Our lives are governed by time, particularly our business lives. "Time is money," according to the cliché. It may be old, but it's true. In a world of near-instant everything, people want things now if not sooner. Many major companies are no longer with us because they couldn't, or wouldn't, speed up the process or their response times to customer demands. Others only saved themselves from extinction by introducing massive management and operational shake-ups.

We are now in the nanosecond nineties.

You can accelerate your business's drive towards demise by resorting to the traditional South African "just now" policy. In all English-speaking countries, except our rainbow republic, the phrase "just now" means immediately; without delay. In our corner of Africa, it means any time within the next three to six months, if you're lucky.

In an era in which everyone wants everything delivered faster, you can quicken the pace of business disaster by developing the "just now" concept into the fine art of procrastination, which is the art of struggling to keep up with yesterday. So slow things down. Not just a bit, but appreciably.

The Americans and the Japanese have spent the last couple of decades industriously compressing the time it takes to complete given processes. And the time from the customer's initial enquiry to final delivery continues to shrink. Following this path spells doom to your plans of running the business into the ground.

Ignore the latest trend in modern management practice: anything to save time whatever else it costs. Management gurus have become so-time-obsessed that they've taken it to ridiculous lengths that begin to encroach on our personal lives. Which reminds of a story about a girl I know who's engaged to an efficiency expert.

The couple were strolling along the path around the Zoo Lake, when she paused and stooped to pick up a daisy. Looking up at him sweetly, she began to pull off the petals, saying: "He loves me, he loves me not ..."

"You're giving yourself a lot of unnecessary trouble," said the efficiency expert. "You should simple count the number of petals. If the total is an even number, the answer will be in the negative; if an uneven number, the answer will be in the affirmative."

The same efficiency expert went in to see his boss about his annual holiday. He came out of the office looking thoroughly miserable. I asked him what was wrong.

"He says I can only take a week off," he replied.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because I'm so efficient he reckons I can have as much fun in a week as other people have in three weeks."

The principle is called "time compression" and has been closely studied by two respected American consultants, George Stalk and Thomas Hout. They've isolated three major time elements of critical importance to success-orientated executives.

 

Time and business.
 

Time and customers.
 

Time and innovation.
 

Time and business. Japanese industrialists found that they could time costs by introducing flexible, easy-to-alter, shorter production runs designed to meet changing customer demands faster rather than pander to the outmoded, traditional concept of longer runs that led to economies of scale. Inflexible production methods, based on Industrial Revolution concepts, build up inventory to give consumers only take-it-or-leave-it options.

Time and customers. Experience shows that when you focus on time as a major component of your business operation, you begin to anticipate customer needs. You also stock a wider variety of goods or a larger range of services than your competitors. And you provide them at greater speed.

 

If you're on the success trail, there's another plus.
 

Surveys show that businesses that provide a faster response to customer enquiries can charge up to 100% more than the going rate. They also reduce the risk factor because faster service leads to an increase in market share and a concomitant increase in stock turnover, which means less cash tied up in inventory.

Time and innovation. Introducing innovations timeously tends to upset the competitors' strategies. So companies that want to keep ahead of the pack and set the pace for business organise regular bosberaads, where hectic brainstorming sessions sometimes produce new twists to products approaching the mature segment of their life spans.

All of these elements, if correctly and enthusiastically implemented, extend the life of the business.

So how do you counteract the mad rush to delight customer, make more money and prolong the existence of the business?

Take it easy. Remember that the only sane person who got everything done by Friday was Robinson Crusoe. Fight for more time to do less and insist on more pay for your curtailed services. Encourage your employees to think of time as something to kill between pay days.

And if that doesn't send the business into a tailspin, follow these 10 suggestions:

 

Learn to ignore time management with the same zeal that you ignore the management of costs, productivity and the build up of stock.
 

Pay particular attention to making your production and order placing processes as inflexible as possible.
 

Stick to economics of scale production runs no matter what. You should soon build up warehouses packed with difficult-to-sell products.
 

Refuse to add value to your products or services with the introduction of innovative features or modification.
 

Don't be specific about delivery times. Be as vague as possible.
 

Do your utmost to complicate all routine processes with a purpose of stalling company response to customer orders and enquiries.
 

Make sure that vital support functions aren't on line when most needed.
 

Set the business on self-destruct by ignoring or trashing plans. Instead, navigate by guess and by God.
 

Keep changing specifications, even after you go into production. Keep the sales force and your customers guessing.
 

Time regular management review meetings to disrupt production.
 

  Introduction
     
1. I thought I made it clear
     
2. Let's not rock the boat
     
3. We tried that once before
     
4. Who cares? It's the company time after all
     
5. I'm the boss. Do as I say
     
6. I can't stand change
     
7. We made the cuts, now lets get back to work
     
8. I'll do it as soon as possible
     
9. I prefer to work alone
     
10. Speaking as a Nestlé man
     
11. Get him on the line!
     
12. I've got 20 years experience
     
13. Let's keep it confidential
     
     
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