Small Business

Warning: Entrepreneur at Work!


By David E. Gumpert When you interview a prospective new employee, you no doubt go into lots of detail about the job requirements. But do you tell this individual what you really expect from the people who work for you? How you expect them to work way beyond nine-to-five? That they should expect calls from you at any time of the night or weekends with questions or inquiries? That you can be ecstatic one moment, when you've made a big sale, and totally depressed the next, when you've incurred an unexpected expense?

After my most recent column (see BW Online, "Inside the Mind of an Entrepreneur"), I got a call from Bernie Tenenbaum, former professor of entrepreneurship at Wharton and former president of RBT, a subsidiary of Russ Berrie & Co. The column's information confirming that entrepreneurs have distinctive personality traits -- a high need for achievement and an inclination to take risks, for example -- could be very instructive for individuals employed by entrepreneurs, he speculated. By understanding their entrepreneur bosses, employees could do more of the things likely to make them happy.

ENDLESS LABOR. Alas, Tenenbaum pointed out, entrepreneurs and their employees seem to come from different planets. "Working for an entrepreneur is a relentless mystery for most employees," he says. "The worst part is coming in to work on Monday mornings. Employees don't know what to expect, because [the boss] has had all weekend to come up with ideas. Why is that? Because entrepreneurs never take time off. The employee has had a real weekend."

I think Tenenbaum has a great point, so here are the five most important qualities you really expect from new employees -- after you've told them what the official job requirements are:

1. Treat the company's resources like your own. Everything I own, along with much I don't own, is invested in this business. Turn off the printer if you are the last one out. Make a stab at fixing the copier or your computer terminal before immediately calling the technician. Find the cheapest hotels when you travel. And on occasion, let me know about all the extra steps you took to save the company moneyit will make me feel proud.

2. Bring in new customers. I'm obsessed with how I can attract new customers. That is the lifeblood of the company. I want you to be similarly obsessed. Even if you aren't a sales person, in fact, especially if you aren't a sales person, nothing will give me more pleasure than you coming in with the names of some customer prospects, or at least ideas for finding new customers. It shows you're thinking like me.

3. Come to work before me -- and leave after. I know, if you try to do this literally, you'll probably never leave. So try for one or the other. Just understand that I can't stand people who "watch the clock"come in exactly at nine and leave right at 5. The issue isn't so much about the hours you are working, but rather symbolically demonstrating on an ongoing basis that you care about the business and getting the job done. Above all don't fall victim to the rationale, "The fact that he doesn't have a life doesn't mean I shouldn't have a life." In fact, if I sense you have that attitude, I'll just get pissed.

4. Come up with ideas for growing the business before I do. This is perhaps the toughest quality because it requires that you really be focused on the business. This doesn't have to be complicated, though. Forward me an article from BusinessWeek Online or some other publication that illustrates how a problem similar to one we have is being solved. I want to know that you are thinking about our problems almost as much as I am.

5. Let me know you are monitoring your e-mail weekends and on vacations. This may sound like you're making yourself available 24X7, but I'll let you in on a secret: you aren't. Once you have told me that you are available whenever I need you, the psychological effect on me will be to do everything I can to avoid bothering you. You have in effect taken at least some of the steam out of my natural inclination to bombard you with e-mails at all hours. And I'll understand if you take vacations in remote spots without e-mail or cell phone access.

I hope you realize after reviewing these qualities that I can indeed be tamed. Just feed me lots of honey. David E. Gumpert is the author of Burn Your Business Plan: What Investors Really Want from Entrepreneurs and How to Really Start Your Own Business. Readers can e-mail him at david@davidgumpert.com


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