Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Growth of Small Firms Can Create Difficult Problems

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Growth of Small Firms Can Create Difficult Problems

Article excerpt

One of the most difficult moments in the growth of a small business is the moment when the requirements of the business outgrow the number of workers.

You get an order that is both a triumph and an embarrassment, because it means working the employees not only up to the limit but beyond it. You need more people; but you're afraid to hire them, because what will they do once the order is filled?

A parallel moment occurs in the course of larger enterprises. In the 1980's, for one reason or another - acquisition and foreign competition were two of the most common - the staff was reduced to only essential personnel. But then the opportunity arises to open a new market, research is essential to avoid disaster, and nobody has the time to conduct the research. Hiring a full-time market researcher would be risky, because he or she would not be needed when the research is done.

A similar problem arises when a key employee becomes ill. Whether it's the boss's secretary or the chief financial officer, a ruptured appendix can slow business nearly to a halt. In one case it's because nobody else knows where anything is, and in the other it's because nobody else can rig an adequate defense against a hostile takeover.

The solution is most often to take on a temporary employee. When the employee is a line or office worker, the "temp" is hired from an agency. When the temporary employee fills a managerial or executive slot, he or she is called a "consultant."

Consultants are harder to find than "temps," because until recently there have been no central agencies through which to contact them. But in the past two years some temporary agencies for managers and executives have been begun. The trend should grow, because the service is useful. Soon, whether it's a bookkeeper or a chief financial officer that you need for three weeks, you should be able to pick up the phone and order one.

Question: After three years here, I still have not been promoted. I am starting to feel there is a game being played here that I don't know the rules to. How can I get ahead?

Answer: You may be right about the game and the rules. In his excellent new book, Unwritten Rules for Your Career (Wiley, $12.95), George B. Graen argues that any company has unwritten rules as well as written ones, and the employee who wishes to get ahead should probe until he finds out what they are. Because the rules are unwritten, even those who follow them may not be aware that they exist. Just to give one example, you may have been following your written job description perfectly, but it may be an unwritten rule that someone in your position also does something which is not included in the description. Graen suggests the way to begin unraveling these unwritten rules is to ask questions of your co-workers and listen carefully and critically to the answers. …

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