Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
SBA_Menu Home Contact Us

Second Fiddle

Rethinking your management strategy

"Second fiddle" was the answer given by Leonard Bernstein of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. The question that was asked was, "What is the most difficult instrument to play?" You might think his answer
had something to do with the difficulty of the musical score traditionally assigned to the orchestra's second violin. But Bernstein made it clear he was not talking about music. He was talking about teamwork within a business.

"Everyone wants to play first chair," he would continue. "Nobody wants to play second fiddle."

As a business owner, you know full well the importance of your second fiddle - your manager. Business managers know the importance of their second fiddles, whether they are buyers, stockers, office staff, cashiers or delivery staff. The business where an owner or manager does not recognize the importance of these players or who is unable to gain the support of them is a business that will not be around too long.

The concern for the second fiddle works both ways. Those who play second fiddle typically play it best when they know they are appreciated and that their efforts take them closer to their career goals, however humble or sophisticated they may be.

As an owner, ask yourself what would happen if your manager were suddenly not available to manage your business. Would the business continue to function? The answer needs to be both yes and no. Yes, because the owner would know the responsibilities of his manager and could step in to take his place.

But the answer should also be no, for if there would be no difference with or without your manager, then you either have a bad manager or one who is not being allowed to prove him or herself. Ask yourself if you think your manager could be persuaded to go to a competitor if the pay was comparable, but the challenge to his skills were greater. Would he welcome the opportunity to make a difference?

Many business owners make a point to spend a considerable number of hours on the sales floor each week. Unfortunately, in many cases the owner is making decisions even when the manager is in the building. This is the same as paying a manager the wages of a manager but not asking him or her to do the job.

Observing a business owner who demonstrated an active involvement of his staff, we noticed that for every hour there were team members in the building, there was a manager who had total responsibility for the store. The owner explained this decision to his staff by stating that he knew how he would react in a situation.

What he needed to see was how a manager would react in a situation. What better way to find out than an occasion when the owner was in the building, but was allowing his people to manage? As a result, this owner learned what he could expect from his staff and managers, whether he was out of the store for an hour, an afternoon or on vacation.

This owner reasoned that if he were to give a key to the building to an employee, and there were several hundred thousand dollars of inventory in the building, the owner had, in effect, entrusted that amount of money to the employee. If this is the case, why not allow the employee to make a decision when the amount of money involved in the decision would probably be less than $20?

The downside to managing by this method is that our employees often do not learn how unique and beneficial this management style was until the leave and take a job elsewhere. It is, however, a risk that more businesses should take.

It is not only an opportunity; it is your responsibility to promote your management technique to your "second fiddle" and his or her subordinates so that your "orchestra" is in tune. Your customers will greatly appreciate it, and the bottom line of your profit-and-loss statement will reflect it.

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179