Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Chik-V lessons for small businesses

Published:Sunday | October 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Yaneek Page, Business Contributor

In her first month on the job, an employee made a revelation many may find stunning.

"The biggest adjustment for me is that I always have to produce. I can't hide. If I'm not pulling my weight, everyone notices right away. I thought I was productive at my previous jobs, but this a whole new level," she said.

Her previous jobs were at large organisations with over 100 employees, and the 'big adjustment' was working for a company with fewer than half that staff complement. I wasn't the least bit surprised by her admission.

Because of the scarcity of human, financial, and other resources vis-à-vis their larger counterparts, small businesses are typically leaner and operate with greater efficiencies, forcing staff to be more productive.

Under normal circumstances, this is a major competitive advantage, but when it comes to epidemics or natural disasters, small businesses are especially vulnerable, and the impact can be devastating.

The outbreak of chikungunya has put severe stress on many businesses and could not have come at a worse time as some struggle to survive in the harsh economic climate.

I know of several that have had to close their doors because the owner and key staff were out sick. What's worse is that the illness can cause chronic debilitating pain, which can severely impede employees' ability to effectively perform their jobs for months, even years.

Sole proprietors such as taxi-operators, barbers, hairdressers, nail technicians, and higglers have been especially hard hit. They have lost weeks of revenue, many customers, and in some cases credibility, while their rent, utility bills, statutory obligations, and other expenses of doing business remain.

The chik-V ordeal has several lessons for micro- small- , and medium-sized businesses which, if addressed, can make them more resilient and ensure continuity amid major business disasters.

CREATE PROCEDURE MANUALS

The loss of key staff, even for a short time, is a nightmare for businesses, especially when knowledge of how to do their job resides in their heads rather than in a manual, where it can be accessed by others.

One way to reduce the impact on the company and prevent work stoppage is to have key processes and procedures documented in extreme detail. This will allow the business to continue essential activities and quickly replace key staff if the need arises.

For companies with limited resources, one way to create a procedure manual, otherwise called documenting business processes, is to have employees write out every activity they do in performing their job and how they do it.

The next step is to have someone verify and compile all the documents into a manual, which should be updated each year or more often as the company changes.

Note that this is not just for staff. Business owners should also document all their activities, particularly given the fundamental role they play in the day-to- day operations and strategic management of their business.

EDUCATE STAFF

As we have seen, it's not enough for businesses to rely on the authorities for the timely dissemination of accurate and complete information that will adequately prepare staff to manage a disaster such as chikungunya.

Small businesses can't afford complacency. They must be proactive in gathering and sharing information with staff on its effects, symptoms, prevention, and very important, steps they should take if they get it - that is, what they must do to reduce the likelihood of spreading the virus to family members, co-workers, and others, and how to aid recovery and minimise long-term effects.

The goal of educating staff is to reduce the impact of illness or disaster on their health, family, and finances rather than the narrow focus of preventing absence.

Remember, employees who are overly stressed and distracted may show up for work, but they won't deliver optimal performance.

IDENTIFY ALTERNATIVES

What would you do if you spent months trying to secure a major contract and then suffered a crisis that prevented you from executing it?

It's a challenge a fellow entrepreneur recently faced when she took sick and could not oversee the completion of a large project for her top client, yet she was able to overcome with minimal impact on the company.

Her solution was to subcontract the work to a competitor with whom she had collaborated in the past. The work was completed; her company still owned the process and received earnings; her client was satisfied; and her business' reputation remained intact.

Every company should create a business continuity plan that considers and outlines the worst-case/likely scenarios in a business disaster and ways to continue key activities and service clients seamlessly should they occur.

CAPITALISE ON OPPORTUNITIES

Although chikungunya has wreaked havoc on many businesses, for others, it provided opportunity, particularly for those in pest control, the production and distribution of insect repellents or some pharmaceuticals, and even human resource outsourcing.

I was struck by how few businesses had adequately prepared to take advantage of the increased demand for their products and services despite being perfectly positioned to do so.

The fix is for companies to constantly examine their external environment, keep abreast of current affairs, and know what disasters are likely, how they may be affected and plan for the opportunities and threats they may bring.

One love!

Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in entrepreneurship and workforce innovation. Email: yaneek.page@gmail.com; Twitter: @yaneekpage; Website: yaneekpage.com.