Friday, April 24, 2009


If you like the business side of my blog, you'll probably enjoy this fascinating story from the president of Avalanche Press.


  1. Very interesting article. I own several Avalanche games, but have never been a huge fan. They seem to have great ideas, but the execution never seems to quite click for me. Maybe I'll have a better opinion if I ever get around to trying one of their Panzer Grenadier games. I have a couple, but have yet to even punch the counters.

    About the article itself, there's a lot of truth in his summary, but I have to wonder if maybe this quote has a bit to do with why his old warehouse staff failed him:

    "I know you really do think you're a nice person," Brian likes to tell me, "but you're not."

    An absentee owner that the employees actively dislike is a pretty good recipe for disaster.

    In any case, there appears to have been a serious failure of management somewhere along the line. Whoever was overseeing the old warehouse doesn't appear to have been doing their job.

    That said, anyone who uses "anabasis" in an article can't be all bad. I hope Avalanche can survive these problems if only because they increase the variety of offerings in their niche.

  2. I don't carry Avalanche for a variety of reasons, but I definitely feel for them. It's an owners worst nightmare. Everything seems to be going your way and then your employees screw you big time. In the game industry, the typical story is embezzlement.

    Most small business owners came into their new profession through various avenues, but few have business degrees. Even business degrees rarely focus on "small" business. All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and management is a common weakness. It's one that can be overcome with training, but it's the most painful to learn, so owners often avoid it.

    I've got management experience and some training for managing technical professionals, but it seems nearly useless in a retail setting. Most corporate "managers" don't really manage at all. Professionals are expected to act professional, which is 90% of the battle with employees, I've found. You realize this when you try to motivate someone making $9/hour. Maybe professionals learn that 90% from previous work experience?

  3. There's a little bit learned in previous work experience, but the main incentive for someone to act professionally is a professional wage.

    Despite all the money spent on morale building and all the motivational guides out there, nothing motivates quite like the number on the pay stub.

    It's funny how big corporations recognize this fact when they justify CEO salaries, but think they can make up for it by other means with the rank and file.

    Of course, there's also a lot to be said for the kind of work atmosphere I've seen in most tech shops compared to other places I've worked. Employees are actually listened to, there's generally clear paths of advancement available, busy work tends to be nonexistent, work processes tend to treat employees as human beings and not cogs in a machine, and when I was working there were often a lot of dot-com perks that didn't hurt either ;-)

    Making up for that when you can't afford to pay a professional wage is the real trick. Getting people that like what you do really helps with getting people who will do the main part of the job: customer relations, selling stuff, stocking shelves, and watching out for shrinkage. That doesn't mean you'll ever get someone who willingly does all the tedious jobs like sweeping the floors and cleaning the bathrooms. It's at those points that your employees will remember just how much you're paying them and the phrase "not enough" comes to mind.

    Unfortunately, it's at that point where you just have to turn into the mean old ogre sometimes. The trick is not overdoing it.

  4. I don't think that salary is the key factor in professionalism, although it's part of it. I think it's more a belief in the importance of what you are doing.
    This is why people will work for themselves, rather than stay at a more lucrative job where they don't feel that what they are doing is important.
    I know that it's the busy work, bureaucratic hoops and what my sister calls "administrivia" that generates the most gripes at places where I've worked.
    As a teacher, I get to waste countless hours on training, planning, and implementing programs that are not - in the end - designed to educate my students. I will spend many hours of my own "off the clock" time to do things that I believe will help my students to learn - that's my mission, and I'm willing to go to great lengths to make it happen. That said, if you want me to stay for an extra hour for a meeting about some program that I don't believe will help my students - you'd better have some cash for me, and I still may complain that they aren't paying me enough.

    I've read a few articles about Wendy's founder, Dave Thomas. One thing that always comes up is that Dave thought that having a clean restaurant was vital, so when he visited a Wendy's, he would usually pull out a mop and start cleaning floors. This sent a clear message to employees that having a clean restaurant was an important part of their business - so important that even the guy at the top would do it. This meant that Wendy's employees didn't mind (as much) when they were tasked with mopping the floors.
    This is not to say that I think Gary needs to clean the store while his employees watch from the register area - just that he needs to communicate clearly what things are key to the business, and why they are important.

  5. That's what I've been doing. When I realized the employee workload wasn't allowing for everything to get done, I hired another employee. That has morphed into a separate cleaning service that began this week.

    The boss wants it clean. The employees explain that they're understaffed. The boss then has decisions to make about how clean he can afford to make the store.

  6. That sounds like a good boss to me.

    I somewhat agree with Joe. Salary isn't the only key factor, but I still think it's a key factor. I've already pointed out that you can get around it, but it makes your job harder. Employee morale is one of the few problems in this world that merely throwing money at can often fix (at least temporarily), which makes it all more ironic that it's one of the few problems that no one ever tries to fix that way :-P

    I totally agree with Joe that busywork can be another key factor. Of course, avoiding giving your employees busywork is fairly easy, the problem is when employees think something is busywork when it really isn't. As an employer you're completely within your rights to say "just do it," but you'll get a better result if you take the time to explain why doing something is important.

    Heck, if it's really busywork, but busywork that you have no control over (not too common in a small business, but it comes up occasionally due to governmental, contractual, or insurance requirements), simply explaining that you understand it's bullshit, but that it's bullshit they have to do anyways because you have no choice, can have a positive result. At the very least they understand that you're not the idiot that came up with the idea.

    From what I've seen, Gary is already very good at communicating the importance of things to his employees, but these are areas I've seen other businesses have problems with.

  7. Yes, money is one of the key factors, or at least part of the key, BUT...

    Think about how many hard-working volunteers there are in the world - people who work for no pay doing things simply because they feel they are important, or what they support is important.
    Other people take (and keep) low paying jobs because they believe in what they are doing - they work for charities that benefit others like non-profit groups, religious organizations, schools, and the U.S. military. Many of them could make more money doing something similar (or even easier), working for someone else, yet they have a sense of duty that calls them to that job/career.