We are the only civilisation expected to build an economy while paying a minimum wage, everyone else did it on the back of slave labour; Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and even America built their empires using slaves, yet when it is Africa’s time to rise economically a minimum wage hurdle is placed in our track. It is a welcome hurdle though. Being the most exploited race in human history, blacks know better than to exploit anyone as employers.
While building their empires other races could afford to make hiring errors, because they could easily, usually at no cost, correct them. If Mr. Jones places a wrong slave in the plantation he could simply place him elsewhere the next day or even discard him altogether. Not quite the luxury business owners have today. If you hired an employee who isn’t quite suited for your business today it will be costly to discard such an employee and even costlier to hire a replacement; issues beneficiaries of ill-gotten generational wealth never had to contend with. Even though slavery was legal then, we now know that legality is not an element of justice but a construct of power. Those in political and economic power decide what becomes legal and what not, regardless of how unjust the practice may be.
We do not start businesses to employ people; we start businesses so they can be sustainable enough to eventually employ people. Everyone makes hiring errors, but there are recruitment mistakes that seem more prevalent within black businesses; some of which are to the detriment of the entire enterprise.
Unless you live in a prosperity bubble somewhere in the ocean viewing hills of Camps Bay, chances are you have unemployed cousins. And upon hearing you have just started a business they will have two things to say: “it won’t work” and “please hire me”. Usually what they mean is that your business won’t work unless you hire them. But after hiring your cousins only then do you have to hire your first employees.
Employing family members may appear as the embodiment of the “Charity Begins at Home” African ethos, yet in business it is usually a fatal flaw. It’s all great to watch other races employ family members and thinking you too can do it, but remember you’re running the most failure-prone venture there is; a black start-up business. Therefore when hiring ensure that the person is not just family but also a competent employee because you don’t want an awkward moment when you ask them to “pass the salt” at the next family Christmas lunch.
The Azanian historical experience dictates that black bosses ought to treat black employees better than other races do, however if you treat them as friends they cease being employees and start behaving as friends. The informal nature of a business relationship between black business owners and our employees is undermining our efforts. It is as though the black business environment is founded on the words “(s)he understands”.
“(S)he understands why I arrived late for work, it is not like (s)he has never used a taxi before.”
“My employees have to understand I cannot pay them what whites pay for the same job.”
“They understand I cannot always pay them on time”
We understand from time to time all these would be valid at some or other point in a lifetime of a black business; it becomes toxic when it is a rule rather than an exception.
We all know a business owned by two guys who dress the part, have business cards that bear their names and job title, usually CEO and Chairman, but nobody knows quite exactly what it is they do and who their clients are. Yet in the midst of all this they manage to employ a very good-looking lady as a receptionist and secretary. These guys may have called you once asking for a meeting and they showed up with this lovely looking lady who is there to take minutes and e-mail you any document you require going forward. Those guys are not in business but are so in love with the idea of being important, powerful and influential that they’re willing to hire someone to keep up appearances. Obviously, this does not last long but as soon as they get out of “business” there is always someone that suffers the same delusions of grandeur to take over from them.
The allure of being an employer is a more powerful force than gravity; it sucks out logic from even the most cerebral among us. Soon as you tell people you own a business they want to know how many people you employ, and don’t you dare tell them you’re have not employed anyone. Even the government refuses to fund your business if it is a “one man show”. Reality is that salaries will most likely account as the largest single expenditure of your business; as a result it is key to ascertain that it is absolutely necessary to hire someone not because society, or even government, expects you to.
It is bad manners to bother someone for something you can do yourself, and as you’re raising your business you’re going to be the cleaner, the tea lady, the receptionist, the messenger and even the security guard. Embrace all these roles until the business can finally afford to hire and pay market price for those services without giving you sleepless nights.
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