On a daily basis, any small business owner has to think about finances, legality, relationships, insurance, customers, vendors, suppliers. It is almost impossible for one person to be able to manage all of those aspects all of the time. But a business doesn’t have to go it alone.
The role of a small business management team is to act as advisors. Small business owners are called upon to face the problems and issues that come up operating a business and, on top of that, they often do all of that work by themselves. So, having a management team available allows business owners to have a support team of individuals with specialized points of view. The management team’s role is quite simply:
to look at the issues and problems that the business owner faces, to provide guidance, and to suggest options to solve particular problems.
One of the most important things that a small business owner has to recognize is that at the end of the day, they are the ones that have to make the decision. So, business owners must find a group of advisors who are comfortable giving advice, but who also are comfortable having their advice ignored.
I’d like to share an example from my time in the Navy. The Navy is a good case in point in the way they use a middle management which are Chief Petty Officers. Navy Chiefs are enlisted sailors who are very knowledgeable about a specific area of Naval operations. Chiefs also have a lot of time in the service (typically a dozen years or more). Junior Officers who are coming in as Ensigns or Lieutenants usually have far less time in the Navy. Officers command Chief Petty Officers, but the officers are well cautioned and well-advised to listen to the advice of their Chiefs. The Officer is not expected to take their Chief Petty Officer’s advice, rather that advice may inspire another thought or idea. Good Chief Petty Officers become used to not having their advice taken. But, they should be consulted.
A good management team for a small business owner would also have a similar context: each advisor should be used to having their advice solicited and heard, but they also need to be comfortable with the idea that their advice is not always going to be taken.
There may be competing pieces of advice. For instance, maybe the insurance broker thinks that course of action A should be taken because it is cheaper for insurance right now. But, the accountant might say that B is better because it might save you money in the long-term on your taxes. The lawyer might say something completely different. It is a question of which deciding factor is more important, and the business owner is the only one who can make that decision.
A business owner must have a business cabinet of advisors who are comfortable working with a little bit of conflict amongst them and providing information to a management team, and ultimately a business owner.
I admit it is hard to find these kinds of advisors, and you may have people shuttling in and out of your personal business cabinet on a yearly basis, or even more frequently, until you find people who are there to serve you and protect your best interest as a business owner. Take comfort in the fact that this is normal, but the process is worth it.
Look at your management team and build one full of people that you can trust what they are doing and the advice they will offer to you. Be patient with your management team, but also be prepared to cut them loose if they are not serving your best interest.
Having regular conversations with your management team and having a team that you can assemble may end up being, as Abraham Lincoln had in his Cabinet, a team of rivals.
Which professions lend critical support to a management team? Read this blog post to see who is essential to your team.