I created the 13 articles in this booklet especially for Successful Salesmanship. Published as a series under the generic title Let’s Kill the Business, they proved so popular with the readers of the magazine that I decided to publish them in a more permanent, convenient-to-read-anywhere form. To enhance the appeal, I also decided to make an audio cassette recording of the text so that you can hone up on the information-filled chapters while commuting to and from work, on your Walkman while jogging, or in the peace and quiet of your study at home.
In Let’s Kill the Business, I steer you safely through a treacherous minefield. All it takes is one false step to make the business disintegrate into the dust of history. In each chapter, I offer you tested alternatives to becoming just another statistic on the battlefield of modern business.
With South African now part of the big, wide world, protection by a paternalistic government is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Foreign competitors are, for the most part, lean and mean. They give no quarter. They expect no mercy. To survive in business and – yes, even prosper – you’ve got to trim the flab, get down to your best fighting weight. And you’ve got to get with it.
Let’s Kill the Business shows you how.
This isn’t an academic treatise fill of air-fairy theories cobbled together in an ivory tower. It’s down-to-earth nitty-gritty about the techniques of surviving on a business battlefield while those around you are falling like flies.
Rather than tell you what to do, I tell you to do what you shouldn’t. Each chapter ends with 10 points. Implement them and the business becomes past tense. Do the opposite and the business will live to fight another day.
If you read and listen to Let’s Kill the Business in the spirit with which I wrote it and practise what I don’t preach, the business will refuse to die Vragtig!
Now it’s over to you. What you think about my thoughts is important. I value your input. So please email me: email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
Business is terrible. In the morning, it’s down by 100%. And after lunch it gets worse. So the company continues to slide down the tubes. Customers desert us like rates leaving a sinking ship. New business goes everywhere except in through our front door.
Besigheid is mos swak.
Perhaps we should kill the business and put it out of its misery. At the heart of the problem: our reluctance to conform to our boss’s demands for meticulously completed timesheets, log books and other trivialities.
It’s not that we’re idiots. We’re competent. Each member of the project team is a skilled professional, technician or artisan. We should know what we’re doing, but we don’t, no-one’s taken the trouble to tell us. A sign on the wall above a colleague’s desk says it all: “Don’t ask me. I only work here.”
The boss, the sales manager, likes to play his hand close to his chest. He reckons that the fewer people who know what’s really going on the better.
You can’t help admiring the man. If you don’t you’re fired. So, when the latest deal hit a stack of snags, the big shots came down on our boss like a ton of bricks. He quickly called a meeting of all the sales manne. He used his favourite expression a lot: “I thought I made it clear.”
Whatever graft you’re into, you’ve probably heard it before. More than once. And like me, you may have described the guy who said it as “a presumptuous little geek”. Which he was, because:
In brief, he made everything as clear as mud.
Delegation is a concept he finds alien. Because he never shared his vision of the entire project with any other member of the tea, all the manner downed tools when he was called away. And then things got really tough. It’s not that the guys are particularly militant. It’s just that we didn’t know how to continue in his absence.
Our leader, (and I sue the term with derision), would never dream of giving us a peek at his plans or empower any member of the team to act when he wasn’t around.
The boss sees himself as a perfectionist. He can do everything. And he can do it better than anybody else. Or so he thinks. Yet his lack of delegation know-how has landed the business in die moeilikheid … deep in hot water.
This means that they often misunderstand what he wants them to do.
So when he’s not around or “too busy”, work grinds to a stop. When you get demotivated, you become inefficient. Rather than further louse up the deal, you stop work. The deadlines come, the deadlines go … and fade into oblivion.
If you’re serious at an example of how he became an accessory to the murder of the business.
He didn’t fully brief Frikkie, a key member of the sale team. Frikkie’s competent, but he can’t complete the assignment with the rationed information the boss gave him.
So Frikkie becomes uptight. Trying to get more information from the boss is as productive as banging his head against a brick wall. In a frenzy of frustration, he dumps the partially completed assignment in the boss’s lap.
Sure the boss can handle it. And he does. He completes the deal. But at what cost? The cost of not having the time to deal with he true responsibilities of a manager.
The boss considers himself a superwork, who can do it all and do it better but only if he does it himself. So he doesn’t part with the info or the authority his staff needs to make decisions.
Making decisions is the boss’s exclusive territory.
Because there’s no opportunity for the manne to grow, the guys look around for graft with better prospects. And the boss finds himself sidelined at promotion time, or in the unemployment queue, because he consistently fails to meet his own performance standards.
If you want to moor the business, play safe. Make no attempt to develop the self-confidence you need to delegate. Always agree to do everything – more than you can comfortably handle to impress members of the board. Keep all high-profile assignment for yourself. With a bit of patience, you’ll ultimately achieve your goal: a business with rigor mortis.
Follow this well-trodden path to ruin:
Irresponsibility thrives in a culture of fear, insecurity and the protection of vested interests. These were the foundations of apartheid. And look how efficiently that was slaughtered. It’s pretty much the same in the world of business.
According to the folks who hoard and analyse corporate statistics, about 80% of all companies ultimately bite the dust because they employ people who refuse to accept responsibility for anything. So, if you want the business to vrek, don’t do anything that anyone can attribute to you.
Shirking responsibility means never having to say that you’re sorry.
Look at it this way. Why go to all the trouble of building and marketing a better mousetrap and then having to apologise when some guy breeds a better mouse?
Sending the business skidding down the slopes to destruction depends on your ability to maintain things as they are. Whatever you do, don’t rock the boat. The last thing you want to do is enhance efficiency. If you do, you’ll have to empower the guys that work for you so that they can make on-the-spot decisions.
A bank where I needed to transact some business had the right attitude. I went up tot he Customer Service counter and told the young lady behind the counter: “I would like to see someone with a little authority.” She flashed me a smile typical of those flashed by bank tellers on TV commercials. “What can I do for you?” she said. “I have as little authority as anyone else around here.”
Remember that if you want to empower your staff, you’ll have to bust open all those nice, neat little boxes that decorate the organisational chart and confine each employee to the job description straight-jacket. If you break the guys out, they may get the idea that they’re of some importance to the business, and heaven knows where that may lead.
So fight with everything you’ve got to maintain that traditional bureaucratic structure. Hold on to everything you’ve inherited. Don’t make the mistake of departing from laid down procedures. When you give an employee an assignment, explain in great detail exactly what you want him to do. Consider the case of a warehouse foreman who ignored the company’s explicit instructions to beware of employee initiative. He merely instructed one of the packers to stencil the words “Fragile. This Side up” on a carton of glassware before shipping it.
So view all suggested departures from the corporate norm and all suggested improvements with the utmost caution. Wees versigtig. Take a pessimistic, negative attitude to all innovative ideas. Remember that you, as a manager, must always be seen to know best.
But whatever you do, never make any clear-cut decisions. Always wait for those upstairs to put their heads on the chopping block. And, if you’re one of the big deals upstairs, take the safest course of action – no action. If you don’t do anything, nobody can blame you if it goes wrong.
As confirmed buck-passer, you can stifle a booming business by tightly wrapping everything in constricting red tape. Ry stadig by further impeding forward mobility. Encourage your employees to develop a “bureaucratic mindset”.
Frown on all forms of entrepreneurship among the manne. Make self-expression verboten. Don’t threaten the tried and tested procedures or the hierarchies that are slowly killing the business.
In addition, treat all employees like naughty kids. The less you trust them and the less responsibility you give them, the sooner will the foundations of the business will begin to crumble.
Worship at the altar of controls. Go out of your way to dream up stringent controls to control those who control the controls. Use fear to manipulate your employees.
“How long have you worked here?” I asked the sales person in the appliance division of a department store.
Axe all workers who don’t immediately comply with your instructions. Retrench to save costs, not to improve efficiency.
And never say exactly what you mean, especially if you’re reporting to superiors. When the news is bad, vague statements and calculated distortions of the truth offer some protection against shouldering the blame.
You have the duty to create a strong feeling of dependency among your staff. They must be made to curry your approval while you seek approval from higher authority. This way you won’t rock the boat and, if there’s a screw-up, you can take comfort from the fact that “it’s not your fault”.
Stay on course for business oblivion by:
I dig my music and wanted to update the outmoded decibel hardware lying around my pandokkie in Rosebank. So I popped into one of those stores that specialise in selling everything from tiny tweeters to big woofers.
After browsing around for about 20 minutes, I found just what I wanted – a CD player fitted with everything that opens and shuts. The young sales assistant demonstrated its features. And there were lots of them. Despite the high price, I was impressed.
“Right,’ I said, “I’ll take it.”
The store is well on its way to the graveyard of businesses that failed to make it. The manager hadn’t seen fit to delegate authority to the sales assistant so she could make an on-the-spot decision. Another potential sale went down the tubes.
If you want your business to go the same way, study its character. Pull it apart. See how it works. If it’s lean, responds quickly to customers, it it’s innovative and always a step ahead of the competition, the business is like to be around for a long time.
So if you want to kill the business stone dead, forget the latest business buzzword: “empowerment”. Just make sure that the people who work for you aren’t allowed to decide anything. Niks nie.
Bestow authority and you’re heading for trouble. Look what happened to Kodak, IBM, Kellogg, Black & Decker and Rank Xerox. They were on the way out. Then they started empowering their staff. It propelled them from corporate sick beds to growing successes by making them more competitive.
Jack Welch, the boss at General Electric, reckons his company has found the “distilled essence” of being competitive. “It’s the reservoir of talent and creativity and energy that can be found in each of our people,” he says. “That essence is liberated when we make people believe that what they think and do is important then get out of their way while they do it.”
Don’t listen to him if you want to moor the business.
Ask any empowerment guru and he’ll tell you that making people change the way they think and do things isn’t easy. In fact, it’s bloody difficult. People learn slowly and forget quickly. So, in your bid to kill the business, pay lip service to the empowerment concept to show that you’re in tune with the times. And make regular promises about introducing training programmes. Just don’t implement them.
You can also exaggerate worker expectations not just a bit: grossly. Go over the top. Turn your employees on by making wild claims about their future prospects. Ensure that they expect too much too soon. Then let them down and watch morale, loyalty and productivity plummet.
And procrastinate. Adopt the well-known South African strategy of morê is nog ‘n dag. Always put off until tomorrow or, preferably the day after that which yesterday you put off until today. I guarantee your employees will emulate your slothful example.
And when you encounter staff enthusiasm, passop. Enthusiasm breeds innovation and innovation breeds success as well as corporate longevity. Firmly stamp it out wherever you find it. Squash positive suggestions with the immortal words: “We tried that once before.” Let a poignant silence that suggests total failure follow the phrase. If you repeat this often enough, you’ll soon dampen the ardour of even your most progressive and insistent minions.
Remember that those business zealots who guide the destinies of the most successful corporations have visions. They can see where their companies will be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year and the next decade. Like Raymond Ackerman of Pick ‘n Pay, Meyer Kahn of SAB, and sol Kerzner of Sun International, they have the ability to clearly communicate those visions to those who work for them.
If you find yourself visualising corporate growth paths, how to achieve strategic advantages, what you can do to add value to your product or service, I suggest you go for a long lunch with lots of spook en diesel. However, if you find yourself involuntarily assailed by corporate visions, make your interpretations so complex that no one can make head or tail of them, including you.
I think it was the famous poet Robert Browning who said: “When I compose my lines, only God and I know what they mean. Now only God knows.”
To sow the seeds of business destruction, follow my easy-to implement 10 point guideline:
When I had an ad agency, a young bloke fresh out of one of the advertising schools applied for a job as a trainee account executive. He had all the right qualifications but, at the time, business was sparse.
“I don’t think I could find enough work to keep you busy,” I said.
That little episode neatly sums up the prevailing attitude to work in South Africa: a person doesn’t have to kill himself to get anywhere. If a company employs someone, it owes him a living. Management gurus have a word for the phenomenon: “Entitlement”. They describe it as a psychological disorder that stymies progress. Because it’s insidious, you should learn to exploit it if you want to drive the business down the drain.
But what does entitlement involve? The key elements are:
Whatever you do, don’t encourage your lackeys to actually earn a living. Frown on performance and initiative. Encouraging them will only inspire creative thinking and innovation, which God forbid, may increase productivity and ultimately profits.
Take inspirations from an event I came across in Oxford Road, Rosebank, where a gang of municipal road workers were repairing potholes. One of the men complained to the foreman that he didn’t have a pick.
“Ag, so what, man,” retorted the foreman. “If you haven’t got a pick, you don’t have to do any work.”
This attitude was reinforced when I visited a large industrial operation on the East Rand. The plant covered a huge area. There were people everywhere. I was impressed and asked the public relations executive who was showing me around: “How many people work here?”
I reckon that a hell of a lot of people stop looking for work the moment they find a job. To promote this climate of entitlement, reward your workforce for merely pitching up, clocking in and clocking out. View what they do in the intervening time as of no great consequence. And don’t become too picky about quality control. Keep the business stumbling along the track to ruin by insisting on mediocrity. You’ll achieve this by creating a comfort zone in which everyone feels safe with the familiar, unvarying routine. A routine that allows workers to believe that they’re moving forwards when, in fact they’re marking time.
If you keep the business on this laid-back tack, competitors will usurp your position in the marketplace, hastening the demise of your company. Drew Lewis, chairman of an American railroad company, Union Pacific, put it to his employees this way: “If I promise you a lifetime job, what’s it worth if we’re not competitive?”
The other good thing about rampant entitlement is the immense cost. Tot up the employee wage bill, retirement packages and other perks. Then add to the total the cost of lost productivity, lousy product quality, terrible customer service and all the other things that demand excellence in exchange for employment. The sum is astronomical.
So what can you do to further increase the impact of lacklustre performance? The answer is simple. Increase your tolerance of second rate. Be prepared to take and accept what you’re given. And shun any form of discipline. Remember that company time is not sacred. Which reminds me of another incident.
A young girl had applied for the job of my general assistant. When I asked her if she had unusual talents she hadn’t listed in her CV, she said she had won several prizes in crossword puzzle and slogan competitions.
I also recall one of my secretaries, a young lady who rejoiced under the name Arlene and who had a penchant for never being on time. One morning I nabbed her sneaking through the door at 9.30.
If you want to scuttle your business, I recommend that you implement an entitlement policy that I guarantee will lead to catastrophe.
To do so, implement these 10 easy steps:
I sat in on a sales meeting at a firm based on the West Rand. The sales director cast his eyes over the faces in the meeting room after he had suggested a certain course of action.
“Now,” he said, “we’ll take a vote on my recommendation. Any of you guys in opposition raise your right hand and say ‘I resign’.”
That’s the stuff of which good bosses are made. They won’t tolerate any arguments. Dissent is a no-no if you want to drive the business to the corporate undertaker.
Nobody is born a boss. You become one through a process of evolution. Unless you’re IDB (in Daddy’s business), you work your way up through the ranks, where you become imbued with the hierarchical spirit and saturated in traditional corporate culture. Finally, after a long and arduous apprenticeship, you shed your “appy” mantle, get a reserved parking bay on site, your name on an office door and you’re entitled to bark orders.
If you’re going to bury the business, you rule by fear. Anyone who flouts company policy, shuns established regulations or procedures or disobeys your orders gets the chop. Offering uncalled for advice or suggestions also results in termination.
A good boss from an ailing business point of view is a harde kop who wears a worried expression on the face of each subordinate.
The path to business mortality is pocked with pitfalls. For instance, when you reach the dizzy executive heights, you’ll find that you’re surrounded by a posse of management consultants These okes will warn you that you have to adapt your management techniques to meet the challenge of change.
Stick to precedent. If it worked back in 18-voetsek, it’ll probably work now … a bit slower, maybe, and less responsive. And to hell with what your competitors do.
Aspire to become what the Yanks call an “empty suit”. This is a boss-type person who strikes useless, borrowed postures and regurgitates outmoded second-hand ideas. He also spends a lot of time and energy on maintaining the status quo in a crumbling pyramidal hierarchy.
To achieve this, you need to be assertive. You need to rule your piece of corporate fiefdom like your house. Never accept any excuses from your manne who depart from the laid down rules. For example, look at Nico van Heerden, who worked as a cutter for a clothing manufacturer in the North End, Port Elizabeth.
Nico had never been late for work in the 25 years he’d worked for the company. One morning, however, he clocked in at nine instead of the usual eight o’clock. His right arm was in a sling, his face was criss-crossed with plaster and he walked with a pronounced and obviously painful limp.
When the works manager asked why he was late, Nico told him: “I leaned too far out of the window on the third floor and crashed on to the pavement.”
The works manager looked at him and shrugged. “That takes an hour? We’ll take it off your pay.”
If you start taking an interest in your employees’ personal problems, they’ll take it as a sign of weakness. Soon too your authority will be challenged by workers who think they know of better, less costly and more efficient ways of doing things.
Give them the brush off. Scowl at them. Growl at them. Threaten to axe them. Do everything you can to keep them away from you. If you stoop to accept their advice and implement any of their ideas, you may find the company pulling itself out of the red and into the black.
Advocates America’s be-nice-to-everybody guy Dale Carnegie: “There is only one way under heaven to get anybody to do anything, and this is by making them want to do it.”
He suggests that you give them a sense of purpose … a feeling that they’re working towards an important goal. Among his other suggestions are:
If you graft for a company where methods haven’t changed much since before Kimberley had a groot gat, chances are that you’ve become cosily ensconced in a comfortable rut. You’re happy doing, and you’re happy with the way you do it.
Then, because business begins to tail off and becomes so quiet you can hear the overheads piling up like curlers on your tannie se kop, someone in the boardroom suggests the services of a “consultant”. In the good old days, we called this bloke an “efficiency expert”. He was a guy who knew enough to tell you how to do your job but was smart enough not to try and do it himself. He, or she, will snoop around the office, accompany you on sales calls, wander through the plant and generally make a bloody nuisance of himself.
Finally, he’ll give your bass a thick dossier in which he intimates that what ails the business can only be cured by change. Drastic change. Only he calls it “corporate re-engineering designed to drastically reshape the structure of the company”. He’ll suggest that the company heats its executive knives to cut down the corporate butter bill … that all excess fat be drained from the management frying pan.
The “guru’s” presence, prognosis and suggested treatment strikes terror in your heart. You and those around you are pap bang that you’ll be among the first in line to join the unemployment queue. And what for? The business is gemors anyway. Nothing anyone can do will save it. So why not leave things as they are and let it die of natural causes in its own time?
Most of us hate change. I think it was the American writer John Steinbeck who said”: “It is the nature of man as he grows older to protest against change, probably change for the better.”
So what can we do to thwart the march of progress? The first step is to study the nature of the beasts that threaten our existence: re-engineering and change.
In essence, re-engineering means going through the business like a stone through an ostrich to rid it of all operations deemed superfluous and, of course, the people who go with them. Even if you don’t get the boot, several of your mates will. The basic idea is to combine several jobs into one. Those in the corridors of power hope this will speed up turn-around time and reduce costs.
Businesses are re-engineered to meet the challenge of change. This implies that you have to change the way you do whatever you do because someone else does it better or cheaper. Or both.
If you accept change, let alone challenge it, you leave yourself open to a lot of problems. You begin to lie awake at night and worry. You might try a dop of “Witblitz” to ease the stress and tension when you can’t sleep. It doesn’t help you overcome the challenge of change problem, but it definitely makes staying awake and fretting much more pleasant.
It’s easy to block those who want to introduce change and keep the business alive. All it takes is dedication. You’ll find that those most keen on change are the go-getters – the sickeningly ambitious types. So, when you need to hire staff, be careful who you select. Immediately reject those who view their future in your business through rose-tinted spectacles. This brings to mind an interview I conducted with a potential employee.
“How old are you? I asked the young guy, who had come to me fresh out of college.
Now, if you don’t want your business to go anywhere except down, that’s the sort of guy to have on your team. Unlike the determined-to-succeed entrepreneurs, the people you need to help you bury the business are apathetic. They do what they are told to do when you tell them to do it. They don’t see the stress generated by change as a stimulant. If they show the least signs of rising to the occasion, send them home, give them a tranquilliser and tell them to sleep it off.
Commitment and a passion for such things as excellence and productivity are your mortal enemies in the fight against keeping the business afloat. Do whatever you can to stamp them out. You can douse the flames of these twin evils by constantly painting the bleakest possible picture of the worst case scenario, propagating gloom and doom views about the business’s future. Leave your colleagues, employees, suppliers and customers with nothing to look forward to but the worst.
If you hate change, the best way of dealing with it is to ignore it. Pretend it isn’t happening. It may go away of its own accord.
If it doesn’t, and it probably won’t, here are 10 ways to beat it:
When I first launched myself into the job market, managers believed they had a foolproof method of keeping the rank and file in line and increasing productivity. It was the omnipresent threat of the falling axe.
The axe has been dropping with increasing frequency lately. Only now it isn’t called “getting fired”; it’s called “re-engineering”. And you don’t have to do anything wrong to get re-engineered. All it requires is that you be around minding your own business when you’re supplanted by a new piece of technology, or when sales nose-dive, or when prices fall in the face of growing competition. Or when all three factors combine to make you redundant.
Maybe your business has just emerged from a bloodletting spree of corporate re-engineering. You’ve fired, retrenched, trimmed and downsized. Your workforce is about as mean and lean as it can get. You’ve also closed loss-making departments, marginally profitable branches and redundant plants. The bleeding has stopped, but the pain lingers on …
So let’s get back to work and destroy the business completely. It shouldn’t be that difficult. The re-engineering fundis have already done most of the damage. Those who escaped the hatchet man are still pale, shaky and bewildered. They’re suffering from a relatively new disease called “survivor sickness”.
There’s no known cure.
If you want to see the business fade away, make it your business to see that no one finds a cure. Do whatever you cant to aggravate the symptoms. These are easily recognisable and include:
These symptoms usually lead to a significant drop in productivity and product or service quality.
You can rub salt in the still raw wounds by making it known to all surviving employees that you’ll turn a deaf ear to all complaints. Lists of grievances will be filed in the circular bin.
Take heart from American surveys which show that most re-engineered companies turn themselves inside out and upside down without achieving the stated objectives. And, in addition, many see the prices of the shares plummet.
Don’t be tactful when you need to downsize a guy. One of the most tactful men I’ve ever met was the guy who fired me from one of my early jobs. He called me in and said: “Peter, I honestly don’t know how we’re going to get along with out you. But from Monday we’re going to try.”
I thought he was doing me a favour by giving me the heave-ho. And none of the survivors appeared to suffer from survivor sickness.
Don’t be a gentleman. Go out of your way to heighten the negative effects of re-engineering by demonstrating little or no compassion when you wield the lay-off axe. Tell the news to those who you’re about to chuck out in coldly worded business rhetoric. David Noer, an American training and education consultant, suggests the following blurb: “Our return on investment has eroded to the point where security analysts have expressed concern over the value of our stock. Our gross margins have been declining over the past six quarters. Last quarter we suffered a pre-tax loss. We are losing market share.
“Quality indicators show we are not making the gains we had planned. Revenue per employee has declined. We have no alternative but to implement downsizing if this organisation is to remain a viable economic entity.”
It’s all god meaningless execu-speak designed to make both the victims and the survivors thoroughly pissed off.
Here are 10 suggestions that you can use to re-engineer the company out of business:
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.
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. 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.
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:
If, as Thomas Edison suggested, the best thinking is done alone, then it follows that the best work should be done in solitude.
People working in teams turn in consistently better results than blokes who work alone. Teams harness the experience and expertise of each member to solve a common problem or meet a common challenge … teams are small and flexible enough to respond quickly to new challenges.
But then you do get people who “prefer to work alone”.
“Teams stifle individuality,” they claim. Each member is expected to work for the common good. Yet no one is given an opportunity to cover himself in glory.
You’ve heard the outdated philosophy amongst the serious stalwarts of conservatism that says if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. And if you cock it up, well, you’ve only got yourself to blame.
It happened in the early 1980s at a major electronics company, Texas Instruments. The President and Chief Executive Officer decided to embark on a go-it-alone course that took the corporation to the edge of the abyss. The two big deals by-passed the company’s marketing experts and ignored product developers to design a new personal computer. The machine was uniquely Texas Instruments: it wasn’t compatible with any other hardware or software then on the market.
Employees from all departments repeatedly warned the executive do-it-yourselfers that the new computer wouldn’t sell because compatibility was an essential element in personal computer marketability.
Texas Instruments’ two big-wigs told their minions to shut up and so as they were told. And so the new incompatible computer went to market. It was a fiasco. The company lost millions, and the board gave the President and Chief Executive Officer their marching orders.
Way to go if you want the business to slide beneath the waves.
Working as a member of a team and obeying team rules isn’t natural. Freiderich Nietzche, the legendary German psychologist, put it more scientifically: “At the bottom, every man knows he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvellously picturesque piece of diversity in unity, such a she is, ever be put together a second time.”
However, organising company workforces into lean teams is the “in” thing at the moment, and you don’t want to be seen trying to swim against the tide. So vote in favour of the teamwork concept. But do it your way. It’s relatively easy to stem saam while, in reality, scuppering the touted benefits. Your success in failing depends on the way you put your team together.
It’s in your best interest to select members who have non-compatible skills and clashing temperaments. IT also helps if you set a range of confusing goals and objectives.
Also remember that the best and most apparently cohesive of teams will split at the seams if you subject them to certain relentless pressures. So constantly stir up the dirt by sowing the seeds of mistrust between members. Ensure that planned-for outside help arrives too late, if at all. Spread despondency and a feeling of hopelessness by constantly proclaiming the impossibility of completing the project on time, to specification and within budget. Obscure objectives to derail forward momentum. And disband the team immediately anyone makes an error – even an inconsequential error.
In addition, to really maak die poppa dans, follow these 10 easy-to-implement guidelines:
Back in 1982, I sat in a lecture room at Wits Business School during the run-up to my MBA finals. Lecturer Andy Andrews was giving us the low-down on business policy. Halfway through the lecture, a big red-headed rugger-bugger type stood up at the back of the room to contradict a point that Andy had made.
“Speaking as a Nestlé man …” this self-opinionated wunderkind sprouted.
His opening phrase taught me a lesson. In fact, it was one of the few things I learnt of any significance at Wits. I can’t remember rooikop’s question. I just remember thinking: “What an unbelievable twit. Does this bloke really have to hide behind the glitzy veneer of a big company to make his point?”
Thinking about the incident in retrospect, rooikop had taken the right route if he wanted the business to fail.
If you want to drive the business to wherever bad businesses go to die, hide behind the mantle of a large corporation and its bible of rules, regulations and procedures.
You want to know the easiest way of losing money and sending the business on a one-way ride to never-never land? Simply alienate customers by countering every request with: “It isn’t company policy”.
Corporate policy disguises a whole range of sins. When things go wrong, it allows you to give awkward customers and suppliers the brush-off without accepting the blame. Perhaps corporate policy was one of the reasons that ABSA floundered around under the “leadership” of Piet Badenhorst. It seemed that whenever I needed United to do anything, I was turned down with the words: “I’m sorry, we can’t do that. That’s our policy.”
This little cameo paints the bleak picture:
At a time of need, I wandered into my neighbourhood branch of United Bank and asked the manager for a short-term loan of R10 000,00.
“I’m sorry I can’t give it to you,” he said.
Essentially, restoring to company policy is a well-tried method of passing the buck. It’s much favoured by corporate bureaucrats who delight in binding everything with red tape. It’s wielded by the type of person who, when clearing out the bumf in his filing cabinet, makes a copy of each document before throwing the originals away. Although usually associated with civil servants, you find company policy adherents lurking in most large businesses, particularly those that are vertically structured in the traditional hierarchical manner.
I heard of a company which insisted that you fill in three forms and return the stub of your old pencil before the stationery manager would issue a new one. Forms play major role in organisations which avidly implement company policy concepts. Everything must be meticulously recorded in triplicate on a variety of forms before any decisions can be taken. Visit any Post Office to see the concept at work in slow-motion.
The company policy syndrome also plays a major role in camouflaging the antics of ill-trained and unhelpful employees.
I recently embarked on a shopping trip through a supermarket. I pushed my trolley up and down the aisles in a vain search for Marmite. So I stopped an employee sporting a dustcoat in the chain’s colours. “Please steer me in the direction of the Marmite,” I said.
“Marmite?” He shook his head. “I’m new here. I don’t know where anything is.”
I wandered over to the bakery section. The woman behind the counter looked at me like I’d just crawled out of the cheese. “I only know what’s behind my counter. Over there,” she said flicking her head at the butcher section.
“I only serve meat,” he said “Why don’t you ask the manager?”
I walked out of the store, never to return.
Here’s another example of corporate policy madness aggravated by computer technology. I know someone called S W Cunningham. His name is unusual because he doesn’t have a first or middle name, only initials. He’s known among his friends simply as S W. The problem arose when he went to work for a company strong on rules, regulations and procedures – many of them dictated by the corporate computer.
On the official job application form he carefully entered his name as “S (only) W (only) Cunningham”.
Predictably, his first pay cheque was made out in favour of “Sonly Wonly Cunningham”.
So, speaking as a corporate man, you can mortally damage the business by:
Some time ago, I encountered what you might term a broadly based empowerment problem. Let me broadly sketch the situation.
The secretary I’d hired must have been the original dumb blonde. The only literature she said she’d read was an eye chart. In fact, she used to look for the wishbone on a soft boiled egg. Although she was useless and guaranteed to send my stress levels rocketing to life-threatening heights, I was cautioned against firing her.
“Let’s face it, Peter,” said my colleague, “she’s the only one who knows how the filing system works.”
She’d devised a method of losing vital documents in alphabetical order. Business came to a virtual standstill as we tried to find our way through the maze of misplaced papers.
How dependent are you on your secretary?
For example, if you want to speak to me on the phone, do you yell at her to “get Peter what’s-his-name on the line”? It’s a helluva lot easier than summoning the energy required to dial my number yourself. It’s the sort of thing you do to accumulate status points as a manager in the traditional mould. It’s also what you do when you prepare the business for burial. So keep on getting your minions to perform all your menial tasks: typing, phoning, photocopying, even your bookkeeping.
Which brings me to a scenario I came across in an insurance broker’s office in die skadu van ou Tafelberg.
“Miss Van Rooyen,” said the senior partner, “always add a column of figures at least three times before you show me the result.”
There’s a business proverb that sums up the situation: “The way to get a job done is to give it to an old-fashioned executive so he can give to someone else to do.” Sure, you’ll eventually get the job done, but not necessarily to your satisfaction.
Hiring staff to pander to your whim is a sure-fire way to protect yourself from getting your hands dirty at the coal face, so to speak. AT the same time, it’ll keep your overheads excessively buoyant. So enjoy your insular little life in the rarefied atmosphere of the executive suite while the going’s good. Heaven forbid that you demean yourself by learning to use the phone, a calculator, the photocopier, a computer …
And whatever you do, never think about running your own show by owning the job. To continue down the slippery path just make like a traditional boss and shout the odds to whoever is too terrified not to listen.
In addition, if you want the business to disintegrate, ignore the writing on the wall. It spells out loud and clear that many traditional corporate positions are going the same way as the dodo. For example, secretaries are an endangered species. They’re becoming obsolete.
If you’ve been cocooned by traditional corporate culture, you probably haven’t paid a lot of attention to this thing called empowerment. It’s about owning the job. It means that you don’t go to work in your business, you go to work on the business.
Let me give you “a for instance” … Let’s suppose I phone you.
And so we play telephonic ping-pong.
So what has this got to do with empowerment and owning the job?
It calls on the secretary – let’s call her Rhona – to respond with something like: “Bill’s not available. How can I help you?”
This is a simple example of empowerment and owning the job. Basically, it’s taking personal responsibility for whatever you do from beginning to end.
On the other hand, if you want to scuttle your business ship, implement any or all of the following 10 steps:
You’ve been in the business for 20 years. So what?
You’ve got experience. A lot of it. But remember, unless you have constantly updated your skills and your knowledge, all that experience amounts to is trying to solve today’s problems with yesterday’s answers. I you do this, you’re a has-been: one of the geriatric smug buggers; ageing know-it-all who still holds a key position in an ailing company.
I’ve met a lot of these ooms. Having been around since Noah, they insist they’ve seen and one it all. They reckon that their years in business gives them the right to pooh-pooh any suggestions that smack of innovation and youth. Indeed, they assert that they can hold their own with so-called brash upstarts in any field of endeavour.
An ageing sales manager made many crafty attempts to date one of his representatives, someone young and shapely.
“Where have you been all my life?” he purred.
However, if you want the business to make like the Titanic, keep die ou toppies on board. Many of them joined the business when it first opened its doors. They’ve worked their way up into their present exalted positions by enthusiastically subscribing to the old management tenet of: “Yes, Sir. No, Sir. Ulcer.”
They’ve never indulged in personal retooling their outdated expertise to cope with change. They don’t see the need to.
“I’ve had 20 years of experience in this business, son,” they’ll tell you without much prompting. What they don’t tell you is that they’ve actually had one year of experience, which they’ve repeated 20 times.
This brings to mind a couple of business truisms:
You’ll also find that people bursting with outmoded experience view innovations introduced by competitors, who are rapidly displacing your position in the marketplace, as “fads”. Despite technological breakthroughs and new methods, which constantly change the face of business, they persist in living in “the good old days’ when men were men and women danced backwards.
The need to constantly re-educate themselves so that they can keep abreast of fast-breaking changes and improvements escape them. Henry Ford said that anyone who stops learning is old whether he or she happens to be 20 or 80.
Bluntly speaking, these people who are old in thought but not necessarily in years are terrified of change. These fossils of a bygone era, when Mom and Pop stores of various sizes reigned supreme, are easy to spot. You often find them in the back rows at company conferences, where they swop yarns on the relative merits of the haemorrhoids operations and the line-up for next week’s bowls tournament. They’re also the types who can take three hours off for lunch without anyone missing them.
In a nutshell, what this is all about is replacing traditional, inefficient corporate bureaucracy with the entrepreneurial spirit. Normally, company policies in a company structured on conventional pyramidal lines work against people taking responsibility for what they do. The business bumbles along on the “it’s not my fault” syndrome.
The only way out of the impasse is by continually upgrading knowledge and learning new skills; by personally taking charge of your own business retooling programme.
However, if you want to go down with the ship, ditch the lifeboats you need to keep afloat in the age of imagination and sink with the experienced you-can’t-teach-us-anything types.
To hasten your slide into oblivion, follow these 10 doom-laden suggestions:
Want to condemn the business to premature demise? Dis maklik. As easy as falling off a log. Simply give your workers information on a need-to-know basis. Sanitise the data before you send it down the line. The less the peasants know, the better.
Lack of critical information about what’s going on in the company embarrasses employees, particularly those who interface with customers and suppliers. So, it you’re planning a long, healthy life for the business, communicate clearly, completely and regularly with your employees. Tell them the situation like it is – warts and all.
To be more motivated and productive, workers need more and better information about their jobs, general business conditions, customers and competitors. Some companies, like Apple Computers, hold regular teleconferences to inform staff members about new products as well as developments in the company and its marketplace. Other companies send employees brief weekly or fortnightly updates and new products and processes to both staff members and customers.
While many companies publish regular newsletters for staff and customers, some businesses, like Pick ‘n Pay and Toyota, produce regular video news reels to impart information.
However, not a lot of companies release the whole unvarnished truth. Like governments throughout the world, they tell die manne only what they want them to know. They keep the unsavoury bits under wraps for as long as possible. This leads me to recall a purportedly true story related by a bloke who worked as a clerk in Britain’s Ministry of Defence.
My friend, a dyed-in-the-wool civil servant, always did what he was told without question. He was instructed to order thousands of uniforms for a regiment that had been disbanded five years previously. So he placed the order.
The manufacturer duly delivered the uniforms. That’s when the muck hit the fan. There weren’t any bodies to put into the uniforms, which were then transported under the strictest security to an isolated warehouse, where they provided fodder for a swarm of moths.
Meanwhile, back at Defence Ministry Headquarters in London, my friend, acting in the best bureaucratic tradition, stamped the order file: “Top Secret”. In terms of the Official Secrets Act, it apparently may not be opened for 30 years.
An obsession by business management with secrecy is based on idea that what you don’t tell your employees won’t hurt them. It’s what they find out from other sources that causes the trouble.
Let me set the scene for a little illustration.
Two young guys, obviously upwardly mobile trainee executives, complete with obligatory cell phones, were seated at the table next to me in a Sandton City restaurant. One of them, Rob, worked for a company rumoured to be in hot water.
If you want to avoid this sort of situation, communicate the business’s problems and your fears to your workforce. Ask them to share the load and help you find the answers. It may not keep your business afloat indefinitely, but it will keep the company healthy for a lot longer than an organisation that adopts CIA techniques restrict the release of information.
Pundits for the free flow of business information suggest that you open your books to examination by employees … that you ensure that they know as much about the business as you do.
In most businesses built on the traditional pyramidal structure, an employee knows little more than his immediate task. He doesn’t have a clue about how his little cog meshes with the big wheel that drives the corporate machine. To keep him and the other staff happy, allow them to step back from time to time to take in the overall picture so that they understand how all the pieces fit together.
This view of the big picture is intensely motivating. It gives each worker a sense of purpose … it defines winning in terms he can understand.
However, if you don’t want your business to win, follow the principles adopted by national secret service organisations.
You can put your business on a losing streak by following these 10 simple guidelines: