Archive for September, 2012

Lessons in Small Business Organizational Change

About 10 years ago the owner of Bimba Manufacturing Company located in Monee, Illinois decided to sell 90% of his stock to employees through an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). The company produced aluminum cylinders and had two classes of employees. These classes included the managers who made policies and workers who obeyed the policies and performed the work. Under the ESOP instead of workers just obeying the orders of the managers, the company formed cross-functional teams to address problems and improve quality. The teams decided to meet regularly with customers to consider their needs and improve working relations (Jones, 2004).

The ESOP plan changed the workforce orientation improving working relations, accentuating excellence, and leading to a high quality products. Each cross-functional team hired its own workers and socialized together creating a cooperative new culture in the company. Employees effectively relearned their jobs by actively listening and interacting with each other instead of focusing on managers and workers. Managers acted more like advisers and workers gained a more cooperative spirit. Because of this organizational change the company increased sales 70% and the workforce grew 59% (Jones, 2004).

Although when first starting a business an owner can design a hierarchical organization for expedience, the firm stands to improve performance by reconsidering the organizational form. In my experience, hierarchical organizations in a small business can stymie the growth of the organization. I have personally experienced the difference and realized the benefits of redesigning the organizational form.

A more nimble team orientation can improve performance and cross-functional communication. The organization can respond better to the companies’ customers and better address their needs. The case of Bimba Manufacturing offers a good lesson in organizational change designed to improve worker and customer relations.

Have you reconsidered the organizational design in your firm? I would like to hear your ideas about changes that can benefit the organizational design in your firm. If you need help I urge you to act now and we can start to help you. Learn more.


Jones, G. R. (2004). Organizational theory, design, and change (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.



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The Multiplier Effect of Small Business Transaction Costs

Jones (2007) defined transaction costs as costs involved in negotiating, overseeing, and controlling costs between people. Organizations need to keep these costs low by managing exchanges between organizations. Jones used the health care industry as an example. According to Jones, 40% of the United States budget for health care has to do with managing exchanges between doctors, health-care providers, government agencies, insurance companies, and other merchants. Imagine if the health-care industry could remove these costs how much less health-care goods and services would cost.

Small businesses also have to manage transaction costs to achieve sustainability. Transaction costs involve many kinds of costs. For example, an organization can experience costs resulting in duplication of effort, power imbalances, intellectual property protection issues, knowledge transfer issues, and preserving alliances. Nooteboom (1993) argued small firms have a particular disadvantage with transaction costs because of scale, scope, learning, and experience. Such costs are bounded by rationality, opportunity, uncertain conditions, and transaction specificity. When many firms add value to products or services each firm adds transaction costs multiplying the cost to the consumer for each firm involved in producing the product. On the other hand, outsourcing parts of the production offers economies of scale to spread the cost among more units. Bureaucracy costs can offset the transaction costs saved by larger organizations because of their capability to deal with scale, scope, learning, and experience issues (Jones, 2007).

Small businesses need to weigh these exchange costs in making their products and services competitive. As in the case of health care 40% is a significant added cost for a customer to bear. Unless a firm has the ability to  deal with transactions costs it can have a significant disadvantage compared with a larger firm that has these skills. Any time a firm can erase these costs or hold them to a minimum the firm will put itself in a better position to achieve competitive advantage.

How do you manage transaction costs? If you have not considered transaction cost management and want to know more I urge you to contact us to learn more.


Jones, G. R. (2007). Organizational theory, design, and change (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Nooteboom, B. (1993). Firm size effects on transaction costs. Small Business Economics, 5(4), 283-295. Retrieved from

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The Role Leadership Plays in Delivering Excellence Throughout the Organization

 Leaders must start the course of delivering excellence by communicating a vision. Friedman  (2006) noted that leaders must align their core values with their vision and convert them into action by owning three skills – authenticity, integrity, and creativity. The total leadership approach is a method that promotes reading background materials and discussing principles that matter. This method is important in assessing and coaching people including giving and receiving feedback, refining ideas and gaining support for them, and reviewing progress and explaining any lessons learned. Newstrom and Davis (2002) described leadership as the “catalyst that transforms potential into reality” (p. 163). People provide the missing ingredient here to transform the vision into reality. 

Galpin (1998) suggested the key ingredient for a leader is to put together a strategy that  motivates and educates people to act on the strategy. Leaders must motivate employees through their influence. Galpin listed twelve critical influences important to motivating people. The twelve influences include goals and measures, rewards and recognition, communication, training and development, and senior leadership. Critical influences also include rules and policies; physical setting; staffing, selection, and succession; information systems and knowledge sharing;  operating procedure changes; organizational structure; and ceremonies and events.

Malveaux (1999) put the issue another way by saying one needs to lead by example. For example, if one sees children as the future, the leader must rise and play a role in their lives. If leadership represents listening, the leader should stop talking and start listening. Malveaux promoted self-reflection in deciding how to lead.

The leader embodies all of these characteristics and then some. A leader must assume responsibility and take credit for his or her actions. A leader must have a core ethical boundary that will not cave under pressure or give in to the influence of greed.

Do you believe leadership drives excellence in an organization? I want to know your thoughts. Do you want to learn more?


Friedman, S. D. (2006). Learning to lead in all domains of life. The American Behavioral Scientist, 49(9), 1270-1297. doi: 10.1177/0002764206286389

Galpin, T. J. (1998). When leaders really walk the talk: Making strategy work through people. Human Resource Planning, 21(3), 38-45. Retrieved from

Malveaux, J. (1999). Too many chiefs; not enough leaders. Black Issues in Higher Education, 16(8), 30. Retrieved from

Newstrom, J. W., & Davis, K. (2002). Organizational behavior (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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The Value and Ethics of Treating People Right

Former Southwest Airlines CEO, Herb Kelleher, gained a competitive advantage over competitors like United, Delta, and Northwest by treating the airline’s employees with dignity and respect. The airlines all had unionized workers, but Kelleher believed Southwest had to dignify its customers by treating its workers right. Kelleher issued 20% of Southwest’s stock to employees to increase their motivation to treat customers well. During Kelleher’s time at the company, United, Delta, and Northwest all experienced damaging strikes by their unions, while Southwest remained profitable. The strikes caused thousands of passengers to miss their flights driving these airlines into bankruptcy (Jones, 2007).

Managing complex relations with pilots, cabin crews, and mechanics affected customer satisfaction for Southwest Airlines (Jones, 2007). Happy workers resulted in happy customers. Southwest Airlines remains one of the most profitable airlines today. Many companies in the airline and other industries today fail to value the importance of building and managing relations with workers.

In my personal experience, I have found managing employee relations can improve performance. I turned around a financially troubled university with a heavily unionized workforce by paying attention to the value of the workers and forging improved relations with them. I fail to grasp why many organizations have such a hard time understanding that happy employees produce happy customers. Happy customers breed new customers and grows the organization.

I would like to hear your thoughts on why building improved relations with workers has become so difficult today. I argue customers and workers are equally if not more important than shareholders. Please let me know your comments or let me know if you want to learn more.


Jones, G. R. (2007). Organizational theory, design, and change (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.



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How Small Businesses Can Acquire Competitive Advantage: VRINE

Companies can achieve superior performance and gain competitive advantage by using the VRINE model emphasizing value, rarity, inimitability, non-substitutability, and exploitability. These five factors influence a firm’s resources and capabilities to compete and achieve superior performance (Carpenter & Sanders, 2009).

First, a resource must add value to meet demand in the market. The ability to compete by itself does not offer an advantage, but can produce a normal profit. The value added assumes the firm can control costs and the product or services offer potential to consumers. Second, scarce (rare) resources can add competitive advantage at least temporarily. Until competitors can normalize this competitive advantage, the firm can achieve above normal profits. Third, if the products or services added are incapable of reproduction by competitors, the firm can achieve a sustainable competitive advantage earning above normal profits for an extended period. These products or services are such that competitors cannot imitate or substitute for them. Last, a firm has to have the capability to exploit the above four characteristics to achieve competitive advantage. The ability to exploiting these resources allows the firm to achieve improved financial performance than if it can only control them (Carpenter & Sanders, 2009).

Small businesses looking to achieve competitive advantage should employ the VRINE model and ask if it can meet these characteristics. The model shows how a firm can sustain superior financial performance by developing resources that meet the VRINE characteristics.

How does your firm do? Does it meet the VRINE model’s characteristics? Learn more.


Carpenter, M., & Sanders, W. G. (2009). Strategic Management: A Dynamic Perspective Concepts and Cases (Second ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

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The Role of Entrepreneurship in Restoring the Economy

Before the financial meltdown of 2008, small firms in the United States in 2007 comprised 99.7 percent of all employer firms. These firms employed slightly more than half of all private industry workers, and paid 44 percent of private business payroll. Small firms produced 64 percent of net new jobs for 15 years before this time. Small firms created over half the private nonfarm gross domestic product, and hired better than 40 percent of high-tech jobs for scientists, engineers, and computer programmers. Further, small businesses made up 97.3 percent of all exporters producing 30.2 percent of known export values in 2007. Small businesses accounted for 52 percent of home-based businesses and 2 percent of franchises (Kolbe, 2007; Yallapragada & Bhuiyan, 2011).

A growing part of entrepreneurship comes from social entrepreneurship. Shockley and Frank (2010) distinguished social entrepreneurship from commercial entrepreneurship as consisting of a community orientation that forgoes private incentive for public benefit. Shockley and Frank connect the economic entrepreneurship theories of Joseph Schumpeter and Israel Kirzner to Western literature, namely Virgil’s Aeneid. The three main parts of Virgil’s (2006) Aeneid deal with using the mind to discover, developing a duty to community interests, and believing in the fate of the actor to avoid uncertainty or “unknown probabilities” (Knight, 1921; Shockley & Frank, 2010, p. 777).

Social entrepreneurship fills societal needs not met by commercial entrepreneurship and stresses discovery, community, and the fate to overcome unknown conditions. Commercial entrepreneurship is not exclusive of social responsibility, but in modern society has focused on the interests of enlarging profits for the benefit of capitalist investors. This motive is not to say entrepreneurs have no interest in societal interests as surely some entrepreneurs champion such issues before profits, but many companies put profits first after a founder finds a successful model. Social entrepreneurs can discover solutions to societal needs in either or both the public or private domain.

Schumpeter (1934/2002) argued new combinations affect the flow of capital and causes temporary disequilibrium aiding in economic development. Schumpeter (1994) put “creative destruction” at the center of entrepreneurship. Schumpeter explained how “creative destruction” leads to the demise of the entrepreneur and a temporary socialistic state to deal with new unmet needs because the entrepreneur becomes a capitalist and ceases to work as an entrepreneur. Shockley and Frank (2010) referred to Schumpeter’s works as foundational and timeless finding these same ideas in Virgil’s Aeneid.

Similarly, Kirzner (1973) put “entrepreneurial discovery” (p. 39) at the center of entrepreneurial theory. Kirzner argued the entrepreneur’s role is to stay alert to unnoticed opportunities and relies on unpredictable behavior akin to the fate in Virgil’s Aeneid. Both Schumpeter and Kirzner distinguish the entrepreneur from the capitalist because the entrepreneur risks no investment in discovery(Shockley & Frank, 2010).

The point of this literature is that both the role of the entrepreneur and capitalist are necessary in a market economy. Today, the role of the entrepreneur has succumbed to the capitalist and caused discovery to slow for the sake of promoting the profit motives of the capitalist, but the capitalist cannot grow without discovery. Capitalists choose not to meet societal needs. The temporary state to overcome the problem rests in Schumpeter’s notion of “creative destruction” where socialism takes over until the entrepreneur can return to the flow of the equilibrium process (Schumpeter,1994).

I see little effort today to recognize the entrepreneur’s role to resolve this problem despite the significant contributions entrepreneurs made before the financial meltdown of 2008. Some people have played down the role of restoring equilibrium and have extended the problem by suspending a capitalistic economy indefinitely. I see social entrepreneurship as a step to restoring discovery needed to return the flow to the equilibrium process.

I would like to hear your thoughts about how to restore capitalism by re-emphasizing entrepreneurship’s role and ending the state of “creative destruction” in which the United States economy currently resides. Learn more.


Kirzner, I. M. (1973). Competition and entrepreneurship. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Knight, F. H. (1921). Risk, uncertainty, and profit (2002 Reprint ed.). Washington, DC: Beard Books.

Kolbe, K. (2007). How important are small businesses to the United States’ economy. Office of Advocacy, Funded Research, United States Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and International Trade Administration.

Schumpeter, J. A. (1934/2002). The Theory of Economic Development: An Inquiry into Profits, Capital, Credit, Interest, and the Business Cycle. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Schumpeter, J. A. (1994). Capitalism, socialism, and democracy (5th ed.). London and New York: Routledge.

Shockley, G. E., & Frank, P. M. (2010). Virgil’s Aeneas as the quintessential social entrepreneur: Juxtaposing selections from epic poetry and entrepreneurship theory to teach social entrepreneurship. Journal of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, 23, 769-784. doi: 2281649991; 58798731; 54851; JSBE; INNNJSBE0000605310

Virgil. (2006). Selections from Virgil’s Aeneid. In S. Lombardo (Ed.), The Essential Aeneid. Indianapolis, Ind. & Cambridge, UK: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc.

Yallapragada, R. R., & Bhuiyan, M. (2011). Small business entrepreneurships In The United States. Journal of Applied Business Research, 27(6), 117-122. doi: 2519801721; 65758121; 12637; JRH; INODJRH0007536491

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