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Twenty lessons in 20 years: Lesson 14 – Setting bound...

Defend Truth


Twenty lessons in 20 years: Lesson 14 – Setting boundaries for both staff and clients


Allon Raiz is the CEO of Raizcorp. In 2008, he was selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and in 2011 he was appointed for the first time as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Fostering Entrepreneurship.

Over the past 20 years, Raizcorp CEO Allon Raiz has learnt many tough lessons and overcome many entrepreneurial challenges. He has also had the privilege of learning from the journeys of more than 13,000 entrepreneurs who have passed through Raizcorp. In this series of articles, Raiz shares 20 of some of the most important lessons he has learned using a sequence that mirrors the typical stages of any entrepreneurial journey, from ideation to scaling a business.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

In the early years of start-ups, especially for first-time entrepreneurs, there is a novelty associated with having people work for you for the first time. It feels a bit like being a first-time parent with uncertainty about the parameters of parenting: When must you be tough and when are you being too tough? Do you say nothing when a deadline is not met, or do you come down hard on the individual? Do you acquiesce to a demand for more money when an employee threatens to leave, or do you stand your ground?

These are just a few of the questions you need to navigate as start-up entrepreneurs. At the same time, you are probably trying to break into a pre-existing market that is dominated by other players. Knowing that you are desperate for sales, potential new clients will test you for better pricing and better deals in order to “give you a chance”. And you are only too happy for that chance and, consequently, you drop your pricing or add additional features or incentives to sweeten the deal.

This effectively makes you “boundaryless” on two fronts – with your staff and with your clients. Over the past 20 years, I have witnessed the stark difference between the success rates of entrepreneurs who develop boundaries and those who do not.

Staff boundaries

The longer you take to formalise each role in your business with an employment and performance contract and, most importantly, the longer you take to understand and manage performance, the less likely your business’s chances of making it to 10 years intact.

The manner in which you introduce these boundaries is also important. Coming into work on a Monday, calling your staff in and saying, “Right, from now on things are going to change around here” is not going to work. The process of creating boundaries needs to be incremental – albeit at a relatively fast pace. It must be well-communicated, consistently applied to all staff, and predictably and rhythmically managed.

Change management is important. Providing your staff with the reason things are going to change is imperative. You might have to deal with comments that things aren’t like they used to be and that things have changed, and even the odd resignation. It is important to remain resolute and not capitulate to the first threat of resignation. The thing is, your team is right. Things are not like they used to be and, if the business is going to survive in the long run, things are going to be changing all the time, and they will and should never be like they used to be. Making your team understand the importance of change and the reasons for new boundaries is critical to the future success of your business.

Once the first boundaries have been established, it is important for them to evolve incrementally. This gives your team time to adapt and also begins the cultural messaging that things are constantly changing.

A fatal mistake to make in this process is to treat some employees differently from others. This mistake usually occurs when entrepreneurs are too afraid to apply boundaries when it comes to the more tenured staff, the more temperamental staff and staff who perform mission-critical roles. I cannot express strongly enough that the selective application of boundaries is probably worse than not having boundaries at all, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Quarterly performance reviews are important. In my opinion, annual reviews are ineffective in many ways. Our memories are short, and the performance and attitude of the month or two months before an annual review erroneously become the proxy for the previous 12 months, distorting the reality of the full prior year’s performance.

Quarterly reviews not only provide more feedback, but they also provide time to correct behaviours and actions and, when averaged, provide a more accurate assessment of the year’s performance. They also institutionalise the act of regular feedback and communication with your team.

Client boundaries

When building client boundaries, the rules are similar to those for staff. Beginning slowly is important. Start with a “no” here and a “no” there. Provide alternatives or compromises. Explain that the consistent reduction of prices and the addition of unreasonable value-add is eating into your margin to such an extent that you are making losses. In a word, communicate.

It’s important to become knowledgeable, through continuous research and intelligence gathering, about your competitive environment in terms of product and pricing. This knowledge will give you more power when negotiating with your clients, as you will know the extent of the disparity between your total offering and others in the market.

By delivering on your promises from a delivery, quality and pricing point of view, time and time again, you will build trust with your new clients. This trust will slowly allow you to normalise your pricing, as your clients will accept paying a little more for the reliability and predictability that you provide.

It’s never too late to develop boundaries. Sometimes the most important word for entrepreneurs to learn is “no” – and then have the courage to say it in a context in which everyone, including clients, is expecting them to say “yes”. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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