Showing Employees How the Sausage is Made

I’ve lost count of how many design firm principals tell me they keep their financial results to themselves because they don’t want their employees to “…know how much I make.” 

How much? That’s funny, because the reason I’m looking at their financial statements, or even talking to them, is often because of how little they’re making! In many, perhaps most cases, I believe that their employees would be shocked to know how hard it is to squeeze a dollar out of your incredibly complex business.

But far more importantly, I believe in something else: You can’t improve what you can’t measure. This also applies to your employees—they can’t improve their productivity, their contributions to the bottom line, and their own compensation if they can’t measure the present v. the past v. the projected future. And while it can (must!) be their job to provide some input for those measurements, it is the firm’s responsibility to pull that data together and produce reports that are timely, accurate, and actionable.

Recently, during a consulting engagement for an Edge member, I found my blood boiling when I encountered one of their employees whose artistic sense of entitlement extended to denying any responsibility for such indignities as sales and profits! Their attitude was as if “making money” is but a nasty requirement of someone (but not them) to keep the lights on so that they can sprinkle pixie dust on, or wave magic wands over projects to create their art.

But they’re not artists; they’re employees and they have a job because they contribute to the profitability that you need to, among other things, maintain their jobs and provide them the space and tools they need for their craft.

It is not your job to work your tail off and spend sleepless nights delivering clients to their ruby-slippered feet, nor to protect their delicate little souls from that unreasonable client who (how dare they!) wants their project on time and on budget!

Maybe it’s time for those who are the clueless beneficiaries of the wealth created by the “sausage business” to see how the sausage is made.

Maybe it’s time for those who are the clueless beneficiaries of the wealth created by the “sausage business” to see how the sausage is made. Perhaps it will help them to understand how messy it can be, and much waste there is, and how the things they do (or don’t do) directly impact not just the firm’s future, but their own.

Growing up is not always fun, and many really, really don’t want to. But in most other areas of life, it happens. So, why not insist that your employees grow up by helping them to understand the real world of business? You don’t need to hide how much you make, because you’ll no doubt be able to show them how little you’ve made in some years. How often you’ve cut your own salary so that you could pay theirs. How much risk you take, and how the golden goose in any business is the one that drags clients across the transom, not the one who found that oh-so-fabulous fringe for the throw pillows.

And just in case you’re already feeling squeamish, there are ways that you can do all of this and still mask the exact nature of your own earnings if you want. If you want to discuss that, just comment on this article.

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