Last week we looked into how we can have an influence over issues that we are concerned about and how we can actually do something to change things around. I suggested for example that in respect of the alarming environmental degradation, caused by the ever growing need for cultivation, firewood and charcoal , that there is sufficient expertise around to improve on methodologies and practices, especially when combined with supportive policies and awareness raising. In fact, we have no option but to think about other, better ways to practice agriculture and use energy. Ways that are more environmental friendly, ways that take soil and water conservation into account, ways that are more sustainable in the end.
Those of us who are in the business of agriculture, research, development work, policy development and extension work for example are thus in a position to have an influence over the way agriculture is practiced and can be improved.
We also looked into to the rate at which the population is growing, which will create a demand for millions more mouths to feed and jobs to be created. There are organizations and individuals with a rich experience in addressing issues like birth control, reproductive rights and mother and child health care at community level, which supported by the right policies can be scaled up and make a difference indeed.
Then, while traffic accidents unnecessarily continue to claim lives, cause injury and damage, all of us who drive are in control over our own behaviour in traffic. Driving more carefully, following the traffic rules more consistently, driving in a more defensive manner, less speeding, allowing more space for other road users and regular maintenance of our own vehicles are just a few ways in which we can have a direct influence over reducing the hazards on the road.
What I observe though is the opposite. While the infrastructure improves and roads get better and wider, behaviour of drivers becomes more dangerous. There are now roads in town that provide the opportunity to drive faster and everybody does. This, combined with the ignorant behaviour of pedestrians and other road users leads to very dangerous situations indeed. This needs to change and when combined with better training of aspirant drivers and more effective disciplinary action by the police, towards offenses that directly endanger traffic, like for example speeding, overtaking in the wrong places and on the wrong side, drinking & driving, chewing chat & driving, instead of minor offenses, this would help in reducing dangerous driving, I believe.
Now, in terms of doing business, what influence do business owners and managers have over the effectiveness of their operations, the motivation and work ethics of their workers, the competition, the economy, the environment, etc.?
There are many issues to be concerned about as a business owner, some of which within and others outside our circle of influence.
The business owner needs to make up his or her mind about the issues to be concerned about, decide whether or not something can be done about it and subsequently work on enhancing influence on the issue. If you come to the conclusion that an issue is not for you to have any influence over, it may be better to stop being concerned about it at all. Instead focus on what you can have a (growing) influence over, which include by the way issues in the internal as well as the external environment of the business. To get some more insight in the issues we want to address it may be helpful to bring some structure in the way our business is organised. I have always found it useful to make a division into the five basic elements of management, as follows:
1. Strategic management deals with the longer term plans of the company and decisions related to that, for example: Are you going to expand, develop other products, export your products, and position the company more strategically?
2. Production management looks into the production process, quality, quantities, product development, and design.
3. In human resources management you will include issues like job descriptions, recruitment & selection, performance assessment, staff development, motivation, discipline.
4. Financial management works the accounts, costing, pricing, analyses the figures, deals with taxes, paying the bills, the payroll. And administrative management includes stock control, logistics, contracts, archives, assets etc.
5. Marketing management deals with advertising, customer relations, communications, PR, networking, sales, packaging and information.
Now, using this classification as a point of departure, we can begin to identify issues of concern, that we can have a direct influence over and that thus require our attention. In the area of human resources management, we may be concerned for example about the level of performance of our workers, or their work ethics. Why do they underperform, why do they seem not to be motivated, why is it that they do not complete their work within regular working hours but are busy working overtime? Finding the answers to these kind of questions will help us in finding ways to address them and turn them around, because as a business owner we have a direct influence over them. We will continue looking into the business owner’s circle of influence next week.