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The Small Business Barnacle: From On Board to Under Water

By October 11, 2017 No Comments
Photo by Lucas Gruwez

Photo by Lucas Gruwez

You probably figured out from the title that this post was setting up a ship theme, so let’s get right into it. The traditional notion of a mutiny evokes imagery from The Pirates of the Caribbean films, with pirates, swords, bad blood, and in the end a violent coup. Scurvy and the lack of regular nourishment are probably somewhere in your mind as well.

In today’s small businesses, mutinies look a lot different, and not just because there are plenty of snacks in the break room. The huge contrast is that there isn’t a hostile takeover. In fact, the goal for the rebel might be just the opposite: to not cause noticeable problems, and not overtly challenge the leader. The resistance movement is more of a slow, subtle atrophy of responsibilities and performance. The end game is not to take over the ship but to hang on to it, like a barnacle.

This metamorphosis from a living and breathing crew member topside to the Barnacle stuck to the hull probably took many years, and it was barely perceptible in many respects.

The Barnacle Profile typically reads something like this: there from the beginning of the company, the Barnacle was a peak performer early on and has fostered key relationships in the space. A great talker, a dream dinner mate, the Barnacle can be trusted to select the restaurant’s finest dessert wine (port!). Over time, however, the Barnacle’s performance has dipped considerably. The Barnacle has not kept up with the times, embraced key technologies, emerging trends, and best practices. And most concerning, the Barnacle’s list of job actions has been reduced to just a handful of preferred things.

This post is not being written so that you can identify the Barnacle. You already know who it is. At Sumus, we are trying to help you figure out how it happened, and what you can do about it. The answers are excuses and measurements—and you. Let me explain.

The Barnacle probably offered an excuse for lack of performance or attendance once upon a time. And then there were more offered over a matter of weeks or months, until they became an excuse cluster. Critical mass occurs when excuses are no longer even given, when partial energy and zero buy-in become the new normal.  And you are responsible (on the hook!) as owner and leader because you don’t even ask questions any more. The Barnacle has reached the point of sucking energy from the vessel.

You (and everyone else) would have noticed that the Barnacle is no longer showing up at meetings, doing homework, or performing key pieces of the role. So, what can you do short of breaking out the chisel?

At Sumus, we help business owners by reminding them that they are captains of their ships. We find that sometimes they erroneously believe that the Barnacle’s relationships in the sector are too valuable to lose. Or that loyalty should be extended to original employees in perpetuity. The answer to all of this is measurement and tracking. We look inside the Barnacle’s legacy numbers and calculate future metrics, using data to ultimately arrive at individual value assessments.

Please contact us if you are feeling dragged by the Barnacle. We can get you sailing along again.

Jim Baker

Jim Baker

Sumus was founded by Jim Baker, an entrepreneur with 27 years’ experience bootstrapping and growing his business organically and through acquisition, to share his experience by providing advisory services around Board representation, Organization and Branding Strategy, Mergers & Acquisitions, Value enhancement and Exit strategy.