Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Entprepreneurs and Managers: oil and water?

I came across a common problem today: a business owner struggling to get the best from a senior director.

The business owner in question, like many other business owners, has grown his business up from scratch. He's a true entrepreneur and through his commitment, effort, and innovation has created a rather good and now medium-sized business. But like many entrepreneurs he lacks a talent for organisation, and so has recruited a professional manager to create the systems, process and structure now needed.

However, he's finding it rather difficult to work with his newly installed professional manager because, as you might imagine, their approaches to work are rather different. The entrepreneur is spontaneous and likes to see action and results. The professional manager is more of a thinker and a planner. Whilst he spends much of his working at his PC, the entrepreneur is up on his feet talking to people. Moreover, the entrepreneur is stressed because he must cede some control to the professional manager and trust him to deliver. He knows this but he doesn't like it.

From the entrepreneur's point of view this is how it feels: “I'm putting the future of my business, that I've poured everything into for years, into the hands of someone who doesn't think like me, act like me, and who isn't proven. This is risky and it's stressing me out. What if I loose it all?”

So what's the solution? Understanding. Understanding of each other in terms of needs, preferences, peculiarities, and goals.

Creating understanding starts with the entrepreneur clearly explaining to their manager why they have recruited them and exactly what contribution they want them to make. The entrepreneur should then explain the non-negotiables – the things the manager absolutely must do if they're going to keep their boss happy. This is about the entrepreneur being open and frank about their concerns and explaining what will give them sufficient confidence to leave the manager alone to get on with the job they've been employed to do.

Next the manager needs to explain their methods and aims so that the entrepreneur appreciates what they are doing and why. The manager will do things that the entrepreneur neither understands nor has experienced before (e.g. produce complex spreadsheet), and must therefore take the time to explain what they are, why they do them, and what the benefit will be.

This, in a nutshell is about the harmonious blending of two cultures. It's like a Englishman marrying a Frenchwoman and neither committing to learning the other's language or understand their culture: divorce is the most likely outcome unless they learn to adapt.

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