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Lefter 12 ~ The King of Bongo

April 14, 2009 by emweb

The King of Bongo

NZ is supposed to be the nation of small businesses. If it is, you’d think they’d be better run. I’m sure some are, but I’m also sure, from experience, that a hell of a lot of them aren’t – and when they make it big, these companies often just carry on regardless with bad practice embedded into their structures.

Typically, a person will have an idea and cast about for people to help put it into action. Let’s call him ‘Mr King’ (this is an imaginary person), and his company is called  ‘Bongo’ (an imaginary entity). All well and good normally, but in a recession Mr King finds people so eager to get jobs. They’ll bend over backwards to make his idea work.

The entrepreneur works hard too, and all is difficult, with anxiety and long hours, but all involved can see it’s going somewhere.

The company grows, and the original worker is still on the same wage, despite hard hours and low pay. She is mystified to discover other people are getting hired at premium rates as the company grows. She is expected to fight for better conditions. At this point she’s taken for granted. Part of the furniture. So at this point she either gets a grudging pay rise, or leaves, a sour taste in her mouth.

If she stays, she finds she gets listened to less and less. This is because the entrepreneur’s idea is still going strong. Growth stemming from that original hard work and income flow has gone up considerably.

But the entrepreneur has never had any management training and doesn’t know how to run things. Mr King even starts to think he’s some kind of genius. (He’s really not.) But there’s no consistent analysis, no understanding of work flow, profits/costs understanding, or proper allocation of resources … everything’s still ad hoc the way it was when the great plan started out.

Mr King is now sitting on the top of his little self-created pyramid, isolated further and further away from the mechanics of the business but feeling pretty pleased with himself. Some of the later arrivals are adept at siphoning money off for themselves for little work, but they’re between the workers and the entrepreneur so he doesn’t know what’s going on. The workers are critical as they’re well aware of what’s going on, but no one listens to them anyway.

The dichotomy between types of employment has become really clear. Six people sitting in a room making stuff is one thing – someone selling is another. With a salesperson, you can see, on bank statements, exactly what they are achieving and how you’re profiting from their efforts. The workers making stuff have none of this knowledge and it’s not quantifiable, to this entrepreneur, what their production is worth. That’s once again due to lack of management skill or training. And suggesting they need this training is seen as another attack. The producers don’t know what their efforts are worth either – indeed, if such knowledge exists, it’s kept from them.

Meantime the sales people and the entrepreneur are showing off more and more signs of wealth.

The workers aren’t in the union. The union’s not interested anyway, as the place is too small. Besides, the workers are actively discouraged from having anything to do with unions, and they don’t know what they’re being paid in relation even to the people in the same jobs. In staff meetings, nobody says anything because they’re all scared for they’re jobs. Besides, they know it makes no difference. They’re not listened to, and if they do say anything, it’s perceived as a threat. When you deceive people, you become (justifiably, although for all the wrong reasons) scared of them.

Now the company has 30 employees. A disproportionate number of these are not actively producing anything. This is because people have convinced the entrepreneur how indispensable they are and he is now well cocooned away from the workers. Mr King only hears – avidly – promises of profits. The entrepreneur is spending more and more time away from the company anyway, on his boat or at his bach, overseas or whatever.

It’s a recession again. The company, badly run, riven by personality struggles, intransigence, people protecting their positions and lack of acumen and analysis, lets the most valuable staff go. Eventually, it collapses entirely, leaving suppliers in the lurch.

Mr King of Bongo blames the workers.

Sound familiar? If not, I’m very pleased. But that’s NZ small to medium business in my experience. And it’s rubbish.

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