The Small Business Subconscious

Small businesses can be challenging places to work. You often have to make do with few resources, play several roles at once, and be flexible enough to deal with loose/nonexistent company organization. If everything magically clicks, as it sometimes does, it can be a beautiful thing. But more often than not, that simply doesn’t happen.

As I talked about this with friends who have had similar experiences, they observed that there’s often a common mistake made in small businesses: since every employee is precious, the organization tries to extract as much value as possible by encouraging everyone to contribute in as many ways as possible. It bills itself as a democracy, as an environment that genuinely listens to its employees.

The problem, of course, is that when people aren’t in sync about the mission, or about specific project goals, you end up with a frustrating mess of conflicting directions. The business (somewhat desperately?) tries to latch onto everything at once, and there’s a lack of decisiveness in moving forward. Projects get fragmented. People believe they’re collaborating but they’re actually not. Confusion ensues. Little gets done.

Leadership is even more key in small businesses than in larger ones, I’d wager. Because if you have few resources, you need to choose your projects very carefully, dedicate resources accordingly, and make absolutely sure they go to completion quickly. There’s not much room for failure. But instead, small businesses seem prone to being wishy-washy. The insidious and tragic aspect of this is that when projects move at a snail’s pace or even fail, the accountability falls back on the individuals. Because management failed to lead, it can remain blame-free. It’s a formula for endless frustration.

In this unfortunate strategy, the small business is structured like the subconscious and its conflicts. Its desire is vague and repressed, and though seemingly absent, it’s actually very much the motive force for its existence. Like a human being, the small business can’t decide upon its identity, which remains in flux. And just like a human being, this repressed desire can lash out violently when it isn’t fulfilled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *