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on knowing where you are starting from


I have written before about how something that I was taught early in my life began to useful to me much later, and often in ways that I had not considered when first learning it. One of these was summed up in the words; “If you want to get somewhere, always know where you are starting from”. Read more…

Brushing off the Small Print


Over the weekend I was informed by a major UK retailer that toothpaste is not a dental product. You may find that as bizarre as I did, but it is true, as far as they are concerned within the limits of the relevant promotion.

Whatever their logic in drawing that line for their promotion may be my view is that it is another symptom of a malaise that we really should have stamped out by now; that of the Small Print. We had started to make real progress a few years ago with having clarity about things, even in those last bastions of the Small Print, the insurance and travel businesses, but it has begun to make a comeback.

Probably one of the drivers has been the budget airlines where, in some ways rightly, they have segmented their product to offer the customer a wider choice. We haven’t quite reached the “Inside or outside seating sir?” level, but, like many, I began to use budget airlines for business travel and was more than happy to just take a briefcase and be able to waft up to Glasgow and back for about a fifth of what it would cost me for a return fare on the train to London. The trains have followed suit with advance bookings and such since and it all helps to keep costs down if you can make the timings work and accept the risk of not making it to the airport or station in time for your booked return. Personally I don’t find that the web sites that you book through are particularly misleading or hard to use; fortunately I still have enough functioning brain cells to understand that being late is too late whether it is one minute or thirty. Either way I’m late and it will cost me regardless of why I’m late.

I’ve read recently that the Government want to introduce legislation to stop such companies  not telling you that there is another 3.5% or similar to pay by credit card until you get to the late stages of the transaction. That’s fair enough I suppose, but in general I’m not hugely in favour of legislation at this sort of level. In fact I’m not in favour of Government interfering in business at all if we can help it, but the problem with some of this is that the people marketing these products view their customers as gullible enough to be drawn in far enough towards the purchasing decision before they clobber them with the real deal. However, this is the dodgy second hand car salesman technique that people of my vintage will be familiar with and sooner or later there will be a backlash.

So much for the B2C world, but we’re not like that in B2B are we? Unfortunately we often are, most often because we haven’t taken the basic steps of being sure about what we are buying and understanding the deal. Like me at the weekend we have rushed into the transaction thinking that we were on to a good deal but not having made sure that it was as good as we thought.

For me the choice was easy enough; pay up or walk away, but what if the deal had been for equipment costing a six figure sum or a three year service contract? That is not the sort of deal that you want to make a mistake on. Take your time to understand what you want and why and always make sure that, Small Print and all, the deal you make will deliver what you need.

 

Useful Tools – Pareto and the 80:20 Principle


“We couldn’t get our heads out of the trench for long enough to see which way the bullets were coming from”. The speaker was one of the many people I worked with; in my younger days, almost all of my male colleagues had been in the armed services. I thought that the expression was wonderful and much better than not seeing the wood for the trees. Over the years that I have been at work it has been very apt because, so often, people are fire fighting  the small stuff so much that they can’t work on the things that would deal with the cause of all that small stuff.

My colleague’s problem would have been solved by what we call in management speak the helicopter view, but it is one of the reasons why the military always like to capture the high ground; they can see what is going on and that makes it so much easier to manage.

In business we have that dreadful expression “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. I say dreadful, because I’ve heard it parroted so many times by people who want to spend so much time measuring and pondering over the results that they rarely ever get round to managing anything, but the expression is true. The trick in making it work is in what we mean by measuring.

If you are under constant fire you don’t have enough time to do the job properly let alone start producing all sorts of statistics, but measurement doesn’t always have to be so formal. Try this as an example: Walk into one of the working areas at your firm and just stand to one side for two or three minutes. What do you see and hear? Is it quiet and calm, or are people looking harassed with ‘phones ringing and high levels of noise? Is it tidy or is there stuff piled all over the place?

What you have just done is measure with your eyes and ears and you will have formed a pretty accurate assessment of that team. This may well be one that you would not have got from their numbers, because the performance statistics may well show that the chaotic team are hitting their targets, but observation is every bit as powerful a measurement tool as the graphs that come off the computer: There is nothing wrong with measuring by rule of thumb.

If you are a young manager wanting to make things work better then start by using those eyes and ears that you got as standard equipment when you came into the world. Even when you are under terrific pressure there will be information that you can use to help you. You will know where your biggest problem area is, so think a bit about why. Pareto’s 80:20 principle suggests that 80% of your problems come from 20% of what you do, so try putting that to work. Say you are getting 10 calls a day from Finance about invoice queries. If you can put that one thing right that could mean those 10 calls stop, and then you suddenly have that time free to look at another problem. You won’t solve every one, but if you can start to give yourself time to stick your head up and have a look around you are on the way to gaining control.

And if your boss is into formal measurement, just tell them that you are working to the Pareto principle, the 80:20 rule. Pareto is a probability distribution, but also works as a rule of thumb.