Every Business Is a Mess

Sometimes I need to remind myself that you never quite know what goes on inside a business unless you work there. Most businesses, especially good businesses, are still chaotic messes when you get right down to it. There are an incalculable number of moving parts that almost never all function properly at once.

We’ve had a very successful few years. I think we have a great culture and have done a solid job of putting good systems in place.

And yet, almost every day there’s something: employees are sick, a prospective hire fails a drug test, our vendors can’t ship us the right products, our bank keeps messing up automated payments, there’s a technical issue with the website or one of the dozens of services we rely on. Usually multiple things are wrong at once. And that’s just the minor stuff: floods and audits happen too.

It is a constant influx of chaos, which you either embrace or you don’t, but it’s likely this way at every business that strives to be great. Business is hard. Stuff goes wrong. For everyone, not just me or you.

4 comments on Every Business Is a Mess

  1. Rob says:

    I definitely think this is true.

    From personal experience of talking to friends at various companies in a wide variety of sectors and even just watching shows on tv that go behind the scenes in businesses most businesses are a shiny façade held together with spit and string.

    There’s also much more drama/politics going on behind the scenes than is obvious from a distance with businesses of all sizes. From he said/she said stuff, to who booked leave over christmas last year and who gets dibs this year, to who cherry picks the easy work, to the boss bringing a pet to work that scares staff and resulted in a flea infection (true story..) to simpler things like how much filing is never done, how many email servers are never backed up and how much wastage there is – of time, capital and materials.

    I think the main problems are twofold – they’re mostly to do with people being promoted to positions of incompetence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle) and the fallacy that technical people are good at managing other people doing a technical thing (Per Michael Gerber / E-Myth)

    So many companies don’t have things like an employee handbook, procedural systems that are kept up to date or any true handle on their management accounts it’s shocking.

    I think this is one of the things franchising really gets right – it forces business owners to work out every eventuality and write it down. I think a lot of businesses would be better if they behaved like they were preparing to franchise rather than just bumbling along.

    • Adam McFarland says:

      Great comment Rob! I hadn’t really thought a whole lot about the “why” but I think you nailed it here:

      I think the main problems are twofold – they’re mostly to do with people being promoted to positions of incompetence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle) and the fallacy that technical people are good at managing other people doing a technical thing (Per Michael Gerber / E-Myth)

      My partners and I talk about that second point a lot, although it hasn’t been something we’ve encountered so it’s more just theoretical or when we’re critiquing other businesses. There’s really very little correlation between being good at something and being able to manage other people who do that same thing. You see this in sports a lot – some former players are good managers/coaches, but often times the very best are not.

      I think this is one of the things franchising really gets right – it forces business owners to work out every eventuality and write it down. I think a lot of businesses would be better if they behaved like they were preparing to franchise rather than just bumbling along.

      Good point here too. I have a ton of respect for successful franchises, McDonalds in particular. While the food isn’t the healthiest, their operational efficiency is remarkable. That Big Mac comes out at the same speed and tastes the same anywhere in the world with any set of employees in the world preparing it. That’s really, really hard to do.

  2. Timothy W Coleman says:

    Great Post Adam – and great comment Rob. Completely agree with everything that’s said so far.

    Having worked in and on companies of various size, from super small to Fortune 500 this is chaos is the norm is ABSOLUTELY true. This is something I’ve come to accept and taken conceptually one step further. Those who succeed the most in any business environment are those who can adapt to the continually changing landscape the best and fastest. Things are changing in all facades of business, those who don’t get hung up on tangential distractions are going to do the best. Where this becomes a big problem is when legacy rules/policies come into play. I have one client who has a cap on raises, regardless of the move/promotion the max you can make is 10% more…. When someone coming into that role would make 25% more than the internal candidate – these legacy policies that are totally arbitrary only fuel this chaos. While a lack of procedures can be a problem, an overbearing legacy procedure can be just as crippling.

    I could go on and on about this because I see it all day every day 🙂

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