Three key attributes of successful business | Daily News
So, you want to start-up and develop a small business – Part 38

Three key attributes of successful business

Every successful small business (one that includes employees, anyway) has three identifiable characteristics, no matter its niche, product, or service: flexibility, accountability, and follow-up.

Flexibility: The bending of rules

There are a lot of reasons why you should look to encourage flexibility in the workplace. Whatever your definition of flexibility, there’s no doubt that it can alter the culture of your office; even placing you on the cutting edge.

Regardless if you’re on the cutting edge or not, there’s always work to be done. Because you still have competitors and still have clients who need your products or services. Whatever way you look at it, you’ve got things to do, people and companies to compete with and on top of that, talent to attract.

But your problems could be partly solved merely by implementing flexibility in the workplace. Whether that means flexible work arrangements or flexible working hours, encouraging flexibility in the office can do wonders.

An implementation of this work structure can totally change the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re number one in your industry or competing for a larger market share. You can get something from improved office flexibility. When you are number two (or so on), you have to work harder than the rest. So why not work smarter? More flexible?

For example, you have a good employee who needs additional time off to resolve a family situation? Your company rules won’t allow it. Just say:Nuts to the rules. Give him the time off and also help him solve his problem because a good employee needs a flexible work schedule to honour her responsibilities at home?

Or you have a good customer who needs an additional 30 days to pay an especially large invoice? Then 30 more days it is. Another good customer needs his products individually shrink-wrapped rather than bulk-wrapped? Then shrink-wrapped it is. (Of course, you may have to adjust your price to cover the additional cost.)

Organization charts:

Last week we said you should use organization charts only for administrative and structural purposes. If you look at your business as providing solutions rather than merely following rules, you’ll be better able to meet the demands of today’s ever- changing business life. That doesn’t mean you should flexibly manage everything in your business. To the contrary, a small business does need to include a number of inflexible rules and regulations among its management tools. For instance, you need inflexible rules and regulations to manage such things as ethics and principles: If ethics and principles are flexible, they aren’t ethics and principles.

Expense controls:

The best small businesses are those that are as aware of their expenses as they are of their sales. You need to control your expenses inflexibly. There is no flexibility.

Quality: Quality cannot be flexible. The product or service is either fit for your mostdemanding customer or it’s unfit for any of your customers. There’s no middle ground.

By allowing flexibility in defined fields you let your employees manage themselves in a much more direct way and become more productive in the process.


Accountability is critical for the functioning of any team. Without accountability, there is nobody to take ownership and ensure work is completed successfully. A leader should be held accountable for a team’s overall performance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is the only accountable person in the team.

There’s a reason why organisations often have one or more layers of management. You don’t have Human Resources, Finance, Marketing Managers just for fun. Even below the Marketing Manager, you might find another layer with Showroom Manager, Projects Manager, Dealer Manager etc. You have these roles so that specialist leaders can be accountable for teams that deliver services within their particular domain.

To determine whether your small business has an accountable culture, answer the following four questions:

Do your employees have the motivation to achieve what you want them to achieve? Does achievement make a difference in the success ofthe team, and do you and youremployees know how to recognize that difference? Can the other members of the team tell when an employee has achieved or not achieved? Do your employees know that they have to achieve, or is achievement only one of their options?

In the process of answering these questions, you’ll quickly recognize the four elements required to differentiate an accountable culture from an unaccountable one:

(1) Employees have to have a reason to achieve, (2) Achievement has to be recognized throughout the company, (3) Employees should receive rewards when they do achieve, (4) Consequences have to be in place when employees don’t achieve the goals you’ve agreed on.

Put these elements together and you can, within a relatively short period of time, create a culture that promotes accountability.

How do you improve accountability?

(1) Limit the scope to a single person

Example: “Nishantha, you are accountable for making sure the packages and letters are sent on time.” This tells Nishantha that he is the one in charge of this activity. When things happen that may prevent the packages and letters being sent, Nishantha feels empowered to act to fix it, because he knows he’s the only one who is responsible for this.

(2) Be clear on your expectations

“Rani, you are accountable for ensuring that the presentation of the report is of a high level of quality”.This sounds great, but is subjective. What do you mean by “high level of quality”? It would be better to be more specific. In this example, you might say that there should be no spelling mistakes, no blurred graphics, consistent font sizes and all sources are referenced properly. This might be straying towards micromanagement, telling somebody exactly how to do their job, but you get the idea. The clearer your expectations are, the more likely that there will be less confusion about what is required.

(3)Communicate ownership widely

If Nishantha is accountable for making sure the packages and letters are sent on time, make sure everybody in the team knows that. Otherwise, when Nishantha starts to ask people about the packages and letters and ensure there are no problems with them, people may start to think “who made Nishantha the boss?”

Clearly stating who is accountable for activities within a team is critical. Everybody then understands the situation and everybody is on the same page. When people know their role, there is less uncertainty and less potential for confusion.

People-pleasing leaders will tell Nishantha he is accountable. Nishantha feels happy. People-pleasing leaders will not tell anyone else that Nishantha is accountable because this may make them feel less important and upset them. Nishantha is going to be in for an unhappy time, because nobody will necessarily listen to him.

(4) Formalise it

If the improved accountability that you are looking for is a permanent arrangement, be sure to include it in performance plans, or whatever performance assessment structure you use. In other words, make it formal.

Formalising accountability will increase ownership, but also allow team members to be recognised for the additional responsibility they are taking on. It also enables them to add the role to their CV for future positions. This can be motivational and satisfying for team members, because they feel they are developing their skills and taking on more responsibility.

Follow-up: The more you do it, the less you need it

There’s a common saying in sales that goes, “The fortune is in the follow-up.” The reason this is common wisdom is because it’s true. If you’re afraid of coming off as a “pushy boss” with your follow-ups, that logic doesn’t even make sense.

Do you have any idea how many things are vying for peoples’ attention in their minds and inboxes? A lot. The chances of your verbal instruction or email getting lost or forgotten under a massive pile of other instructions and emails is pretty high.If you don’t follow up with your employees, missions and goals won’t be missions and goals anymore; they’ll be hopes and wishes. And hopes and wishes don’t build businesses; they only create dreams.

The good news is that when your employees know that follow-up is coming, the need for it decreases. Translation: When you have an accountable culture firmly in place, you won’t have to follow up as much anymore.

In the beginning, when your business’s culture is being established, you have to follow up on every commitment made, large or small. You can do so by making a simple notation on the calendar and transferring it to the to-do list on the appropriate day.

Never stop trying to collect a team of superstars. After all, superstars don’t need to be rigorously followed up (if they do, they’re not superstars!), which means that employing them will allow you to spend more time doing the things you want to do.

(Lionel Wijesiri is a retired company director with over 30 years’ experience in senior business management. Presently he is a business consultant, freelance newspaper columnist and a writer.)


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