the word out. It was the last day of  Slow Food Nation, and it occurred to me that this was a perfect opportunity to introduce my idea to the masses. Up until this point, forageSF was just an idea in my head. I'd talked to my friends about it, but hadn't really put it out into the world. It's a scary thing, putting yourself out there with an idea thats different. So I rush printed some cards with the logo I'd created, what the boxes were, some info about my philosophy of splitting profit with foragers, rode my bike down to city hall, and staked out a spot with good traffic. That was the first moment. I got some good response. People seemed interested. I got some comments asking if I was collecting from dumspters. Some comments about the ecological impact of what I was doing, but overall, people seemed into it. But I digress.

At that point I didn't give a second thought to managing people, how to navigate the rocky shoals of personality styles. People respond differently to different things. Some people need to be coaxed into getting stuff done, some people appreciate a more direct approach. Some people need to be micromanaged (something that is not in my DNA), some people can take an idea and run with it.

When I think of my ideal company, I think of a group of people, all spending time doing what they love, in pursuit of a common mission.  Collaborating on ideas, lifting each other up with suggestions, and able to work on projects without too much input from me. This is deceptively hard to achieve.  When you are an entrepreneur, you imagine everyone thinks like you. That everyone has a singular vision to create what you want to create, and thinks like you think. The challenge is trying to see your work through the eyes of your employees. What inspires them about the job? What seems like drudgery? Whats going on in their lives outside of work that might be effecting them? Sometimes I feel like a psychologist, trying to peer into their brains to figure out what makes them tick. It's a constant challenge.

Luckily I think Im getting better at it. Or at least Im more aware of the mistakes I've made in the past, and try my best not to make them again. A couple of the lessons I've learned so far are:

Don't yell. Especially in food, high pressure situations are constantly in front of you, and the impulse to tear into someone in public is high, but it doesn't solve the problem, and all you'll get is a disgruntled worker. What I try to do (mostly successfully), is to try to solve the problem directly in front of me, and then make a note to talk about it later. Tensions run high at events, and its always better to sleep on it rather than explode. At the same time, you can't let things slide too much, so even though its uncomfortable, I try my best to bring it up within a couple days. This also gives you time to come up with a solution to keep it from happening again. When I do have a discussion with the person, I try to let them come to the solution on their own rather than giving it to them, I find that works much better.

If someone isn't doing something right, it's probably your fault. This is a philosophy I really try to live by. If you have a skilled, intelligent, inspired person working for you (and there is no reason ever to hire anyone else), they truly do want to do a good job. They also have the capacity to do a good job. So if they aren't, most likely its because they havnt been given the tools to do something the way you want it done. I think business is a lot like making movies. A director has an image in his head of what the movie will be, and he can't create that image alone, so its his job to employ an army of people to help him craft that image.

Its the same when you're starting any business that is crafted around a vision. The people working with you didn't come up with the vision, and they can't see into your head. All they can do is listen to what you tell them, and try their best to help you pull your idea out into the world.  You need to set up the environment that helps them do this.

With some people thats checking in daily on progress. With some people thats leaving them to it, and making sure they know you're there for support if they need it. It's a constant flow, of figuring out what kind of support people need to accomplish tasks. Of course, sometimes you run into people that aren't a good fit, and although its hard, its also your responsibility to deal with that situation rather than let it fester.

I've rambled for long enough. People who know me know that these are issues I struggle with constantly. I really do believe thats its the hardest part of getting a business from a solo enterprise into a larger company. The reality is that you can't do it all alone (at least I can't), so learning these skills is essential.  I havnt found the answers yet, but in the pursuit of trying to help people get to where I'm at without quite so much pain, I thought Id lay out the conclusions I've come to.  There is something that smacks of manipulation in what I've written here as I read it over, but it's really more about helping people to do the best job they can do at what they love in an environment they feel comfortable in. That's all we can really ask for.

Do you run a business? If so, what have you found that works with your employees? Please let me know, I'm always looking to get better at this. Iso