I Just Want to be CHAIRMAN!

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A Guide to Human Resourcing for the Startup and SME

During an interview, one of the questions posed to the candidate was to explain- in his own words the relevance of his course of study in a Manufacturing company. In other words, how relevant is his schooling to our operations.

The candidate- a graduate of Business Administration- in explaining said: a Business Administration graduate can work in any business, as they are trained to manage businesses.

While the rest of us had the ‘why’ question on our lips, one of the panelists drew his attention to the fact that he had previously said Accounting was his least favorite course as ‘he doesn’t find it interesting’. Accounting is however key in managing a business, so how do you manage a business if you cannot understand Finance.

His response was he will hire a ‘strong’ accountant to handle the finance bit.

This got the panelists laughing and we joked that his management style will be to hire people to do the work, while he will be Chairman!

We moved on from that interview but then it got me thinking: there are two ways of analyzing the young man’s ideology. Firstly; there’s the school of thought that believes to effectively manage a business you have to be able to understand finance and most of every other aspects of the business. This is both very true and very right. You need to be able to understand the numbers and what they mean for your business. This is truer if you are running a start-up or small business; because in the early days you might not have the necessary funds to hire the needed Finance professional- or to outsource. You may need to wing it for a while and if you are unable to build a simple cash-flow system or understand how best to utilise your funds, your business may be in trouble.

On the flip side; there’s nothing that says you as a business leader or a founder needs to be able to do everything: finance inclusive. The rule of thumb for resources is to: buy (hire), borrow (outsource- in-plant or consultant), or collaborate. For a going concern with funds, all of these options are available, but for a young business there are slight modifications which can still work for you. The following are some of the options available to start-up.

  1. Of course there’s always the option to hire. At the early stages you may not be able to afford an experienced hire which equals expensive. You can however hire someone relatively affordable but good (you however either need to know what good looks like to deduce someone is good or you work with a recruitment consultant to source for the best candidates within your budget).
  2. A second alternative is to outsource – there are many affordable but standard financial institutions who can handle even the basics of your operations leaving you free to do the creative- which is most likely your forte.
  3. Collaboration is similar to outsourcing- this is collaboration between 2 firms where both might exchange services. Pretty much like trade by barter- a cleaning services firm can exchange its services with an accounting firm for a duration. A caveat on this is- as with all contracts, both parties must be clear as to expectations and where possible (but strongly recommended); have an independent law firm draw up the contract such that it’s fair and binding.

Another way you can collaborate is to partner with a co-founder who has the desired skills and is willing to perhaps provide services in exchange for some stake in the business. Same caveat as the above applies- everything needs to be neat and tidy contractually such that neither party is left holding an empty basket in future.

  • A fourth option is to train; working with the available resource and providing training to bring the resource up-to-speed. This builds some form of loyalty; your people grow and develop with you. A downside to this is; unless the people are aggressive about their own personal development, they may not develop beyond the training which you provide; which might not be good for your business.

While all of these are available options, it doesn’t negate the fact that as a business leader- be it a start-up or a Plc.; you cannot get away from understanding some Finance, Law, HR, Operations, Business Development, etc. Creativity alone isn’t enough. Neither is it enough to throw passion into the mix. You cannot be creative out of a labor law issue if you do not understand the tenets of labor laws or have an adviser who does.

There are a few incubator labs and boot camps for start-ups associated with certain reputable organisations from which you can learn some of the rudiments of running a business. You can also take advantage of a mentor-advisory scheme when growing your business, be mentored by someone who has walked the path you are on now and can guide you through. Another option is to maintain contacts with peers who are on the same path as you are; you all can help each other navigate the obstacle course which is entrepreneurship. There are many options available to you, explore them and toe the path which works best for you. What’s important is to ensure you aren’t going about it blindly.  

Are you loyal or laid-back?

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A lot of us- and organisations place emphasis on longevity of service- attrition rate is built into the HR department’s KPI. Exiting staff are seen as being disloyal and staff who have been with an organisation for years are termed ‘loyal’.

The objective of this article isn’t to hypothesize on their loyalty or otherwise- well, maybe not in the way we would expect, it is rather a call for introspection on the employee’s part.

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Are you with your current organisation because you have keyed into the organisation’s objective and see yourself as a co-traveller on its journey or are with the organisation because you haven’t found something better and or cannot be bothered to search for a job?

Earlier in this year- 2019, a colleague and I had a conversation around work- we established we had learnt a lot in our current organisation and were developing even as our career was growing. However, a burning question was- do we know enough to thrive in the field of HR- regardless of which organisation we were practicing in, or do we know just enough to thrive in our current organisation?

That is a question anyone who is serious about career development and growth should ask themselves.

We ended the conversation with a resolution to seek for ways to test our knowledge and experience- apply and interview for positions to ascertain if our knowledge and experience can get us better offers or if we were just ‘local champions’.

It’s been a few months and a few tests and we have embraced the experience as learning opportunities. Areas of improvement have been identified and are being worked on. It is important to note that we are both still with our organisations as the objective wasn’t to move, but to identify areas of improvement.

This however isn’t a method I would widely recommend lest we be tempted as in the famous words ascribed to Babatunde Raji Fashola- Former Governor of Lagos state, Nigeria (2007 – 2015)- ‘May our loyalty never be tested.’ But then, maybe it should! Perhaps to sieve out the loyal from the laid-back.

It has been proven that only a minor percentage of the Hi-Po’s start and end their career with an organisation. This in my opinion is attributable to the fact that the top is narrower than the bottom. For example- if there are 4 Hi-Po’s from a class of 10 hired on the same day in different fields. Because of the conditions for career progression which can be roughly summarized to be- the individual has to display the skills and behavior for the next level and there has to be room for progression people will naturally drop off as they go higher and of course it’s narrower on top. There can only be so much room for progression- eventually some of your Hi-Po’s will need to leave to excel elsewhere. This exit will be termed by most to be disloyalty and the laid-back staff, content to continue doing the same thing over the years and progressing slowly will be deemed loyal.

My thought is- we need to get to a place where we can accurately measure results. Did Mr. A achieve more in 6 months than Mr. B in 5 years? If the answer to that question is yes, then Mr. A has done the organisation more good than Mr. B.

Or perhaps, Mr. A is just loyal to aggressively growing his career and slow progress isn’t an option. There is absolutely nothing wrong in being loyal to yourself, like it’s said; we are all CEOs of ‘Me Incorporated’ and we need to run our lives like a business ensuring we are yielding fruits- returns to our stakeholders. Lol.

As employees, I believe- this is perhaps because I am not yet up there having to defend attrition rate; however; I do believe it is better to give your best within a defined period, learn; soak-up as much knowledge as possible, and when the time comes for you to leave- leave on a good note, with your head held high. This I believe is better than making up the numbers and doing the bare minimum under the guise of ‘loyalty’.

The question for every employee today is- are you loyal or laid-back?