Jolie Kanat

Running a Business 101: Not For the Faint of Heart

In Uncategorized on January 21, 2011 at 10:34 pm

It takes a combination of crazy, creative, and courageous to run a business.  The good news is that sometimes it even goes well.

There is a funny idea floating around that when a business goes right, it is an anomaly, a semi-miracle sewn from the fabric of magic and good luck, with a little bootstrap pulling thrown in for effect. Success is, in otherwords dependent upon the Fates, Furies, and Family Ties.

So we get the idea that there are “Rich People” and “Poor People.” As if prosperity  is mysterious, or in our DNA, or there is an allotment of wealth, bestowed upon the lucky few.

Actually scientists are yet to discover the strand of Wealth DNA.

The Good News Is: There is a Way

We can see that businesses look pretty good when they have a popular product (the iPhone), or a valuable service (Google).  Obviously that’s what business is. It offers something that is of value to the consumer and it generates revenue in exchange.  But then why do some businesses get smaller or fail?  Even if they offer a great product?  And why do some persist?  Even when the product is less fascinating or the competition is fierce? And why is there so much struggle?

There are ways to succeed other than luck, magic, white collar thievery, tricky market manipulation, or force of personality.

Rule number one:

You may have a great product but you also have to have a well run organization to administer the product.  And you may have a great business structure, but you also have to have a product that people want.  This is the simple secret to expansion and persistence in business. Product and administration. One without the other will not persist.

So What is an Organization?

Derived from the word “organ,” which, like your heart, is something that works as one functioning unit to produce something in a uniform, orderly way, a well run organization is your yellow brick road. If your company feels more like a confused hodgepodge of “what just happened?” than a uniform and well running “organ,” you may well be experiencing, not a poor product, or incompetence, but fundamental disorganization.

To start, an organization could consist of just one or two of you: one of you who makes and sells the product (let’s say candy apples) or delivers the service that the business is there for (let’s say carpet cleaning), and the other one who handles how the organization works.   It has certainly been done, but it is pretty tough for one person to handle both aspects.

Then there is a third aspect.

The Big Three

These are the three big chunks of most organizations:

1. Making or delivering the product or service
2. Administering the product or service.
3. Marketing and selling the product or service

Using a baseball analogy, there are often more team members who want to play ball than team members who want to sell tickets, umpire, and keep score. It’s really fun to play ball.  But without the second set of team members, the administrators and salespeople, those ball players will be playing to empty bleachers.  And that won’t last for long, because there is no revenue or organization.

What About Charisma or Investors?

It is observable that you can make a business more of a success if you have a charismatic Steve Jobs or Warren Buffet or Walt Disney at the helm.  Their personality or lasting historical presence can contribute to the juggernaut they initially create. This is good, but even they need a product, sales, and organization that works if the business is to last beyond that individual energy and star power.

And yes, you can make a business look like it’s going well if you have a venture capitalist pouring cash into the coffers. That is good, too. But even then you will need an organization behind you to keep the production steady when the cashola runs out and you have to produce the same level of income that was given to you before your revenue-producing product was completely realized.

So, investing in superb organizational structure that ensures the prediction and longevity of the business, the orderly transactions, the steady sales, clear communication, internal correction, and a stellar workforce, is as important as your product.

Here’s to your success!

Human Resources for Start Ups

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2011 at 10:47 pm

It is only in recent times that a Human Resources department has become a more firmly established presence in small to mid-sized companies, but for internet start-up executives, the concept and need for HR are still new.

How Do I Know?

I have had the opportunity to study and interview with about seventy-five start-ups over the last four months. Why? Because I work for start-ups both as a consultant and in full time placement in Human Resources and Business Operations. And being the organized and obsessive sort of personality that HR is famous for, I have studied every single company within a twenty-five mile radius of my home, in my quest for employment.

I have practically inhaled these companies, interviewed with many of them, read their job descriptions, learned about their revenue models and business plans. I’ve probably made the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest number of Non-Disclosure Agreements signed.

They are becoming quite a bit clearer to me. But I remain an anomaly to them.

What is an HR Generalist and Who is Their Boss?

I’m that complex and mysterious entity known in modern business lingo as an HR Generalist. Or as a Senior HR Executive. Or as VP HR. Or as the person who handles all the stuff that no one else wants to. If I held a cardboard sign, it would say, “Will work for the first start-up that knows what I do and who I might report to.”

(Of course the problem with that motto is that many of the start-up entrepreneurs and some of the established business executives who interview me do not know who they report to, either. But that’s where I eventually come in).

If astronauts in outer space were to look down on the planet for an overview of start-up organizational structure and development, it might go something like this:

“Houston, we have a perfect view of Earth from way up here. Over”.

“Roger that, Apollo 29. Can you see who the Human Resources personnel in those start-up companies all over America report to? Over.”

“No sir, unclear, sir. Over.”

“Can you zoom into corporate America for a closer look? Over.”

“Have done so, sir. Camera sightings show random HR Division placement all over Org Charts, sir. One shot showed HR personnel listed in Finance, one in Operations, one in Marketing. And one shot showed several HR departments screaming for the exit after complicated Organizational Development meetings. Over.”

What is HR?

What any new Human Resources employee does in a start-up environment is a little like helping to build the boat at the same time that the boat is sailing at a thousand knots on a raging sea.

We establish hiring plans and expansion structures and are the writers of job descriptions. Yet until we are on board there is no one to place us where we belong or to write our job description!

Some of my interviewers are sure that an HR Generalist is really a Recruiter and that all they need is for this Recruiter to find them several engineers and programmers and all will be well.

I tell them, “Yes! I will recruit the best staff you can get!” Then I ask them, “And then what will you do with them once you hire them?”

Silence ensues.

Some of them are sure that an HR Generalist is really a Benefits and Payroll Administrator.

I tell them, “Yes! You need this kind of person on your staff! But who is going to handle the employee who is disgruntled about his hours, compensation, co-workers or supervisor?”

Again, silence.

Some of the start-ups just want “systems” put in. Handbooks, legal stuff.

“Systems are vital to a smoothly functioning organization,” I say to my interviewer, in my fresh out of the Goody Two Shoes School for Proper HR Representatives voice. “But neither man nor woman can live by systems alone,” I suggest from my perch on a bean bag chair in their retrofitted industrial office space.

Then I explain. “A Generalist is aptly named. In a start-up, or in many established businesses, we do it all.”

They beam, relieved, and say, “Oh yes, that’s what we meant! Do it all!”

We are right in the middle of organizational development, forecasting, recruiting, compensation and benefits design, training, conflict mediation, handbooks, and orientations. We establish prediction, retention, and persistence. Stable retention creates predictable production, which in turn contributes to profitability. All these buzz words boil down to this: we predict, administer, and oil the human gears of the corporate machine.

Where is HR on the Organizational Chart?

So now we have a simple idea of what a Generalist does. But where does HR belong on a corporate Org Chart? Who’s our boss? What division do we include ourselves in? Or is it just an anthill where everyone races in and out?

The current rage is the “flat organization.” But if the organization is flat, why are the CEO, Chairman of the Board, and Vice President of Important Things sticking out of the pancake? Why don’t they all call themselves General Office Workers?

Whether or not it is agreed with and whether or not it is written down in company policies, here is a simple fact: There is a boss and there is a worker. And they are not on the same level of responsibility or compensation. And, for example, even in the least complex of start ups, there is a division of the company that makes the product, and there is a division of the company that sells and/or delivers the product. So that means there is a divisional structure of some kind. With these two givens, it would make sense that much grief could be avoided by simply letting the staff know what division they belong in and who their boss is.

All the fanciest business methods in the world are useless unless they validate experience, and provide easy application and workability.

What Kind of Organizational Chart Isn’t Just a Collection of Squares With Names?

What I have found workable is the seven division org chart based upon Hubbard Business Technology.*

First, establish a divisional structure for your company, no matter what size it is. Those divisions are:

1. Hiring/Training/Administration
2. Marketing and Promotional Publications
3. Finance
4. Production/Technology
5. Quality Control
6. Sales/Contracts
7. Executive/Legal

Of all these divisions, HR belongs in what is usually called the Hiring/Training/ Administrations Division. That is, if Administrations does not include Finance.

HR is not, I repeat, not part of Finance or Treasury or Banking. The commodity of HR is people, not money. Even though employees are given a paycheck from Finance, HR is still not in Finance, any more than Marketing falls under Technology simply because Technology is marketed.

HR belongs in the same division where you find Organizational Development, Office Management, General Administration, Business Ethics, and Policies. Compensation and Benefits design belong in HR…but get this…actual administering of the benefits, forms, costs, insurance coverage in general…all belong in Finance. Before you throw a tomato at me, consider this: benefits are a form of compensation. Distribution of all compensation belongs in Finance.

Of course HR must liaise with Benefits Administration and the Payroll Manager in Finance. But then HR goes back to their little cubicles and we carry on with the business of staff forecasting, hiring and orienting people, helping management and staff to become competent, confident, evaluated, trained, protected, and informed.

Hold the Vegetables

I know it isn’t fashionable to use such simple logic in the face of all the serious management methodology out there. And I do expect quite a few heads of lettuce aimed at my head for voicing this point of view. But please, before you throw your leftover vegetables at me, walk a mile in my high heels down the corporate corridor. Once there, we can mix some metaphors together in a tall icy glass, and toast to our success.

*Hubbard Business Technology was developed by L. Ron Hubbard

How to Write the Perfect Job Ad For an Administrative or Executive Assistant

In Uncategorized on January 17, 2011 at 12:48 am

How on earth do you write a job ad for that perfect executive assistant, administrator, or executive office manager?  They will be the key to your peace of mind, your organized life, and possibly your very sanity.  So this is an important search!

The secret is basically this: just like you want the right candidate, your perfect candidate wants the right job, for the right salary, in the right environment.  So know what you want and ask for what you want.  Be certain, clear, concise, and complete.

What to Do

Your potential candidate will be offering their skills, their dedication, and a lot of their time to the position.  And in exchange, like any of us, they want to know what the quid pro quo will be.

From your point of view, you want to weed out those who are unqualified, attract your star candidate and get the most bang for your buck.  So, it’s a two-way street.

Just clarify your requirements, so your potential star can discern whether or not yours is the right job, for the right salary, in the right environment.

What Not to Do

What not to do, is to demand an encyclopedic list of super human requirements or ask one person to do what would actually be four jobs in a more well-organized company.  One example of this common mistake would be listing requirements that include bookkeeping, marketing, sales, office management, payroll, and human resources.  And calling that your executive or administrative assistant.

Understanding the Difference Between You and the New Hire

For administrative jobs particularly, the most common errors are too short an ad, or more commonly, the four-page job description that implies “just do everything and always be available.”  When you are a business owner, there is a tendency to expect from your potential employees the same degree of fervor that you display for your business.  The truth is that “just do everything and always be available” is a great job description…for the business owner.  That is how businesses get built.  And the owners share in the profits and success of their boundless labors.  However, when it is time to finally expand your business and get that first, or subsequent administrative employee, it is important to understand that an employee is not you.  They are an employee with a clear and defined job description, and a clear and defined salary or compensation agreement.  And unless you are running a co-op, they will not own the business.  Because they are not going to reap the same benefits as you do, they should not be asked to be as infinitely dedicated as you are for considerably less compensation.  This practice has actually been frowned upon since the feudal lords freed the serfs.

Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

First, plan and understand the exact parameters of the job itself. And then be clear, concise, and complete in your description.

What works best is a very succinct, legally acceptable definition of the job.  The template lines can look like this:

The Job Title

The Chain of Command or Reports

The Company Product or Service Provided

The Location and Hours

The General Responsibilities and Requirements of the Job

The Company Culture

The Exact Compensation

Format for Resume Submission

The Response Information

What to Avoid

Avoid subjective descriptions in your ad. For example, your request for a “jack of all trades” could attract that one-person band you are praying for, or a dilettante, not particularly skilled in any one area.  Your “flexible hours” may be interpreted by your dream applicant as, “I can be available 24/7,” or by the others as, “I get to sleep in!”  When an ad includes fuzzy requirements such as “energetic,” or “sense of humor,” these can be interpreted as:  There will be lots of high level activity and laughter, or–the executive you will be working for is a little sideways, so be prepared to have to run around for no good reason and laugh with them not at them.

Avoid descriptions that are foreshortened or overly lengthy.  Include your real must haves, not the tiny details.  Just because some online ad sites allow an infinite number of lines, there is no need to list pages and pages of Responsibilities, Qualifications, Requirements.  These can actually be more off-putting than helpful.  It is highly unusual for your best candidate to be capable of every small point on that list. Your best candidate is the one who comes in with the unconditional essentials, who fits with the group, and who is competent enough to catch on quickly with the rest.

Remember, you will see their resume and cover letter and be able to discern for yourself whether they are qualified enough for an interview.  The ad simply helps you invite the candidates that have been well filtered by the ad.

The Purpose of the Ad

The ad is meant to attract a resume from your perfect administrator.  It is not meant to be an employee training manual and does not need to describe visits to the post office, dry cleaners, ability to multi-task, writing letters, bathroom breaks, or taking meeting notes.  The candidate can discern most of those from the essentials (“personal errands” for example), if well written.

The details are for the interview. In the interview you get to see the look on their face when an otherwise excellent candidate winces slightly about the unexpected dog walking, babysitting, or the 24/7 cell access you may require of them, and you can both discuss options if you need to.

The Salary Should Not Be A Quiz

Under “compensation” in a job posting, it is a very common for employers to write, “Salary is DOE” (Dependent Upon Experience).  No doubt many employers have their reasons for not revealing the salary.  But it is an odd practice.  It violates letting your star candidate know that they will be getting the right job, for the right salary, in the right environment.  Unless he or she is a lottery winner just looking to give back, your candidate is looking for a job because they want to be able to pay their bills.

Let’s say you wished to buy a car and read an ad with an unclear written description, a blurry picture and a $45,000 price tag.  Then in order to see a clear picture you had to submit a credit application, and then after an interview, they would let you see a picture of the car.  You might be put off, maybe not even be willing to go for a demo drive.  In any situation that calls for an exchange of a “product” (the employee’s time and talents) for compensation (salary and benefits), letting your candidate know exactly what they are being asked to give and what they will receive in return will attract a viable candidate, create clear expectations and save time.  The salary for an administrator is paramount in the job search and should be stated.

Sometimes employers write, “Please include your salary requirements.”  This works for contractors who have a set hourly rate, but for your part time or full time employee, this can be awkward. “Salary requirements” encompass many arbitrary issues, such as difficulty of the job, salary history, hours of the job, skill level, personal need level, and more.  As the employer you have a budget and some idea of the compensation for this employee.  Maybe you are thinking you can weed out the candidate who wants more than what you offer, and snag one who is expecting less.  But this sort of juggling act also weeds out qualified candidates who are not comfortble with the guessing game.

Better just to name a salary, or salary range, benefits, and incentives.  It will alleviate the guessing game, double the effectiveness of your ad and save you time dealing with applicants who are dissatisfied with the salary once they hear what it is.

In the higher levels of executive hiring, there is often the expected and acceptable practice of negotiating for salary.  For a non-executive, administrative position, it is your job as the hiring party to adjudicate if your applicant is qualified and worth what you are offering, not theirs to tell you.

The Perfect Ad for the Perfect Applicant

Remember, your perfect applicant is looking at hundreds of online ads.  And they may be experiencing “ad fatigue.”  To help avoid this, here is your template with examples:

Job Title: Executive Admin Assistant:  We are looking for an experienced C level executive administrator for our busy rockstar CEO and VP.

You Will Be Reporting To: CEO and VP.  You will have no direct reports.

Company Products or Services: We package potatoes and sell them wholesale to retailers

Company Location: Downtown, USA

Hours: Mon-Friday, full time from 9:00 to 5:00 [if flexible, state the days and range, i.e. “May be needed two Saturdays a month, afternoons”]

Unconditional Job Requirements:

  •  2-3 years experience in a top-level, high-pressure, deadline-oriented executive environment as an administrative assistant to high level corporate officers
  •  Intermediate to advanced MS Office, calendaring, HR liaison, travel, corporate correspondence, personal errands
  • Proven clear thinker, well organized, level headed, solution oriented
  • Self-starter, efficient, productive, works well with a team
  • Not physical labor but must be able to lift 25 pounds for paper storage.

[Remember, describe the requirements in five bullet points, maximum. Clear and exact. You can explain anything more in the job interview. You will have seen their resume by then].

Company Culture: We are a fun-loving, but high-production, successful corporate business.  The dress code is casual with Denim Fridays, a ping pong table, a video game break room, and a bean bag chill-areum with free lattes.

Salary, benefits, incentives, extras: $44,000 annually, medical, dental, PTO, 401K, free French Fries on Fridays, private office, parking, company T-shirt with our “No Hate-O Potato” logo.

How to submit resume: in body of email, or as Word or pdf attachment.  Include a cover letter.  Put “Administrative Assistant” in the subject heading.  No phone calls or faxes, please, as that just gets confusing.

How, when, and if we will contact you: by phone or email within two weeks of submission, but only for qualified applicants, which we hope you are!

This template can be applied to a Personal Assistant, Office Manager, Executive Assistant, or Office Assistant. With some of your own creative tweaks it can also be actually applied to any job ad at all.

Happy hunting!