Tension is to be found wherever one looks. Commerce is globally competitive; today's effective product or marketing strategy can be obsolete before returning to work Monday morning. Runaway abuse of tort and product liability litigation can dump the blameless small business into bankruptcy literally overnight. Despite all of the political rhetoric, layers of government regulations and intervention strangle many smaller business ventures. And explosive cultural changes are continually redefining the workplace as well as the marketplace. The owner/manager of the smaller business and the entrepreneur are confronting these external tensions every day — directly and with no organizational buffers. Professional counseling and psychopharmaceuticals can neither change nor diminish the harsh reality of these external forces.
How does the owner manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur overcome stress, overload and burnout originating from one's external environment? In two ways: knowledge and bulwarks.
Too many smaller businesses operate in comparative isolation; they are not well connected with nor aware of the global environment of which they are a part. They are easily blind-sided. Thus, the first essential is knowledge — a realistic assessment of what is happening in the global environment as well as within our industry.
This knowledge is available from many sources, but it requires assiduous commitment to stay up-to-date. Coupled with focused product/technology and market research, selective reading of the general business/economics media as well as the trade media is mandatory. While often difficult for the smaller business, it is imperative to be connected with the network within our industry — often through trade and/or professional associations. The foreboding of what we do not know induces much more stress than a realistic understanding of what needs to be known. Almost all stress stems from a fear of some change — generally an unknown change; but once the anticipated change is fully grasped and confronted, it not infrequently is the gateway to new opportunities.
Even in the very small organization, the feedback of employees and colleagues can be invaluable -- both to know our own business as well as their insights about the environment in which we function. Professor Reinhold 1 cautions, "Owners/ managers all-too-often can't see the things they need to see; they set up impenetrable defense mechanisms." She offers some excellent questions to initiate this feedback:
"What's going on that we should know about?"
"What do you think we should be doing differently or better?"
"What isn't working for you within this organization?"
Dispelling fear of the unknown is a critical step in alleviating stress. The second step in alleviating stress is to erect bulwarks against the unpredictable. The smaller business is most often a precarious enterprise. (Entrepreneur and risk-taker are commonly considered to be almost synonymous.) The smaller business is generally under-capitalized and under-staffed — a "shoe-string" operation that is cash-starved and stumbling from one payday to the next. It serves a very narrow product/technology niche. The loss of a key customer or a key employee can be devastating. Changes or reversals that would be routine for the large corporation or institution can bode disaster for the smaller business. Understandably, stress is a natural reaction to this precarious situation.
The owner/manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur can erect bulwarks to repel much that is unpredictable. Although some may laugh derisively, the first bulwark is cash . Boot-strapping may be the only way to startup a new venture and cash flow can be erratic during this period, but it is essential to place the smaller enterprise on a solid financial foundation as early as possible. Strategically, this frequently means sacrificing vigorous growth for financial stability. It means introducing prudent financial management from Day One, instituting sensible credit and collection practices, and devoting as much attention to cash planning and forecasting as to ever-popular growth. Harboring the financial resources to weather at least several months of bad news is one of the most important bulwarks to buffer the smaller enterprise against the unpredictable.
Other bulwarks may vary from company-to-company and industry-to-industry, but they generally strive to avoid excessive dependency and vulnerability. A lucrative contract may be a boon upon startup, but it can later be the toxin of death if complementary sources of revenue have not been established. The loss of a key employee or partner has to be anticipated and, if at all possible, steps taken to assure such an eventuality will not be calamitous. Although the smaller company must eschew reckless diversification, a product/service focus that is too narrow can lead to the "Model T trap." Carefully-conceived strategic alliances and joint ventures may be effective bulwarks against the unpredictable. The military engineer erects bulwarks across every avenue of possible attack.
How does the owner/manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur overcome stress, overload and burnout originating from one's external environment? In two ways: knowledge and bulwarks. It has been noted that almost all stress stems from a fear of some change — generally an unknown change. The foreboding of what we do not know induces much more stress than a realistic understanding of what needs to be known. Disciplining ourselves to examine what needs to be known and then erecting strategic bulwarks to anticipate the unpredictable are the most efficacious antidotes for stress — and free of any warnings about side effects.
1 Barbara Bailey Reinhold, Ed.D., Toxic Work: How to Overcome Stress, Overload, and Burnout and Revitalize Your Career, op.cit.
Revised: January 15, 2018 TAF
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