How do I make my employees to obey me?

Employees are a tricky lot.  They are the foundation of your business – they can build you up or they can ruin you.  For the sake of this post, I will be referring solely to knowledge workers – those special people who make the magic of your business happen and are not easily replaced.  In a start-up, you want a group of motivated, bright and enthusiastic knowledge workers to help create and implement your vision.  But what happens when the knowledge your employees possess exceed your own?  How do you get your employees to obey when you are no longer capable of doing their job(s)?

As immigrants, both of my parents did a stint in a restaurant kitchen.  Both of them told me that the chef was the one who wielded all the power in the restaurant; not the owners.  If the chef were displeased, he can walk out during a busy dinner service and ruin your restaurant.  That’s why it’s important for the owner to be able to cook the few key dishes that each restaurant is known for.  But chefs can be replaced and most restaurateurs started off as chefs anyway.  What if you own a software development firm?  How do you keep your programmers from walking out in the middle of a big project?

A brilliant programmer shared with me an article on how to lead clever people.  It summarizes nicely what to do with your knowledge workers.  Rather than regurgitate what the article says so eloquently, I’d like to focus on what you, as the business leader, really need to worry about.  If you employ knowledge workers, know that the most dangerous aspect of your business happens every day when those workers walk out the door.  There is a very real possibility that they will not come back, and replacing stellar knowledge workers is no easy task.  The question, then, is not how do you make your employees obey, but rather how do you gain the trust, respect, and loyalty of your partners (see related post below on leadership).  Yes, your employees are your partners.  They are the foundation of your businesses and some probably understand your business better than you do.  Do not attempt to control them as you would a short order cook or a cashier.  Allow them to flourish in their element and enjoy their work.  Give them the freedom to do what’s right.  Trust that the respect and loyalty you’ve shown them will be repaid ten-fold.  As the leader, this is a difficult concept, but if you could run the business by yourself, you would be doing so now.  You need your employees – more than they need you.

What happens to leaders who follow the Don’t list of the above-linked article?  They often find that their businesses/organizations are no longer competitive.  It is not an overnight process, but over time, they come to realize that their success metrics have hit the top of the bell curve and are now on a decline.  Foolish leaders will blame the economy, the President, the sun, the moon, but the real blame lies with those who were unable to retain their knowledge workers. 

The answer is simple.  Do not attempt to make your employees “obey” for true greatness in any organization is always a collaborative team effort.

Are you a good leader?

I recently read a Harvard Buisness Review article on group decision-making.  The basic premise was groups do not make decisions, leaders do.  That led me to ask, what makes a good leader?  There are many, many articles that answer that question, but it boils down to a few key criteria:

1) Do you see the big picture?

2) Do people respect you?

3) Will/Can you take responsibility when shit hits the fan?


The big picture:

Seeing the big picture means understanding your organization’s overall goals, how to achieve those goals and having a back-up plan in case of failure.  Many leaders may think they see the big picture, but often they have no idea how to actually achieve their goals and they certainly don’t have disaster recovery plans.  For large enterprises, the leaders (C-level folks) generally leave these “mundane” worries to middle managers.  For small business and most non-profits, that’s not possible.  If you run your own business, you must intimately understand your big picture and have a concrete plan for achieving your goals.  What’s often overlooked is the disaster recovery plan.  Small businesses might think they don’t have the time or resources to create a disaster recovery plan, but that’s where they are wrong.  Small businesses cannot afford a disaster.  Your customers are expensive to obtain and expensive to keep.  Should they choose to go elsewhere because of your failure to plan, you will be out of business.



As the boss, you may think your staff automatically respect you.  That is not always the case.  People respect you for your knowledge, your compassion and your ability to empathize.  Do not confuse fear with respect.  Just because your staff fear you and/or losing their job, doesn’t mean they respect you as a boss.

But why do you need their respect anyway?  Aren’t YOU the boss?  When your staff respect you, they believe you have their best interest at heart.  Thus, they are more likely to support your ideas, no matter how insane or seemingly impossible.  As a respected boss, you should have an open door policy so that your staff feel comfortable coming to you with problems before they become disasters (because, let’s face it, you don’t have a disaster recovery plan, see above).



It is a fair assumption that as the leader of your small business, you are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in/with your business, but is that ideal?  Can you take responsibility for the illegal acts of your employees?  Will you take responsibility when poor customer service is delivered and angry customers lash out online  (note: the internet is forever, never anger a customer who has the ability to complain to the internet)?  If you can’t or won’t take responsibility for issues that are outside of your control, then you need a plan to address those issues before they arise.  For example, if you have a medical practice, have a plan to regularly train your staff on the importance of patient privacy and the appropriate use of technology to disclose confidential PHI (protected health information).  If you hear rumblings of poor customer service, reach out to the customer directly and offer a remedy immediately (refund, discount, apologies, etc.).  Then, turn the situation into a teaching moment for your staff so that they won’t make the same mistake again.


Finally, what is the difference between a good leader and a good manager?  For small organizations, it’s often one and the same.  For larger organizations, please stay tuned for another edition of Grace Asks…. where this topic will be addresssed.

Do you have an interesting thought?

We are currently open to receiving guest writers to contribute interesting thoughts, knowledge, anecdotes, experiences, etc. to the Grace Asks page.  Each contribution should address a question that affects small- to medium-sized organizations (small business or non-profit).  The format will consist of an opening question followed by comments addressing that question.  When possible, external links are appreciated.  If interested, please contact Grace via email.

How much should I budget for marketing?

There are several ways to calculate a marketing budget.  The easiest way to do this is to take a percentage of gross profit – typically 5% to 10%, depending on your business, type of growth, etc.  Another method is to set a reasonable dollar amount that falls within your budget and maximize that budget with the most cost-efficient methods.  For example, one of the most important things a business can do is achieve and protect brand identity.  This is easily done by the managing owner or his/her designate.  Developing your brand is often a daunting task because most business owners don’t know where to start, but partnering with us will make the process simple and painless.  Another must-have item on your marketing budget is a website.  Gone are the days of relying solely on the phone book.  You must have a web presence and you must do it now.  You may have seen the ads for building your own, free website.  You may also have been contacted by website design firms that want upwards of $4,000 for a basic website plus a monthly maintenance fee.  Both, in my opinion, are wrong (details as to why will be featured in an upcoming post).  Finally, you must advertise in some fashion.  Whether you are marketing to other business (e.g., medical specialists marketing to general practitioners) or to the end customer, you must make your presence known and apparent. 

So how much should you budget?  If your net profit is between $100,000 and $250,000 per year, I would suggest you budget at least $15,000 for an initial marketing campaign that includes branding, website, search engine optimization (SEO), advertising (and I use that term loosely), and, most importantly, strategy development.  Every marketing campaign should build on your existing strengths and shore up any weaknesses.  If your net profit is between $250,000 and $500,000, I would suggest a higher budget of at least $25,000 with an expanded scope that includes leads tracking, customer retention and long-term goals.  If your net profit is greater than $500,000, you probably don’t need me.

Who are you?

If you have my business card, you know my full name.  If you know my full name, you likely know that  I work for one of the pre-eminent research universities in southern California.  In my day job, I manage the operations of a large, internationally renowned research laboratory.  So why am I doing this?  Because I really enjoy it.  For me, helping small businesses is a hobby.  It doesn’t conflict or interfere with my day job, and I get to apply everything I learned in business school.  I’ve also learned a lot from working in a large institution.  That experience translates to real-world practices that benefit lots of other organizations. At this point, you should have other questions.  Some of these might include:

  • Why are you doing this?
    • Because I love it.  I live to work.  My mind is always going, and I take great joy in helping others succeed.
  • If you love it, why do you charge for your services?
    • If you review the page on services and fees,  you’ll discover that my charges are minimal and can be waived for worthwhile causes.  I have to charge a reasonable fee because I do spend considerable amounts of time on each project (much more than what the client pays for) and there is always the illusion of value.  One never values anything one does not pay for.  Look at how we all take oxygen for granted.
  • Does your consulting conflict with your day job?
    • I can almost see my boss raising an eyebrow when coming across this website.  The answer is no, my consulting does not conflict.  The scope is different.  What I do for my clients is not quite what I do at my day job.  Also, the time frame is different.  My consulting projects are done on my time.  That’s one of the main reasons why I usually do not answer the phone during business hours.  You are welcomed to leave me a message or send me an email (much preferred), but the discount you receive by choosing my services is paid for, in part, by the lack of response during business hours.  Of course, I will always try to reply to emails within a couple of hours whenever possible (read: when I’m not stuck in meetings all day).
  • If this is only your “hobby,” why should I hire you?
    • To put it bluntly, your small business/non-profit would benefit greatly from a high-level manager like me, but you can’t afford me, nor should you pay for someone like me full time.   Your money is better spent in trying to build your organization.  What you need is a solid plan from me that you can carry out on your own.  Additionally, this isn’t really a hobby for me like bird watching or knitting.  I fully intend to develop and grow AskGrace into a full-service firm providing you with turn-key administrative operations.  This includes everything from staffing your front desk to preparing your financial statements to providing all of your IT services.  To some degree, we are able to do that today with our limited number of consultants.  However, in the next couple of years, we will be growing both in terms of infrastructure and personnel so that all of your support services can be outsourced more cost-effectively to us.

In some ways, I may have driven away several clients with this post.  I’m not concerned.  We probably wouldn’t have gotten along anyway.  I know I’m good; I know you need me; I know I’m worth every penny you’re paying me and then some.  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.  Arrogant?  Yes, a little.  But then again, one can only be arrogant if one has the talent to back it up. 

Disagree?  Leave me a comment.

Another website?

Is this yet another version of the website?

I have owned the domain name for over six years.  Over the years, many iterations of the site have gone up and been taken down.  This is because the site changes with the changing needs of my constituents.  So why a new site now?  Techonology has changed, my approach has changed, and the needs of my clients have changed.  This new site will be more client-oriented and less fluff.  I will try to continuously produce as much value as I can for all my clients – past, present, and future.  This format for AskGrace is here to stay.  I will provide static information on the different pages you see in the menu.  In addition, I will provide my thoughts on current events that impact small business, healthcare, and social welfare in general.  The dynamic content can be found under Grace Asks… and will be the landing page of the website.  This is done on purpose so that you visit the site often.  I hope you find my musings informative and entertaining.  If so, please leave a comment.  If you disagree with something I’ve said, please leave a comment.  I intend to use this site as a means of two-way communication.  If you don’t like this format, the rest of the internet is only a click away…