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You should use an open-book management style at your startup

Open-book management is a controversial style, but done properly, can be a tremendous tool at your startup or small business.

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A firm endorsement of the open-book management style

Earlier this year on AGBeat, Destiny Bennett penned an overview of a subject that I am very passionate about: the open-book management style. Bennett provided a solid overview with some basic pros and cons, but I believe the subject deserves a deeper examination, and a firm endorsement.

Open-book management is as much a philosophy as it is a strategy. There are tactical, strategic and emotional components to evaluating its impact on an organization. I’ll touch on each below.

Private vs. Public

First off, there are very strict rules and regulations for public companies about what information they can share, with whom they can share it, and when they share it (when they can’t, when they can, and when they have to). This article is only about private companies, and is especially relevant for start-ups.

Tactical Implications

Bennett discusses the issue of making salary information known. While this is an issue that is important to every employee, any negative blowback from opening this information up to employees will be short-lived. Entrepreneurs will find that there will be immediate activity in the ranks when salaries are published, and some discussions will be required and perhaps adjustments will need to be made.

Very quickly, though, the issue is put to rest. If anything, the information frees employees from guessing and gossiping about compensation and allows them to focus on their work.

Even more tactically important – opening up finance, strategy, and other information to all employees gives them the information they need to make smarter decisions, measure their performance, and think bigger picture. Empowering individuals with information also frees supervisors from a lot of micromanagement. This allows for increased time and attention for coaching, and focus on higher level issues, strategy, morale, and motivation.

Strategic Implications

Most entrepreneurs who do not employ an open-book style make this choice because they fear proprietary information will get into the hands of the competition.

Two comments here: 1) If your competition really wants to find out information about your operations, they’ll probably find a way to get at least some of the data they seek no matter what you do, and 2) Even if your competition gets confidential data, if you, management, and your employees are working well, it won’t really matter much at all.

There is tremendous strategic value to opening up information to all employees. Everyone is on the exact same page. Each member of the organization, top to bottom, understands the key performance metrics, where the company is measuring them, and what effect efforts are having towards meeting KPIs. Employees will not guess, gossip or speculate about risks or scenarios. Instead, they know the situation, the plan, and the actions upcoming, thus they can focus on the performance of their team and themselves. Knowledge powers people to work their best and frees them to focus on what is important.

Emotional Implications

The emotional impact of implementing an open book philosophy is likely where you will see the greatest gains. The guiding principle here is to trust and empower your workforce to make them feel like owners. This is the most powerful motivational tool that an entrepreneur has. Eliminate a haves verses have nots culture at the company. Emphasize teamwork, individual effort and spirit for the good of the team, and shared responsibility and rewards for all.

Employees who take ownership at their job will work harder, longer, and better, and you will retain them at a much higher rate. They will be motivated to continue to earn this trust and the responsibility that comes with it. It is also important to provide options, profit sharing, bonuses, or some other “ownership” type compensation to your employees so that your open-book style is enforced in a financially tangible way too. Your employees will be self-motivated, and they will inspire each other.

Final Words

You have to believe in your employees. Every person you employ trusts you with his or her livelihood – financially and emotionally – and you owe it to each to trust in return. My advice is to hire well and then trust, share, and empower… and grow with your team.

Hoyt David Morgan is an entrepreneur, angel investor and business strategy leader. He is an investor and/or adviser to a handful of exciting and high growth companies, and has been a part of several high-value exits. He is passionate about customer experience, smart business and helping innovative companies grow... and sailing.

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Business Entrepreneur

Choose your startup business partner wisely

(ENTREPRENEUR) Creating a startup business with a friend sounds amazing, but consider carefully if you may be better off as friends.

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Young couple working on startup together.

So, you want to be your own boss? Maybe get out and into a new career to crawl out from under the corporate drone motif? What better way to do it than to go into a startup business for yourself?

Hundreds of Americans have ideas that could turn into a new career. But not as many have the support structure, either financial or social, to make these dreams become a reality. A few of these people might look for someone to go into business with to help with the financial burden.

Can you think of a better way to start off a new business than with your best friend by your side? I sure as hell can.

My best friend and I get along great in our personal time. We’re both zombie horror nerds. He’s straight, I’m gay. He’s a cop, I’m an out-of-work geophysicist/bartender/writer – the jokes don’t quit with us. Our typical nights together include drinking at bars and smacking the other one upside the head as deemed necessary. We’re both slightly better than Neanderthals some days. And most importantly, neither of us should be trusted to work together.

Now of course that’s probably more specific to my situation, but let’s just realize that finding two people who can be the closest of friends and business partners is pretty rare.

There are a few people who have figured it out though and you can find a number of pointers online for new/established startup companies. A few of these tips include lots of structure to try and keep the fun at home and the business in the office, clearly defining roles, honest open communication, and strictly defining fiscal expectations.

So basically, it’s like committing to another marriage, which is what another set of people do for their startup business as well. Numerous married couples have put together careers and their relationships, and a great many of them are very successful.

So, if you have someone who you can commit to another potentially lifelong relationship with, and you trust to follow all of these rules, then go for it.

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Business Entrepreneur

4 easy ways to keep track of inventory this holiday season

(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) Feeling overwhelmed by your inventory this year? Use these three simple tips to keep your stock managed for the end of the year.

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Man scanning inventory with tablet in one hand and a scanner in the other.

2021’s retail holiday season is in full swing. With it comes waves of purchases and shipments, both in stores and online. Holiday inventory management is essential to get the best handle on the continuous rushes. Organization, strategy, and automation are the 3 main steps to stay on top of inventory this year. Deliberate use of these will create a better setup for the coming months.

1. Organize

Organization takes many forms. In the stockroom, a messy workspace will slow down sales and shipments, making the entire store inefficient. However, with the right classifications, labeling, and management, the stockroom can become the leanest place in the store.

First, stores must have a point-of-sale system that can cleanly organize everything into actionable data, according to Software Advice. When a transaction occurs, the system logs it and, from there, employees can get a better understanding of what inventory is selling fastest.

In the back, employees can change the inventory layout to prioritize items that are selling well. Keeping that area fully staffed at all times may be the best move during the retail holiday season rush. For instance, employees can categorize clothing by material, size, and color.

The store will need to use a full-featured inventory management system. With it, employees can accurately track what goes in and out of the store through scanning barcodes and logging shipments. With a better handle on what consumers need, its location in the stockroom and better tracking, backorders, and sellouts can decrease.

2. Strategize

Retailers must have a clear strategy for holiday inventory. Otherwise, the rushes and high demands and orders can easily overwhelm employees and result in lost revenue. We are already seeing orders falling behind due to multiple shortages, including chips and even, employees themselves. Combined with organization, a plan should involve prioritizing customers’ needs and interests and increasing item accessibility.

Just as employees can organize the stockroom based on what consumers will be buying the most, they can also rearrange the store to put those items toward the front. That way, people can get what they’re looking for right away. This strategy will work online as well — where the site advertises the popular items on the main page.

Then, based on what POS and inventory management systems report, managers can order more sought-after items ahead of time. At home or in person, consumers get what they want without frustration, while retailers know the exact numbers in their inventory.

Another crucial area to focus on is in-store pickup. Some consumers don’t want to pay for shipping. Instead, in-store pickup ships their order to the nearest retail location, where they can quickly claim it. Especially during the holiday rush, designating a separate section for these items will be essential for a strategic inventory.

3. Automate

Automation is a broad topic when it comes to holiday inventory. With this wide scope, though, retailers can integrate countless systems to conquer the rushes more effectively. Helpful gadgets and organization equipment include Internet of Things sensors and big data. They will go a long way in monitoring inventory at all times.

IoT sensors are small and practical. While they can attach to any items in the stockroom, they’ll be invaluable for everyone along the supply chain to use. The sensors show merchandise’s exact location and specifications, which an inventory management system will automatically present in actionable ways.

When retailers use the information from sales and inventory, it falls under the category of big data. With the right analytics and prediction software, employees can use this data to understand coming trends and better understand what they’ll need to order and when.

If businesses — retail and warehouses alike — are looking for an efficient way to find stock without wasting time, they can use robots to retrieve it. These autonomous robots cut down on search times when they know the exact location based on IoT sensors or barcode scanning.

4. Make Post-Holiday Changes

The work continues even after the retail holiday season ends. However, businesses can take steps to optimize their setups for months afterward to keep drawing people in through next year’s holiday season.

The first step is to declutter. Get rid of things that will no longer be a priority to most consumers. A sale or clearance section is an efficient way to profit from obsolete inventory.

Then, it’s time to step back and reevaluate the landscape. What has changed for consumers? What new trends are emerging? Social media will be invaluable to track how customers want to spend their money in the coming year. It’s also a critical place to build an e-commerce presence for the future.

A Lasting Central Inventory

Year-round, but especially during the holiday season, inventory must be a critical factor for any retailer or warehouse. With better organization, strategy, and automation, the workplace can run more smoothly. These factors will also improve communication across the supply chain, making the holidays a profitable breeze for all retailers.

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Business Entrepreneur

Maintenance costs add up: How to decrease expenses to increase revenue

(ENTREPRENEUR) When it comes to managing your business cost-effectively, you have to be mindful of your balance sheet. It’s not all about revenue!

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Women writing in balance sheet workbook of maintenance costs.

When it comes to managing your business in a cost-effective way, you have to be mindful of your balance sheet. It’s not all about revenue. Sometimes, it’s the expense side of the ledger that needs a little attention. More specifically, you have to think through maintenance costs in order to maintain a lean operation.

6 Ways to Lower Maintenance Costs

Maintenance costs add up quickly. Whether it’s the minor kind (a few hundred dollars here and a couple thousand there) or the major kind (massive five- and six-figure incidents), maintenance is not cheap. Thus, anything you can do to lower these costs will be a huge help. Here are several tips:

  1. Simplify Procedures

We make maintenance way more complicated than necessary. The first step is to just simplify your procedures. You do this by reviewing all procedures and looking for redundancies and/or tasks that aren’t necessary to the objective. When there are too many steps in a process, people are likely to be overwhelmed or confused (which obviously leads to poor outcomes). In this case, simple is best.

  1. Invest in the Right Software

Consider what percentage of your maintenance processes are performed manually versus automatically. While there are certain tasks that require manual input from a skilled technician, there are countless tasks that can be offloaded and streamlined.

The key to automating is to pick the right software. These programs integrate with your equipment and use data analytics and machine learning to predict when certain parts or systems will need repairs. This allows maintenance teams to move quickly.

  1. Choose Quality Equipment

You can reduce many maintenance issues by simply investing in quality equipment on the front end. It might cost you more initially, but it’ll save you money over the long haul.

Consider, for example, two pieces of equipment: Machine A ($10,000) and Machine B ($15,000). Machine A costs significantly less, but it requires $1,000 in maintenance costs per year. Machine B costs more upfront, but only requires $300 in maintenance costs per year. That means Machine B costs $700 less per year to maintain. Over a 10-year span, that results in $7,000 in savings (which obviously outpaces the $5,000 more that was spent upfront). On top of that, there’s less downtime and greater reliability. It’s just an example, but you get the idea! 

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  1. Emphasize Preventive Maintenance

Most businesses have a reactionary approach to maintenance. They wait until there’s an issue and then they address it. And though this can work, it’s usually more expensive. Not only does it lead to more serious issues, but there’s typically downtime associated with the repair. Preventative maintenance is the better approach.

The key to a good preventative maintenance program is to structure it appropriately. This means basing your preventative maintenance on operating hours rather than the calendar.

“The problem with servicing a machine every so many months is that the amount of time you use it can vary,” Onsite Installer explains. “Servicing an item every 30 days, for example, may mean you’re over-or-under-servicing it based on actual hours.”

The best way to stay on track with your preventative maintenance is to use a SaaS-based maintenance system that collects and analyzes data in real-time so that you know precisely when to address something.

  1. Hire the Right People

It’s easy to get so focused on equipment, software, and processes that we forget about the importance of people. However, at the end of the day, your business is built on the backs of people. As they go, so the company goes. The best piece of advice is to hire people who are meticulous, diligent, and proactive.

  1. Train People Well

Hiring good people is just the start. You also need to train these people so they embrace your goals and processes. Help them understand the importance of maintenance and give them the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to carry out their responsibilities in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Talking in a meeting

Putting it All Together

There’s nothing easy about maintenance. It’s gritty, expensive work that doesn’t always look good on paper. But do you know what does look good on paper? Being able to point to thousands of dollars in savings because of smart, proactive decision-making. Use these tips to get ahead!

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