Thursday, January 25, 2018

It's Not That Complicated

I've got nine employees and every one has been vetted through the federal E-verify system. This is so I don't break federal law by hiring someone unable to legally work for me. It's free and it's not very complicated really. However, there a 1.75 million undocumented workers here in California. How is this possible if I'm required by federal law to only hire people legally able to work?

It's simple, really. Businesses are allowed to get away with this. When government attempts to attack the demand side of labor, these businesses, the businesses complain loudly and government backs off. They used to complain loudly when California was run by Republicans, but Democrats tend not to crack down on such things, so instead they complain loudly in Republican controlled states like Texas.

This happens obviously, because hiring undocumented workers is incredibly lucrative with no significant penalties if you're caught. There is really no red or blue position on this, it's all green. Cash dollars. If the government was serious about immigration reform, it would prosecute businesses that hire undocumented worker. Kill the demand side of this equation.

Because we won't address demand, businesses like mine comply with the law, while big businesses enrich themselves on cheap, illicit labor. We've given these 1.75 million workers a wink and a nudge for pretty much forever, as the southern border has been nothing but a literal line in the sand for hundreds of years. Serious border enforcement is a historically new thing. This is probably difficult for non border state residents to understand.

The border has almost always been porous and border states benefit greatly from this. We have actively encouraged these people to come, to fill 1.75 million jobs. To go after them and their families is to cause great human misery and suffering in denial of how we've not only used them in the past, but how we actively use them right now.  It's a tremendous act of cowardice.

I wrote this because I'm a business owner in California and I want it clear, this is not a complicated issue. This is an issue of greed and turning away from responsibility. We want to have our cake (cheap labor, cheap food, cheap construction, cheap manufactured goods), while also eating it too (whitewashing society and denying these people are part of our communities). It's just pure avarice and cowardice from my perspective. It's not that complicated.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Vacations and Delegation (Tradecraft)

80% of success is not showing up.  At least when it comes to learning to delegate to your staff.

I used to come in Mondays, after a weekend off, and spend a couple hours organizing shelves and cleaning messes. This is because I failed to communicate what I wanted from staff and failed to train them to operate without me. What happens in these situations is you think it would just be easier to do it yourself. Even worse, you think this is a virtue instead of a weakness. It's the sign of a good worker but a bad manager, and what's funny is I can see it not only in my staff, but in other businesses. "Ah, you must be the manager." I say to the proud person whose running a screwed up business because they clearly can't delegate to their subordinates. It's not a compliment.

Growing a business doesn't have to mean disengagement from that business, but it does mean leveraging the work of others to effectively do more than you could do yourself. Where small business owners have problems is when they insist that nobody else can do as good a job as them. They're probably right, but they fail to have the vision to realize how much more could be done spread across a staff of workers. They fail to acknowledge the leash the store has around their neck, as they run their business in a very narrow comfort zone.

We have a big industry trade show coming up in March, and there will be stores that simply close their doors during this week, which I find astounding. The owners have no trustworthy go-to for such eventualities. Nobody can do as good a job as them. Looking at the big picture, it also mean that business doesn't hold value without that owner present. Their "buy a job" will result in a liquidation sale when they decide to move on, and like the screwed up business in my example, they will proudly declare there was no other way.

Longer vacations take the weekend test of delegation a step further. Most small businesses don't get vacations, but even a week away, as with the GAMA Trade Show, can be a valuable test of policies and procedures. Assuming staff, even that one person, is trained, treat the store like a customer when you get back from your trip.

Before going inside, view the outside of your business with fresh eyes. Is there trash in the parking lot? Are there expired or tattered posters in the window? What do you see when you look in the windows? Are there "no" signs telling people what they can't do? We have an unfortunate clearance section in the front corner of the store rather than the back, meaning our garbage product is on display (I notice this more than anybody else). When you go inside and you're in that first ten feet of "decompression zone," do staff acknowledge your presence? What do you immediately see to your right? Is it family friendly games or are you greeted by war and murder hobos? Would it scare off your grandmother? Use your break to view your store with new eyes.

Before you start organizing shelves and filling in the policy and procedural holes left with your absence, grab a notepad and document everything wrong with the store, the misshelved items, the scattered invoices, the mail and packages in three different locations. Don't fix any of this yourself. Document and train staff to do all these things and then make them do it.

I was proud it took me three hours to catch up from a 30 day trip, but then discovered throughout the subsequent weeks that invoices were missing, and suppliers unpaid. Distributors use half a dozen methods to include invoices with shipments: In the box, on the box with the invoice showing, on the box with the invoice hidden, in the mail with packing slips in the box, or email invoices to the buyer that staff will never see. This required better staff training, but it also left me irritated with suppliers.

The next test is to take another trip, and maybe this will cost you money to be gone another week, but it's money well spent. After I felt comfortable taking a week off, I pushed even further to taking a month off. This was scary and felt grossly irresponsible, but it was an important test. This took policies and procedures a step further. Most of my distributor invoices are 30 day terms, so I could just about take a month off without having to worry about them.

However, the electricity bill, the credit card bills and other such bills are less than 30 days and unpredictable. We had to create a system so I could pay bills on the road without coming to the store. There were mixed results, as I improperly paid the electric bill and almost had the power turned off. I paid two credit cards on their due date as I was distracted with my vacation. My manager used Google Sheets to share a payment spreadsheet with me while I was on the road. My 14 year old business bank account didn't even have electronic banking, so I would mail checks as I went. It was crude but effective, provided I followed the procedures. It turned out the bottleneck in my 30 day policies and procedures was me.

Taking this another step further, my upcoming trip is 50 days away from the store and I'm being forced to delegate one of my core tasks as buyer. My manager will be trained as Buyer while I'm gone, meaning I just need to pay bills and decide if I want to delegate pre orders. I'm finally getting electronic banking, forced to as I'll be traveling throughout Central America and won't be able to mail payments as needed. Electronic banking is really obvious, but I'm still trying to get it set up with my backwards bank.

Delegating the buyer role is a big step for me, but with questionable broadband on a day to day basis, this trip requires a reliable buyer during our busy summer season. It would be easy to teach this task to my manager, but we're making sure to create a policy and procedure as well, so that knowledge doesn't leave with staff changes. The trip is forcing me to improve my business. Delegating more and more tasks leaves me with more free time to grow the business further, assuming I can leverage that time effectively (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't). Being able to delegate tasks is adding value to the business, as it makes the business less dependent on me. The last thing I want is to have someone say "Ah, you must be the manager."

Friday, January 12, 2018

Unfunded Mandates (Tradecraft)

What an exciting week! The meme of the week is there's a disgruntled individual insisting all Magic judges be background checked as pedophiles, basically insisting the judge network is a front for a ring of child molesters. To add insult to injury, one of our "customers," a self identified white nationalist and self expressed wack job, who we've repeatedly asked not to use his speaking hole, called out my store as one in need of investigation.

The thing about witch hunts is if you believe in such a thing as witchcraft, how can you ever really know? If you looked at the legion of Magic judges, roughly 12,000 and looked at the percentage of the population known to be sex offenders of any sort (.23%), you would have roughly 27 offending judges. What we know is there have been three bad judges and they've been banned forever, thrown out of the program. But witchcraft is pervasive and insidious, so that just means there are more we don't know of. Right? Right???!!! What about the other 24?!!!

Don't get me wrong, I think background checks for judges is a good idea. However, being pushed to do checks because one nut job has unfairly and without warrant painted an entire community as criminals, is not the best motivation to do so. So sure, why not. Wizards of the Coast, go ahead and pay the money to background check your judge community.

What, it's not your community? But they're your judges. What, the courts say judges exist in the limbo of "volunteer" even though that designation doesn't exist in labor law? Alright, I see. Oh, what now? You think I should background check them? And what, I should background check all my employees? Oh, you don't think I should do it, you demand I do it?  Did you learn nothing from your judge lawsuit?

That's exactly what Wizards of the Coast said today. These stores that run organized play, that have these "volunteers" running events must now background check everyone, employee and judges (let's not argue if these groups are the same, right?) at their own expense. And to think, they thought they were done fighting this in court.
As part of our commitment to safe and inclusive spaces, tournament organizers and retailers will be explicitly required to conduct background checks for all staff (as permitted by applicable law). This includes CFB Events' Grand Prix, local store events like Friday Night Magic, and professional events like the Pro Tour and World Magic Cup as well as convention play run by Wizards.