Small Business Tips: “Wear Many Hats, Master of None”

In any new business, there is a tendency for employees to “wear many hats,” as they find themselves taking over multiple roles and responsibilities. But our small business tip on that is simple: What may now seem like an inexpensive alternative may cost you in the long run.

If you have the time, take a look at Dan Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” (here’s a review of the book from the New York Times). (And we know that you don’t have time to read that book, by the way.)

Anyway, the book outlines how people generally act against their own rational best interests. One of the behaviors is the allure of “free.” People will go well out of their way to get things that are “free,” never thinking about the costs or downsides of that free product.

For example, paying more at a movie theater that offers free popcorn, even though you might not have ordered popcorn otherwise. Or spending time in lengthy lines and untenable crowds for the free Saturday at the museum, rather than going on any other Saturday in a more leisurely pace. Indeed, the allure of “free” often blinds people to hidden costs of time or effort, which could be put to more productive uses.

“Wear Many Hats” in Business

When a startup company turns one of their employees into a “Wear Many Hats” employee, the same illogical principle applies. The perception is “Hey, we can’t afford to hire anyone new, so we’ll just get Mr. Wear Many Hats here to do it”. That, however, is seeing the “free” without realizing that such is an unsustainable proposition.

The phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” easily applies; by getting someone to do all these various jobs, that Mr. Wear Many Hats isn’t able to concentrate on any single job, and each task suffers. What’s more, the time that Many Hats is devoting to one of his or her duties is time that isn’t being dedicated to any other task. The perception may be that it is cheaper to get one person to do all those jobs, but the fact is that when they are doing one job, the remainder of those other projects are laying undone. A great analogy would be pit row at NASCAR’s Indianapolis 500; it may save money to have just one guy jack up the race car, change all the tires and fuel it up, but it’s not a winning strategy.

The best solution for avoiding the peril of the Mr. Wear Many Hats is to not start down that road in the first place. Unfortunately, not everyone avoids that trap. The next step, then, is to see if there’s a Mr. Wear Many Hats in your organization. It would be nice if they were literally wearing too many hats, but since they aren’t, simply watch for

  • a worker who is too controlling about their situation and needs to be involved in every process
  • a worker who avoids taking breaks because if they leave, everything falls apart
  • a work process that is difficult to understand or reverse engineer because the rules and parameters are unclear.

Upon running into these problems, the solution is quite clear–break up the duties of the Mr. Wear Many Hats by finding an understudy to take over one of the Hats. Be sure to set modest goals for the new Hat wearer, so the takeover process isn’t painful to the point of being impossible. In time, the understudy will be the Hat-Master and productivity in your organization will improve.

Plus, the Mr. Wear Many Hats will probably be just as glad for it; they probably could use the rest. And we all know writing is certainly not the easiest task on the to-do list.

Ultimately, that’s part of what Verblio (formerly BlogMutt) is all about for small businesses. Verblio takes one of your hats and gets that task done each month for a low monthly fee. This, in turn, lets you say “Whew, now we don’t have to muck about with writing blog posts” and you can concentrate on other important issues. That way you can get down to one hat per employee, and that’s the best way to work.

For more information about our unique blog-writing service, please feel free to contact us.


Editor’s note: We at Verblio are big fans of Dan Ariely’s work, and the writer makes a perfect nexus between that book and our service. This is my favorite kind of post, one that has a great topical tie-in to something new, and I learn something from the post. If you like posts like this, too, when you sign up be sure to indicate to us that you like topical instead of promotional posts — we have a slider that lets you show your preference in seconds. (For an explanation of this series of posts, see this post.) — Scott

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