Thursday, 19 March 2009

Moral and Professional Business Practises

I am sure that many business owners have experienced the difficulties that can arise when working on a project with a client. Thankfully for me, difficulties in working out and agreeing contracts have been few and far between. However, in recent weeks, working with a new client has been very interesting.

This experience has made me take a second look at my own business practices and principles and those employed by some others. This reassessment has demonstrated stark differences in how people conduct their businesses, particularly during these times.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not naive, but I do think that reviewing one’s principles, in light of other people’s behaviour can be an interesting exercise. It can either confirm your methods of dealing with others, or allow you the opportunity to change. Running your own business can be a toughing up process.

It can be even more difficult at times like these to get some clients to agree a fair exchange of services for reasonable payment, when everyone is trying to hold on to their finances and keep their businesses out of the red.

When all you read about and hear about in the news is how difficult it is to get work or keep a business going, one can be drawn into panic thinking and therefore panic behaviour or less than professional behaviour. All of this external pressure can bring the temptation to be drawn into a method of thinking and behaving that is far from morally acceptable and less than professional.

When the chips are down, as many are shouting from the hilltops that they are, how many of us are tempted to change our principles and begin to behave in a less than professional manner.

It is right to sell yourself cheep? Is it right to give your services away for next to nothing? It is right to accept a less professional standard of delivery or quality in order to bag the deal?

Over the past few weeks, whilst dealing with this new client I mentioned previously, these are questions that I have had to address myself. It has been quite a roller coaster ride.

I guess I have always taken it for granted that people will operation with the highest moral and professional regard, but it appears that this is not always the case and the economic climate is just the latest excuse some are using.

There are some people who practise unscrupulous behaviour even in a good economic climate, this is true. What is clear though is that in times of difficulty, one’s reputation goes before ahead even faster than usual. These types of businesses become less ideal business partners for those who wish to maintain our moral and professional practise.

One thing I have learnt is that difficult conditions can be a little like suddenly winning a large amount of money, like winning the lottery for example. Unlimited money, as with difficult times, makes people more of who they have always been. In business they behave more profoundly the way that they already do.

The difference is that in times of plenty, this may not be noticed, as we can easily afford to ignore things that we may not like or because there is plenty of work, we can just ignore those people whose methods of operation, we do not agree with.

I guess this is more of a personal assessment than a huge study on business relationships. But I am sure that many others may have found themselves in similar situations.

And from the point of view of a business buying in a service, it is ethically or morally right to try to force a service provider to provide their services for nothing? In other words, using the economic climate as an excuse to drive down how much you are going to pay for a service. Yet still expecting the same level of high quality performance or service?

An organisation or business owner who employs bad practices will always employ bad practices whatever the economic environment. Unless they are prepared to make a personal and organisational effort to change. What many who employ bad practices as a strategy are failing to appreciate is:
  1. Their reputation will suffer in the long term and short term;
  2. The quality of their service provision will certainly suffer, as you will only get what you are prepared to pay for;
  3. The less you are prepared to pay, the lower the quality of service or production you will get;
  4. They will loose customers;
  5. They will loose out on getting and keeping the best staff;
  6. They will loose good suppliers;
  7. They will irreparably damage your reputation with your clients and your suppliers.
  8. When the economic client improves, those who are forced to work with them during the down times will certainly not want to do so every again and will not have to;
  9. They will have a harder struggle to survive the longer this period of challenge continues.

When I ask myself what lessons I’ve personal learnt from this recent experience, these can be easily summed up with the phrase ‘where there is smoke, there is fire’. If a business or business owner has a bad reputation, there is always the possibility of some truth to the rumours. It is important not to believe all rumours. But whilst you spent time finding out what is true and what is not, it is always necessary to protect your business.

Some tips to help you this are:

  • Protect yourself by ensuring that all contracts are signed before work is started - Don't be pressured to start before this:
  • Do not be pressured into reducing your prices half way through the contract- if you have too walk away;
  • Stick to your values and moral principles;
  • Be clear about what you will and will not do to get or maintain contracts;
  • Resist the temptation to sell your services cheep to get the deal;
  • Don’t get drawn into helping out in badly prepared for situations without be given the time required to prepare the project or programme;
  • Maintain your professionalism.

I am sure my list will increase and I consider this experience further. It has been an interesting experience, but I have come through it even more sure about my values for my business and how I am prepared to treat other people and to be treated myself. I have learnt that it is good to be touch and principled. You can be.

I am sure that only those businesses that provide quality service, value both their customers and their suppliers, and maintain a high moral and professional business practices, will come through this period of challenge even stronger.

In this environment people are looking for honesty and good quality service, before they spend there money. Even those providing a service still have the option to decide who they wish to work. The qualities of honest and good quality professional business practises.

Bad practices will cause the failure of bad businesses during this challenging period. This is ironic justification for bad behaviour.

As a dear friend of mine would say in a situation such as this ‘lessons learnt’.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Dealing With Redundancy As A Small Business

Many people think that only larger organisations have to deal with redundancy or the uncomfortable issues of laying off staff. However, this is also an issue for small and medium size businesses. Being smaller does not make this any less uncomfortable or any easier.

The issue may some times be greater because small businesses may not have the where-with-all in the area of experience, finance or human resource staff who are more of the experts, to deal with this properly. This in itself may cause problems for all concern now or at a slightly later date.

Employment law makes no distinctions with regard to the size of the business and if managers or business owners get it wrong it could be a very expensive mistake in deed.

Many owner managers of SMEs feel that as they are smaller, they do not have to make themselves aware of what their responsibilities are under the law and that not knowing about this will exempt them. Still others feel that because they are a smaller business current or even ex-employees will not pursue bad practice or unfair treatment, but in this economic climate, as in any other, this is far from the truth. Disperate times can make people in difficulty pursue lines of redress more furvently than they may have previously. An incentive to do this may be the promise or possibility of monitary gain at the end.

I have known of situations where the employees were far more aware of the their rights under the law than some owner managers were, and this in itself is quite alarming. Unions may have lost some of their bite over the past couple decades or so, but the rights of employees are more clearly laid out, better and more than they used to be.

The thing that may make a person insist on their rights or entitlements may be more about the process or the principle than the result. In other words, people may not be happy about being laid off, but how the process is managed may cause more resentment than the actual result - being laid off.

It is human nature to reflect upon the number of loyal years or months of good service given, in comparison to how one may feel one is being treated - Looking in the mind of the employee loosing his or her job, after the initial shock has hit home.

It is important that whether or not yours is a small to medium size or a larger business, that you get support and advice on how to deal with laying staff off, as soon as there is even the smallest inkling that you may have to resort to this option.

This is not as expensive as it used to be and human resources or people development specialist can offer a range of change management strategies to help manage this process easily and where possible as painless as possible.

As my elders would say, you never know what life is going to bring your way. If you fail to treat someone with respect now, it may be that same person who you find facing you years down the road, when you are in need of help. Life has a strange way of engineering itself.

Another side of this coin is that as things pick up economically, you may well need to re-employ these same people. Treat them with respect and as much care as is possible and practical in the circumstance. The old golden rule is still good even in these days.