Early days as a massage mogul

Mega busy right now getting a handle on the new business. Took over last Friday after the usual round of complications, none of which I can be bothered going into. Walked in the door Friday and basically said, “Hi, I’m your new boss!” It went down better than it might have.

Since then I’ve tried to get a sense of how the joint operates, whilst looking to gradually introduce improvements across the board. Functional improvements are needed, but I don’t want to spook the staff there too much so that’s slowly, slowly. In the meantime I’m implementing some simple marketing jobs to get things up and rolling. I’ve advertised in the online advertising sites, both in general, and looking forward to Mother’s Day and the specials available then. The brochure is being re-done, business and loyalty cards printed, gift vouchers created. At some stage I’ll engage with the local traders to introduce myself, as well as to offer discounted massages. There’s also a hospital around the corner I want to get in contact with to offer discounted massage to anyone who can produce an ID. And so on.

To assist in all of this I brought in my own manager, otherwise formerly known in these pages as the yoga teacher. That moniker may be out of date as she’s also a marketing manager. It’s quite by accident that I got her involved here. I was having a drink with her, mentioned all of this was happening, and she piped up with I’m here to help if you need it. I do need it. She’s happy to take on a part-time possie, and is quite enthused at the prospect of marketing the business.

So, how’s it going? Hard to draw a line through things at this stage. Had a couple of goodish days, one very nice, and one ordinary. I might be little ahead when I take out all my costs. Given there has been no marketing put into the business since before Christmas, and the lack of general collateral, I’m satisfied that I can make some early inroads once our plans have been rolled out.

So far the biggest challenge has been the personnel. That’s not a huge surprise, and I had been warned. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I should be taking a step back. Here I am a middle-aged, burly Australian male. I’m not the sort you want to bump into in the reception area of a genteel massage shop. More importantly, I represent a difficult demographic when it comes to dealing with massage staff who are almost all Asian and completely female.

Having travelled through Asia a bit I was ready for the cultural divide, but knowing it doesn’t necessarily help bridge it. I’ve spoken very quietly and with a smile on my face, while getting the yoga teacher to act in my stead. I’ve bought chocolates a couple of days running – very happily received – and generally tried to allay any fears they might have. Most challenging is the most important person there – N.

N has worked there for more than two years. She’s an elegant, attractive Thai woman, but like many quite diffident with the likes of me. She works on reception, as well as giving the occasional massage – she is one of the staff customers request by name. She’s quite upset that the owners have sold out, despite the fact they exploited her shamelessly – working her 7 days a week at $10 an hour. She doesn’t understand that. She’s unsure I think of what she wants to do, and claims she no longer wants to do any massage. Complicating it further is that her English is no better than rudimentary, and she seems unable, or unwilling, to say exactly what she wants.

I’m giving her a lot of rope for now. I’m hopeful that she will calm down and that we’ll be able to establish some parameters going forward – which includes at least one day off a week, and a pay increase to the legal minimum ($16/hr). I’ve asked her to think about what she wants, and reassured her that we’ll help out in any way we can. It’s no good though if she won’t do any massage. I think she’ll come around.

In any case I’m advertising for someone else to help us out. A qualified masseuse who is also responsible, reliable, and capable of looking after reception as required. And I’m going to give another of the girls a retainer on top of her massage commission. She’s a go-getter, friendly, and has lots of energy – I’m going to encourage her to be the boss back of the house, of all the masseuse, savvy enough to know what needs to be done and capable of keeping them in line.

Don’t reckon you can have a successful business unless you have the right people. That’s the theory I’m working on.

Cruel world

My working week is full these days and I’ve managed to contrive it pretty much to what I want: 80% of the time in one job, the other 20% at the old gig, where I’ve managed to re-negotiate a new deal. All good.

Not perfect but. I’m a consultant, so while I dig amongst the innards of the organisation I am on the periphery when it comes to the politics of the office. That’s how it should be and that’s pretty much as I like it. It’s not always as clear-cut as that. You work anywhere long enough and you’ll form ties. As a consultant you’re dealing with people, and while your concerns will be very different to theirs you can’t help but have some sympathetic feelings towards them. In theory you’re separate to much of the daily to and fro; in reality you can’t entirely divorce yourself from it unless you live in a bubble.

In the old job I was witness to a substantial re-structure of the IT function. It was a long time coming and desperately needed so there was no real surprise amongst the troops, though a fair amount of trepidation. The outcome of that was that a lot of people were re-deployed – either to new jobs or, more commonly, through an outsourcing program and out of the office.

As an observer I was sympathetic to the angst this created. In small part I was involved as I had made recommendations, but this barely crossed my mind. For the most part I looked towards the end-game. All this was to a purpose, and the purpose was to create a more flexible, efficient and cost-effective IT department. Working there I looked towards that outcome considering what changes I wanted to have implemented. My attitude was pretty well all business.

Now I find myself in a similar situation, but find myself thinking very differently.

I was engaged 5-6 weeks ago by a newly appointed and dynamic CIO with a lot of ideas. Many of those ideas, rightly, revolved around the structure of IT. As an outsider walking in it was obvious that the structure was not right. My observation, independent of him, was that technically competent people had been promoted to management positions they were not ready for. It seemed to me that a layer of management was missing – these callow managers reported directly to a CIO who was busy with higher matters – and who, besides, came from a business rather than technical background. What was missing was that hard edge of technical expertise mixed with experience..

That assessment seems close to what the official reading, but it seems the proposed solution is very different to what I would have recommended.

Their solution seems radical and sweeping. A whole new layer of management is to be inserted – fair enough. This means an effective demotion for many of the incumbents, but shit happens. They’ll still have time to prove themselves. Except some won’t. Some, for reasons that I don’t completely understand, have had their cards marked. They’re outa here, and pronto.

There is in the office a sense of pending change. Morale is indifferent, people don’t know what to expect from day to day, but know something big is coming. Some try and engage with me. Do you know what’s going on? Are you involved? I plead ignorance, but it chafes at me. I don’t like being dishonest with these people knowing they are on the wrong list. That’s not who I want to be, and I think it’s wrong that it’s come to this.

Management have their eyes on the outcome and have swept the human cost under the carpet. I don’t think it’s been a deliberate ploy, but the lack of any communication or engagement of any substance with these people has left them dangling. Even presuming they might be incompetent they deserve better.

From a purely business sense I have concerns. There’s a lot of intellectual property in the people earmarked to go. They are in the middle of initiatives that will need to be stopped or re-assigned. Some are critical to projects I am planning. It is too much all at once, and foolish it seems to me not transition at least from one state to another.

If it was me I’d probably keep all of them and maybe thin out the contractors. If they were willing I’d have them sit beneath the new management layer. At ther very least I’d give them a substantial notice period so that a proper handover could happen.

None of that seems to have been considered. My concerns are acknowledged, and they seem surprised at the potential implications of this course of action, but it wont be changed. Soon enough the hammer will fall and these poor unfortunates will be asked to clear out their desks.

It doesn’t feel right, because it isn’t. Perhaps it will be different come the time, perhaps some compromise will be reached. For now though I look at them knowing what is to come, and feel guilty for what I know and compassion for what they will feel.