Hapless Bob - A Cautionary Business Tale

I thought I would share the number one reason for missed opportunities that I have observed in the SME business space over the last ten years. Most significantly I am not talking about poor cash flow management, poor sales or marketing strategies. Yes, all the proceeding issues are banged on about ad nauseam by just about every coach/trainer you will meet, however, these are the effect and not the cause. Big claim I know, but run with it for a little and see whether you agree. The starting point for this begins with a little story…

Picture the scene, you are 19, just picked up A level results and scraped a pass in Biology, English, but failed Maths. What passes through your mind? Disappointment? Thoughts of re-sits, or the memories of the fantastic array of parties and random people you got to snog? Fast forward a few hours, you have escaped any mental anguish via a few pints of mind lubricant, “F*!$k Them!”, you decide, “Who needs an education anyway…”

…Twelve months later you’re starting a triple life sentence at Her Majesty’s pleasure, with scenic views from your cell in Dartmoor Prison.

Hang on a minute, what are you talking about Neil that’s not a story! Correct, but again hold those metaphorical horses. The reason for this will become clear very soon, let us call the hapless victim of the above tail Bob (A name that holds a lifelong affinity for me following Rowan Atkinson's unique use of the name). Now the situation could have been redundancy, illness, divorce or mid-life crisis that resulted in the decision to go self-employed. Either a great idea or necessity leads you to sets out on your own, with dreams of mansions, sports cars, and luxury yacht’s etc etc. Now back to Bob.

“F*!$k Them” Bob decides who needs an education anyway, I can do this without them. Besides, I’ve watched every episode of Casualty, Holby City, and Scrubs he thinks. Three months later Bob has created an exciting CV, studied the textbook interview question responses and bought a ‘sharp’ suit. Bob aces the subsequent interview and has just accepted a job offer from Bristol General Hospital as consultant Neural Surgeon.

Two days later Bob will accidently lobotomize his first patient because he has never successful assembled a piece of flat pack furniture let alone carried out a surgical procedure.

Whooaa there Nelly you scream, that’s complete and utter rubbish, that could never happen you would have to produce certificates, references, BMA registration numbers and more. Thank God, you are right, or else it seems like a new career may have opened up for me. However, when we run a business your are very rapidly the Owner, MD or CEO with often no more understanding of how to do that job then hapless Bob has of carrying out a successful operation.

You see in most professions we often have two routes we can go, one is through education which helps you jump up a few positions on the business ladder or the apprenticeships route where you start at the bottom and slowly work your way up. Either way, you receive coaching, training, and a few kicks (Mentoring) in the pants to make you the credible professional you are today. We all know this, many of us accept this and have even followed it through our first careers. Strange then that when we decide to go it alone, and running your own business can be a lonely experience, we presume to have all the necessary skills and experience from day one. The best skill you need for success is the ability to acknowledge your weaknesses, and get the support you need to achieve the success you desire. Bob in my story may be an extreme, a caricature of the most monstrous nature, and yet no worse than the assumption of an ex-bank manager that as an independent FA believes he is suddenly a marketing Guru. Or the exit civil servant who is suddenly the world’s number one commercial sales person.

The number one reason for missed opportunity is by being blind to our own weaknesses, to constructing a narrative in which we deliver all of the answers to the problems life, and work throw up. Take one look at the super successful, people like Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs, three very distinct people each possessing a radically different style of business management, the commonality is the building of a successful team around them that compliments and strengthens their own skills. We as small business owners need to do the same.

I’m always flattered when my clients provide positive feedback on my insights, observations, and suggestions. However, I try to respond with the appropriate level of humility, my reply is always that I’m no smarter than my clients it is just my experience is different. While you may have run a few different businesses, most people between 1-5 often in related sectors. In contrast, I’ve worked with business owners and board members in virtually every sector, in the last decade alone easily 500 plus businesses. Some have been single sessions to resolve very specific issues, while other develop and evolve across a number of years. You see I’ve learned the lesson of hapless Bob I’m always the first to put my hand up and say I don’t know, I live the idea of continuous learning something I get to do every single day with my clients. Consequently, I and Meta-Manager are able to share this and other lessons, and what that delivers for business is more than simply measurable business success. In addition, we save the time, pain, as well as cost of bad decisions, decisions made through lack of awareness, training, and experience.

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