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Quest for Sense

Personality vs System in business

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Are you a system based business or a personality based business?
Which is better?
What are the strengths and weaknesses of each?

Key attributes of a personality based business.
Massively dependant on a key individual, normally with a critical skill or the only decision maker. This individual is central to client relationships and is surrounded by support staff with very little discretion of their own. There are very few decision makers. Would-be usurpers to the throne are quickly put in their place or banished.
Examples: Most professions and nearly all micro and small businesses. Your doctor, dentist, hairdresser, plumber, electrician

Key attributes of a system based business.
The success of the business is based on it's operating systems. Individuals can come and go without really affecting day-to-day operations. Decision making is delegated and layered, guided by a systemic operational framework.
Examples: Large and corporate businesses with multiple management layers.

Some strengths and weaknesses.
The personality dependant business is agile. Decision makers are in touch with the front line of the business, if not on the front line themselves. Important decisions can be made quickly and normally the interests of the decision maker and ownership are closely aligned. The critical weakness in a personality based business is the life of the business is totally dependant on the life of the key person.

The system based business is less flexible. Decision makers are rarely on the front line. While important decisions can still be made quickly, implimentation can take some time as it has to work through "the system", and the interest of the decision makers may well not be aligned with the interests of the owners. The strength of a well structured system based business is the system is the star that produces the results. It takes individual skills and multiplies them and can have a life beyond key individuals.

I wonder how hard it would be to combine the best of the two and lose the weaknesses of each?

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  1. Mark Atkinson's Avatar
    Well as a personality based business owner I will always be an advocate of maintaining a strong personal element in my business(es).

    I think it's possible for even large corporates to show an element of personality, and the best way to do so is via social media. Take Mweb, for example, they have an employee who maintains all their social media outlets (MwebGuy) and he partipates on Twitter, Facebook and forums such as MyBroadband. He listens and responds quickly to all queries and issues relating to Mweb - in similar fashion to how a small business owner might do it.

    Another example is Web Africa. All their higher-ups maintain a social media presence and communicate with the Web Africa fan base. I know the CEO, the marketing director etc by name and have had conversations with each because of it. This is a great example of a larger company removing the "corporate veil" in a social sense.

    In a recent article by (about) Richard Branson, he suggested that when a company starts to feel too big or too corporate, it's time to split the company into smaller companies. This is what he has done with his many businesses. With a smaller group of employee responsible for each business, the personal element is maintained. I also don't think anybody can questions Branson's success.

    Thanks for the article, Dave. Definitely a thought provoking article.