Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > “Prato” and the Site Visit

“Prato” and the Site Visit

One of my tenants has a VIP visit coming up and they are looking to create the best impression that they can. Much depends on their own efforts of course, but as the FM team for the site my colleagues and I can make our contribution. The question is how far do we go to help? There is a service level agreement in place so we could just do what we are contracted to do, but I am not comfortable with that route because there is a time to do what you need to and there is a time when you do it right.

Many years ago I was a young man employed on a management training scheme by a national wholesale company and on one of my placements I was assigned to the transport manager at one of our depots. Management trainees were supernumerary bodies and were fair game for dirty jobs and I was told to mop the floor and clean the windows. With the job done ted, my boss, asked me if my last job had been at sea, but he would not elaborate.

Over the couple of months I worked with him he often made references to my having worked at sea (I hadn’t) and gradually worked in the expression “porthole cleaner”. He also would quote his former commanding officer (like most of the management of that era he was a WW2 veteran) on the subject of “Prato”. In my ignorance I thought that he must have meant Plato, but none of it made much sense and I didn’t pay him to much attention until the time came for me to move on when, out of the blue, he announced that we were going down the ‘pub to see me off.

Over a pint he explained that I was a porthole cleaner because I didn’t do the corners when I mopped the floor or cleaned the windows, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing due to “Prato”. You can do 80% of the job in 20% of the time, he told me, and that was good for priorities, but that when it really mattered you had to spend 80% of the time doing the job right; if I could remember anything I needed to remember “Prato’s rule, (it was ten years later in my IT days that I realised I had misheard his Cockney and that he had been talking about Pareto).

Like many lessons that I have learned that one took me a while to understand, but as I moved up the greasy pole of management I did begin to understand that there is a need to balance priorities; that there will be times when 80% is a good enough number to hit, but at other times you need to do a lot better and that to do so you need to manage your resources effectively. Ted taught me another lesson in my time with him that I have used a lot over the years and that was again credited to his former CO; “Know your enemy”. He didn’t mean it in the sense of enemies in this context because he was talking about the Depot Manager and his Assistant together with any other members of the company’s “Brass” that might descent on us.

What he meant was to know what their priorities were and make sure that you covered those and he also applied that thinking to customers. His plan was to reduce the risk of complaints so that he and his team could get on with their jobs with a minimum of hindrance. “Grab yer duster ‘n give the fourth and fifth shelves a flick; Lanky’s on ‘is way round later” he would shout. “Lanky” was the assistant depot manager and, like me, was over 6 foot tall as so the shelves in question were at eye level for him. If they were dusty he would see it and investigate further so my quick flick around would head off any deeper investigation into our cleanliness. On the other hand the depot manager was a foot shorter and so lower level hygiene was required should he be on the prowl and so it went on.

It wasn’t that the place was filthy, far from it, but it was a working space that got dirty over the day and Ted wanted to have the cleaning done when he wanted it done and not when someone else demanded he do it, usually at an inconvenient moment. Know your enemy and put “Prato’s” rule into action.

And so for our upcoming site visit there has been an element of doing a few things out of sequence so that our tenant, our client, will get a quiet life and, again I can speak from experience, will hopefully get no complaints. I hope that they might even get a bouquet, but me; I would settle for them just having no comment.


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