Material Excerpts: New Plant Start-ups




This material is reproduced from the book, START-UP!, A Guide to Getting Off on the Right Foot, Copyright © 1998, Donald F. Barkman, The Business Center, Oak Ridge, TN, All Rights Reserved. A single copy may be made for the reader's personal use. For additional information, please purchase the book. Thank you.




Start-ups bring together all sorts of people. For some this may be their first job, for others it may be the one they intend to retire from. This means everyone needs to have an appreciation of the other person's experiences and needs. One employee may be looking for advancement, another for job security and a pension plan.


One benefit of start-ups is combining the wisdom, maturity, energy and aspirations of everyone who joins up. Each person brings something worthwhile to the new venture. There's a lot to be learned by everyone from everyone. Enjoy it.





When people immigrated to America in the late 1800's and early 1900's they left a lot of belongings behind, not always willingly, but out of necessity. What they carried with them were memories and hopes.


When you come to start-up you'll bring with you all your past experiences, feelings, values, perceptions and attitudes. Just coming to a new company won't change those. Your expectations may change, but your memories don't.


That can be both good and not-so-good. If you have good memories of where you've worked before you may be optimistic, trusting, and confident. On the other hand, if you felt used and abused by a past employer, lied to and cheated, ignored and mistreated, you may be skeptical about your new organization. That's only natural. You can bet you'll find a blend of viewpoints among your co-workers. Many of these are based on lessons learned from experience at work or at home.


A friend going through start-up told me of a co-worker who had recently started work at the new company. The new employee had just been offered a recall to his old job where he had been laid off a year before. Returning to the old job meant gaining about $2.00 / hour more in pay. The new person decided to stay where he was. Why? At his previous employer there was little co-worker cooperation and heavy handed supervision. The new company offered a much better working environment. The old company's money was no match for the memories.


What kinds of experiences are in your baggage and how might they affect you in your new job?


Old baggage contains many interesting tales. There's a fellow I knew who felt his new company was "out to get" its employees. He was always taking up for whomever he considered an oppressed person. I don't know where he acquired his "Crusader Rabbit" habit, but it was there long before he joined his new outfit. Noble as his philosophy was, it was usually wasted on undeserving people or pursued without an appreciation of all the facts. After awhile, no one paid attention to him.


You'll want people to accept you in your new job for who you are. Most of us want to be recognized as unique individuals. We like to be treated based on who we are, what we do, and what we want. We don't want the way we are treated based on what people in another company wanted, or on the way they behaved.


We need to do the same with others. Don't prejudge the folks you work with based on what you've run into before. Your organization is probably trying to do the best it can. Give them a little room for learning -there'll be plenty of time to pass judgment later.





Popeye's buddy, Wimpy, is famous for saying, "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." In Wimpy's case he was trading his promise for someone else's hamburger.


Wimpy could have been working for a start-up company. Start-ups are long on promises. They have to be. There just isn't time to prepare everything in advance. Even if there were, things don't always turn out according to plan. Robert Burns, the poet, captured that fact over a century ago when he said,

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft a-gley." (Often go astray)

Burn's modern counterpart was a fellow named Murphy who is rumored to have said,

"Whatever can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible moment"

As simple as turning intentions into actions seems, my own experience says it is one of the biggest problems in start-ups. It happens like this:

A potential employee considers leaving his old job. He applies with a new company who is starting up a new facility. He attends an orientation where the company tries to make a realistic, but positive first impression. The candidate hears the best parts of the message and mentally plays down the negatives. He interviews for a job and tries to make a positive and realistic impression.


He gets hired, immigrates to his new company, and arrives at work with great expectations. One day he realizes that things have changed. Something the speaker in orientation said would happen doesn't, or it gets put off. The employee feels misled, maybe lied to. He begins to distrust his new employer. Pretty soon "they" are like the company he came from.


Disappointed that reality did not live up to what was intended, he continues working but is more cynical - or he starts looking for another firm who has the promise of meeting his expectations.

This story is sad but true. What's especially sad is the person usually gets a better deal in his new company than what he had before. The problem is, it doesn't match his expectations. Because the company aided in the creation of the expectations, the company gets blamed. I've seen employers deliberately try to play down their new operations and stress the difficulties new employees will encounter. They wanted to be sure new hires received a realistic picture of what they were getting into. However, no matter what the message, the interpretation usually was - "things will be better here." Do you feel this way?


I know a gentleman who was responsible for part of pre-employment orientation. He had the job of explaining to new hires what the new company intended to do with its participative management programs. He was an honest, well intentioned person. He did his best to paint an accurate picture based on what he knew at the time.


During one orientation session he compared his company's innovative pay system to that of another local firm using a similar system. He intended to illustrate the features of the system, not the pay rates (the other company was much higher). What did people remember?


You guessed it - the pay rates, not the structure of the system. Who got blamed for missed expectations about the pay program? Not hard to figure out. The sender almost always takes the blame if the message doesn't get across.


This is just one example - I know of other managers who have fallen victim to the same circumstances. What they said, what was heard, and what was later remembered became the subject of considerable interpretation and debate. These people took the heat and the blame for errors in expectations. Who was at fault? Probably no one - it's nearly impossible to adequately communicate visions and abstractions to an audience who is hoping to hear only the best.


How can this problem be prevented? You're reading it. Just knowing how perceptions and expectations have caused difficulties in other start-ups can help you avoid the same trap.


Companies are well intentioned just like new employees. Neither one wants to deliberately mislead the other because the results are very unfortunate. If a potential employee lies about his work experience and skills, he'll either get found out and not hired, or get hired and get fired because he can't do the job. If the company deliberately misleads potential employees it knows it will have morale and productivity problems after people are hired.


Nobody wins by deceit.


When I think of how intentions meet up with realities, I'm reminded of the story of a person who hired on with a new company. The individual virtually promised to be a loyal, long term employee - "promises" the person really meant to keep. Unfortunately, the new employee's spouse developed medical problems the next year and they had to move away. The person quit the job. Does that mean the person lied to get hired? Uncontrollable situations happen to companies just as they do to individuals.


Start-ups are times of visions and promises. That is the nature of start-ups. Everyone needs to work hard to try to make those visions come true. Most of them will. Some of them won't. How happy you will be depends on your mental attitude towards what is intended and what really happens. Half of your happiness will depend upon your own perceptions and interpretations.


One person summed up how expectations and perceptions develop during start-up. He said there are four perceptions:

a) what employees hope will happen (highest)

b) what they expect will really happen

c) what really happens

d) what employees perceive happens (lowest)

It's up to you to take charge of your perceptions to become a success!






The Business Center
120 Westview Lane
Oak Ridge, TN  37830


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