Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Little Toy Soldiers

Working for a small family business, you get to see management by impulse. I call it the Little Toy Soldiers theory of management.

"I'll put my soldiers here! No, wait, I'll put them there! I like my soldiers! Let's put some here, and some there."

The personal touch works both ways. You just have to make it work. Not every little toy general is unreasonable. But sometimes one will have a little trouble with basic arithmetic. You can't turn two people into three people just by moving them back and forth really quickly.

Most family businesses start with all the family members working like slave labor and splitting the take like brigands after a big score...or beggars after a small one. Many of them end at the point when family members are either too old or too disgusted with the life to continue it. They are not geared to pay enough of an actual staff to fulfill the functions formerly met by the family.

We seem to be at or near that juncture now. The current generation resolutely discouraged the next generation from becoming involved in the business. If something doesn't fall into place soon, the niche they occupy will be opening up to newcomers. It doesn't matter whether they are busy or not. Without business they have no income, but with it they will not have enough trained staff. Kudos to them for wanting to free their children from enslavement to the family's undernourished cash cow, but the current generation is going to have to find some new gristle to gnaw for the remainder of what would have been their productive years. The quirky creation they nurtured all these years can't continue as it is.

If they lay off staff they can't get their work done. They have to find other fat to trim. It's the age-old problem of plenty to do and no way to get paid to do it.

For this week and next, the answer from on high is to try to get two people to be three.

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