Regulation affects all of us who own and run a small business. I sometimes have conversations with sole traders or freelancers who bemoan red tape, regulatory ‘burning hoops’ and who hold a general dislike of public servants whose job it is to make sure there is compliance. Making sure we meet standards, operate legally and professionally are important and must be done. What makes a difference is whether this ends up being something that is presented as compliance alone, or whether commitment is developed.
Recent learning in my work has helped me to think about some ways those who regulate us small business owners can gain both commitment and compliance and have positive outcomes.
Language - the language of the entrepreneur and the small business owner is not the same as regulatory language. Jargon can make conversations seem inaccessible. Thinking about language and communication is really important and adopting habits that include speaking with accessible language are needed.
Different world views - the world of the small business owner is different to that of public sector. Professor Allan Gibb researched and produced a great model about this culture problem called ‘I want you to be like me’. It shows that understanding the world of the entrepreneur and walking in their shoes is needed rather than trying to ‘convert’ or expect the individual to replicate seemingly great rules and procedures from the corporate perspective, but ones that don’t match a small business reality.
Different ways of working. Gibb identifies a set of entrepreneurial behaviours and skills, and I recognise some of these in his list, such as ‘informal’, ‘trusting’, ‘tactically strategic’ and ‘owner managed’, inter alia. Some behaviours in particular a regulator may experience as resistance, e.g. ‘I do it my way’ and ‘messy’, but they are part of the mind set that needs to be understood as inherent in the emotional investment and different attitude a small business owner has about their enterprise. In the corporate world it is easy to believe that the trouble with small businesses is that they operate too informally and to be more successful they need to be ‘more like them’ when a better tactic would be to consider how to work with their approach.
Gaining both commitment and compliance
Step one: build awareness, promote understanding, achieve engagement (seeing the implications). Initially the tactic is the same - making sure there is full awareness and understanding and that the relationship is built that brings engagement rather than resistance. This emphasis on relationship means developing behavioural attributes as well as technical and regulatory ones. For example, building rapport, listening at higher levels of understanding, learning and using second positioning and being able to manage conflict positively.
Step Two: manage perception so that it is positive (I know this is necessary but I see the opportunity and accept it).
Step Three: encourage action and monitor how it is being tested and implemented. This is the point where the business owner is putting him/her self and their business at stake possibly in their eyes.
Step Four: change through action reinforces the change is good and the benefits, as opposed to only doing it because it has to be done.
Step Five: commitment - ‘I want to do it this way’ (whereas compliance is ‘I have to do it this way’.