Another reason that people advance for not going into business for themselves, especially those who have a day job, is the dearth of trustworthy employees.
I, for one, have heard of several people who desired to go into the business of transportation but got discouraged when they were told about several other businesses that were ruined by unscrupulous drivers. “You can never be certain of the story they would come up with at the end of each day” a transportation business owner once complained. “If it isn't one of a broken down vehicle, it will be one of arrests by the traffic police. But, rest assured that you are not getting any remittances that day”. We will come back to how he rescued his business but first let’s hear from a friend who described his employees as godsends.
Femi works in the telecommunications sector and has four guys in his employ. One day after close of business, unbeknownst to his staff, he decided to stay back and finish some work as his family was out of town and he wasn't keen on returning to an empty house. At 10 p.m. he called it a day, packed his briefcase and headed for the car park. As he reached inside his pocket for the car keys, he accidentally pressed the dial button of his phone lodged in the same pocket. His phone called his salesman who was already nested in the bedroom with his family. As he picked the call, he didn't hear Femi on the other end so he said a couple of tentative “Hellos”. He was about to terminate the call and redial when he heard the muffled voice of his boss. From what he could decipher the voice was quite agitated and frightened, he quickly decided that it was a surreptitiously placed SOS call from his boss. Immediately, he called two other colleagues and asked them to join him pronto in their boss’ house because he was urgently in need of rescue from marauders. All pleas by his wife to pull his pyjamas and wear something appropriate fell on deaf ears as the man picked his baseball bat, hurriedly entered his car and dashed for Femi's house. The speed with which he took off belongs in the Grand Prix.
Before he arrived the other colleagues, looking nonplussed, were waiting for him. They were also arguing with the gatekeeper as to the whereabouts of their boss. The salesman jumped out of his car and was told that Femi had not gotten home. He went back to his car and picked his phone to call the police, when he saw the frog-eye headlamps of Femi's Mercedes turn into the driveway. It was a stunned Femi that emerged as he saw his staff outside his gate. Amidst laughter at their folly and relief that he was safe, he explained to them that the call was a mistake and what the salesman heard was his banter with the office security-guard. Everyone had tears in their eyes; they from laughing so hard but Femi from being touched by his employees’ profound affection for him.
When I questioned him about how he got so lucky with his employees, he thought for a very long time before answering that he wasn't sure. He said he wasn't paying them fantastically or motivating them with any other perks. In fact, the salesman had just turned down an offer which would have paid him twice what Femi did. He chose to remain without asking for a raise because, in his words, he wanted to help in building the business. But then, Femi said, “The only difference between me and most employers is that I am the kind of ‘boss-in-the-trenches’ with my employees. I identify with them”. I replied that empathy is such a powerful motivator but he quickly countered that he didn't just empathize with them; he said he went a step further to identify with them. “Empathy”, he explained “calls us to wear other people’s shoes to know where it pinches; but identifying calls us to leave wearing those shoes, such that they are forced to wear the ones we leave behind. That way, employees and employers are linked together and remain loyal to each other. They take my business personally and I carry their matter for head” (meaning he is quite invested in them). The other thing he said he does is to monitor his employees and they told him that knowing they are being scrutinized inspires them with self-accountability; and that takes me back to the transportation business owner.
He rescued his failing shuttle business by installing trackers in all his buses. Whenever a driver came back with the usual cock and bull stories, he simply opened his laptop, called up the route replay of the bus for the driver to take a look and handed him a sack letter. In a short time, all his drivers sat up and even he told me that he has overheard them calling him ‘Track-tor’ in their private conversations. When the ticketing staff also took to helping themselves to the till, he installed point-of-sale machines (POS) for payment and CCTVs to monitor them. Miraculously, all the pilferage stopped. It reminds me of my banking days, when mystery shoppers were dispatched nationwide. After a secretary in the head office got the axe, everybody sat up. We even coined the adage, ‘The fear of the mystery shopper is the beginning of wisdom”.
I don’t think anyone should claim again that the fear of bad employees is what is keeping them from going into business. By employing the carrot-and-stick strategy (identifying with them as the carrot and monitoring them as the stick) we can get our employees to be dedicated to our business, as much as we are.