TOP BUSINESS CHALLENGES (2)
Success is not an easy feat; most times the easier it looks on the surface, the more gruesome the labour that went into achieving it. It is even more draining when it seems that the environment is conspiring to throw heavy duty obstacles on the path of success. Last edition we started on the top five challenges that our 10 CEOs considered the most drilling in their journey to success. Apart from the problem of getting reliable workforce, there were four other major business challenges that the researchers pinpointed from their interaction with the CEOs. They were: the huge cost of running businesses, huge cost of access to funding, inconsistent economic policies, and volatile market options. Are you surprised? I was too.
Ordinarily, I would put access to funding as the number one challenge that a growing business would have especially in this part of the world. Next to it would be the high cost of everything – which makes running a business quite laborious. Then, I would throw in manpower challenges, marketing issues, the need to maintain your space among competitors and the rest. These ten CEOs who have grown their businesses indigenously and attained considerable success have said that their order of nightmares is first with inconsistency, unreliability and untrustworthiness of manpower before the others.
Last edition, I shared some experiences that business leaders have had and how their organisations lost incredible sums of money and other valuables because of the dishonesty of some staff members. Post the publication, I have heard a chilling though unverified story of a lady who was working for a large department store and defrauded her organisation of hundreds of millions of their currency by tampering with the POS machines. As the story went, most of the payments via the POS machines were diverted to a special account. And she was still being paid a salary, according to their negotiated agreement. Quite callous! I do recall a certain interview of Sir (Chief) Gabriel Igbinedion, the Esama of Benin Kingdom where he, talking about the challenges of doing business in Nigeria, said it made sense for a business man to make ample room for the inevitable theft and losses that occur in business. Sad!
Some weeks ago, I published a story shared by a reader lamenting the dishonesty of workers and why it is costing Africa definite development. The author categorically analysed the reasons why African business moguls would rather invest in foreign companies than build their businesses in their countries/regions. It was the same reason, he opined, that many big corporations in Africa will rather employ expatriates than their countrymen. It is a problem that needs to be firmly addressed.
The solution to challenges with incompetence and lack of professionalism of manpower is to be thorough with investigation at the point of hiring. Spend money on proofing the records of your staff especially those holding strategic positions. Let the referee form be a legal document not just paperwork that is shoved into a drawer. Let your employment letter contain those tiny prints that talk about expectations, compensations and liabilities both to the worker and the employer. Have them duly registered legally especially if your organisation is into high volume financial transactions and high-risk services.
In addition to the above, the employer must play his own part in keeping to the terms of agreement. Establish a strong organisational culture that is positive and inclusive, where employees feel valued and motivated. Remuneration is one of the key reasons that an employee seeks a job. Make your salaries competitive and let benefits be paid when earned. Lastly, commit to the development of your staff by providing opportunities for trainings that enhance their skills. These may not stop a fraudulent worker from being unprofessional but they would reduce the revolving door effect of staff turnover.
The next on the list is the high cost of running a business. By the time you add the cost of manpower which keeps growing whether or not you are making profit, energy – the current most talked about subject in Nigeria for instance, transportation of goods and services (where necessary), security and extra security, you have already shot your expenditure too high and cost of service /product may have soared beyond the reach of your target market. Sometimes, the entrepreneur is forced to cut corners, thereby producing less than standard quality of goods/services, or they just go ahead and put their price tag and hope there would be consumers who are discerning enough to settle for high quality at any cost. One of the CEO respondents is a school proprietor who lamented the high cost of running the school facility and keeping the children safe. Due to the rising cost of daily use items and energy, she said, she was running the boarding arm of the school at a great loss. She also said that some recent happenings in schools as reported via the social media had put extra pressure on schools – specified boarding facilities and round the clock supervision of the kids, maintenance of order, a certain quality of life and care; all these required huge funding.
There are many companies who are operating below their capacities just because they dare not work at optimum level or the costs would drive them out of the market.
What to do?
Limitations boosts innovation, CEOs should constantly think of how to maintain and improve the quality of their product or service delivery at a cost that is competitive and fair. Invest in researches and patronise journals of other companies in other areas of the world where the same service is being offered at a top notch level and at a moderate cost. A case in point would be the telecomm business. About 20 years ago, the sim cards of all the operating networks were purchased at a huge cost but through research and market expansion, the organisations came to the point where the cards are being given out almost at zero cost. Costs of phone calls have also fallen and the networks constantly look out, through market reviews and survey, for additional services to add to their consumers’ enjoyment.
Constantly changing government policies and focus forms another top challenge to businesses as our respondent showed. All of the entrepreneurs agreed that annual company strategies and targets are constantly reviewed because the environment is volatile, policies change on a consistent basis and of course this affects consumer behaviour and may make a company financially vulnerable.
To stay on top of this challenge, the organisation must stay informed. Keep a keen eye on the industry and related government agencies so that you are quick to know the policies that affect your business. It would be helpful to network with people in your field especially the more experienced ones, not just to learn from them but to form a pressure group with a strong voice when you need to ask for adjustment of policies.
Develop contingency plans to address various potential policy changes. Be proactive. Consider how changes in taxation, environmental regulations, trade policies, or healthcare laws could impact your business. Having these plans in place can help you respond swiftly to new policies. If your business operates internationally, stay attuned to global policy changes too that may affect your operations. Changes in trade agreements, tariffs, or international regulations can have a substantial impact on international businesses. Diversify your business operations and markets where possible. It hits hardest when an organisation relies on a single market or revenue stream and policies begin to affect it.
Next edition, we will look at the most important item and that is the entrepreneur himself and how he maintains a healthy balance between his personal life and his thriving and demanding business.
Fatherhood with Ibe
AUNTY, THE BOSS LADY!
People didn’t like how I ended the story of Arthur and his grandmother last edition. They want to know what Aunty did to her grandson, Arthur. How did a woman who spent all her adult life training children react to an unruly grandson, they asked? Aunty had asked Arthur, in her sternest voice, to get out of her sitting room and extinguish the cigarette he was smoking, adding, for good effect, that no one smoked in her house. Of course it was true, I can’t imagine anyone trying to smoke in Aunty’s house without permission and I can’t imagine that permission ever coming. Even in our own house years ago, where she was like a housekeeper for a while, she was given almost the same level of respect as our parents because she would not tolerate rubbish from any kid, big or small. Well, if it wasn’t so awful to see young Authur embarrass his parents so carelessly, it would have been quite amusing to see the dreaded Aunty floored by her own grandson, a mere 15 year old. When she asked Arthur to extinguish his cigarette, the boy had looked amused rather than intimidated or angry. He blew a puff of his cigarette in Aunty’s direction and told her to make him.
“Make me!” He challenged.
That was exactly what some two boys years ago had said to Aunty when she told them to stop climbing the fence and trying to catch the attention of the young girls in our compound. After she warned them to get off the fence, they told her to come and push them off. Aunty did more than that. I still don’t know how she achieved that but she somehow pulled the two big boys into our compound single-handedly and caned them to almost an inch of their lives. Their parents, two very influential families, had driven over to our house in anger later that day, asking to see who had beaten their sons so thoroughly. I bet they expected to see a big bulky man but Aunty had stepped out nimbly. Her personality was far bigger than her average stature.
“Who did you call to beat my son?” One of the men asked her. If going by her frame, it should have been easy for one of those boys to fling her off like a ball. The man was sure that Aunty had called some tough guys to help her. She told them calmly how many times she’d warned the boys to stop climbing the fence and trying to get the attention of the girls in our house. She said that the boys challenged her and she decided to discipline them. They asked one of the boys that seemed to have gotten off better and he confirmed the story grudgingly. The parents left shamefaced and Aunty’s reputation grew around the neighbourhood.
When her grandson challenged her, my mind went back in a flash to that hard-to-forget occurrence so many years ago. But Aunty was no longer the young lady she was back then; she was already about 80 years old. I was sad that Arthur’s parents, Ufoma and her husband had allowed their child to get so uncontrollable that he could disrespect both them and his grandmother without remorse. I didn’t want to intervene, infact, I wished I was not present for the meeting because I knew that Aunty was doubly mortified by the fact that the disrespect happened in the presence of other people.
Well, I had cut off the story at that point because what followed was quite chaotic but since people want to know, I will tell the complete story. Let me quickly reiterate that parents do not have to wait until children become totally unruly and unmanageable before they take active steps to correct them. If your toddler knows he can get away with those unreasonable tantrums, he will build on them. It is easy to help a child replace a bad behaviour with a good habit but it gets tricky when he grows into adulthood and becomes wild.
When Arthur challenged his grandmother, both his mom and dad cried out.
“Arthur!” They both shouted.
“Apologise to your grandmother right now.” His dad shouted.
“That was so rude, Arthur!” His mother added.
Aunty faced her daughter and her son-in-law again and told them how disappointed she was in the way they had brought up their children.
“What were you doing when this boy started smoking at this early age? How could you have overlooked it? The older ones are not any better. I saw your daughter dressed like a street girl and looking like a junkie. Her older brother moves around like a zombie. What have you achieved if you cannot boast of a good basic training for your children?”
Ufoma started crying. She said that some of Aunty’s observations were just reactions of the children to a different environment. She apologised over and over again. Everyone else told Aunty to calm down and let the parents talk to their children. The young lad, Arthur was unconcerned; he kept puffing at his cigarette and drinking his beer. It was as if he was not involved in the matter going on. After a while, Aunty stood up and went into an inner room. I signalled for Ufoma to go in after her mother and placate her but almost instantly, Aunty was out with a short plank. Before anyone could say ‘what’s that for?’ Aunty raised that plank and went hard on her grandson’s back. The boy hadn’t expected it; no one had. He shot up with speed, screaming and swearing. Before he could understand what was happening, Aunty gave him another heavy one on his derriere and then on his arm.
“You said I should make you leave, didn’t you?” Aunty yelled at him.
At this point, Arthur had realised that it was a targeted attack and he reared to retaliate but his father and some of his Mum’s cousins were quicker. They held him and pulled him out of the house. His parents put him in the car and drove off possibly to the hotel but not before Aunty told her daughter that she had her permission to miss the funeral and to take her untrained kids back to USA with immediate effect.
That’s the story! Aunty lived up to her reputation as a tough chic but as I said, it could have been avoided if Ufoma and her husband had taken action much earlier in their kids’ lives.