Sunday, September 10, 2000

Small-business diary

Let workers see how other half lives

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

        It's a common complaint with many companies, whether large or small — battling departments, an “us versus them” attitude, and employees who don't understand their co-workers' jobs.

        “Fifteen years ago, I remember being completely annoyed about some infighting between office and warehouse staff,” said Cathy Filgas, co-founder of Anthro Corp., Technology Furniture of Tualatin, Ore., a manufacturer and e-tailer of computer furniture. “I thought if only they could see how the other half lives.”

        Thus started the company's “shadow program.”

        Every month, four of Anthro's employees shadow four others in different departments, walking in a co-worker's shoes for a full day.

        “The result is that our employees communicate better,” she said. “There's a mutual respect because they've been there, done that. The shadow and the shadowee get a chance to know each other as people, rather than just as fellow employees.”

        Here are some steps Anthro recommends to develop a job shadow program:

        • Be committed. Sure you lose some production time during shadowing visits, but keep with the program. You gain some far-reaching benefits: better information sharing between departments, and employees who have a “big-picture” view of the organization.

        • Start small. Even companies with a handful of employees can benefit from shadowing. Maybe more than larger firms, since communication is so important for growth. Even if you do only one employee a month, it's a start.

        • Be strategic. In assigning exchanges, look around and see: Who's been locking horns? Who wants to “road-test” a new job? Who's new and needs to get oriented? Who's seasoned, but needs to get recharged?

        • Make it count. Shadowers should observe and if possible participate in the actual work. Don't relegate them to sidelines. And if the shift starts at 4 p.m. and goes to midnight, the shadow must work the hours of the employees. Also, never let shadowers get diverted by checking their e-mail, or phone messages.

        • Emphasize the personal aspect. Encourage participants to take coffee and lunch breaks together. No excuses. Everyone is busy and no one has time to do this. But insist that the shadow day take place. If management doesn't champion the program, who will?

Business plans made easy

        The five biggest mistakes made in writing business plans, says Jan B. King, author of a new book, Business Plans to Game Plans:

        1. Not writing for the target audience. Although the core is the same, the plan should be written differently for banks, equity investors, or for use inside the company by the board or for employees. Go as far as you can to tailor each plan to the audience's specific interest to show you've done your homework and know whom you are talking to.

        2. Underestimating the importance of the quality of the management team. The quality of your people will lend credibility to your ideas and your financial projections. If your management team is not as strong as it could be, join forces with a great board of advisers.

        3. Starting with a boring, unenthusiastic executive summary. This is the first section read by investors, and if this isn't exciting, the rest will never be read. Make it fun and be enthusiastic. It should stand alone and generate interest for more information. It deserves all the thought you would put into a professionally done promotional piece for your customers.

        4. Not adequately acknowledging your competition. Investors know if there is no perceived competition, there may be no market for what you are offering. The better you can describe your competition, the better you understand your market, and the more likely you will dominate it.

        5. Saying too much. Keep the entire plan to a maximum of 30 pages, with an executive summary of no more than three pages. If investors are interested, they will ask for any additional information they need. Hire a professional editor to reduce the page count, emphasize your strongest points and eliminate spelling and grammatical errors.


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