Friday, February 27, 2015

Lazy Management

Theories of management are as numerous as managers.  I am sure that each has value and adds something to the general international wealth of knowledge.  I’m just as sure that each works within a defined set of parameters and that none of them work all of the time.

I always wanted to be a manager.  I studied, read inspirational books and tried all sorts of styles and never got very good at it.   Eventually it occurred to me that managers have to work for employers.  I don’t work well for employers.

So I gave up being a manager and went to work being stubborn, obnoxious and downright hard headed.  In short, I was the perfect entrepreneur. 

On an evening a few years ago, following several glasses of dark red wine, I realized that I had become the president of a company of employees.  I was, in short, a manager again.  It is said that if a plot persists in a writer’s head for several months, through a number of good hangovers, it will become a good story.  The same is true of sudden realizations.  The thought persisted.  I had become a manager.

Times have changed.  Apparently we’ve produced three generations since I actually wanted to be a manager.  In that time, our society and general rules have changed a lot.  I tried to catch up and realized that it would take the next three generations before I understood much about the current society that I had ignored while being an entrepreneur. 

Instead of pursuing the reading and seminar route all over again, I decided to retain my independence and just Be the Manager.  It shouldn’t be all that hard after all my years of entrepreneurial experience, right?
After much thought, I decided that I shouldn’t have to make all the decisions.  My current management position provides the opportunity to tell other people how Team Mates approaches issues and service.  Then I get to sit down and wait.  It is a constant pleasure to see that decisions get made, plans and systems are activated and even problems are resolved promptly, without a big fuss and without me ever having to lift a finger. 

It’s a lazy way to manage.  It also works.  I had to give up one thing.  I am no longer allowed to get angry if a decision goes wrong.  That isn’t such a bad thing.  The stubborn entrepreneur who stomps around waving his hands over his head is now taking a nap while his management team makes decisions.  Now I’m off to have a glass of wine and think some more.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Boat Drinks

What have we come to?  When I first began writing this particular phase of blog, my intention was to provide motivational commentary.  I hoped to toss in a bit of philosophy, some wisdom and bring it all together with a bit of humor.  Shining brilliance is the goal, right?

Nope.  At the moment I’m doing boat drinks. 

Boat Drinks popped into my head the other day.  This happened about the sixth hour into a marathon struggle to organize numbers on spread sheets in order to state my case for increasing prices in order to cover costs that have crept slowly upward over the past ten years.  It has indeed been ten years since I’ve increased prices.

In my line of work, even the hint of a price increase causes customers to threaten to picket and if not that, to (gasp) seek services from a competitor.  I get tears and the gnashing of teeth in some instances.  I am occasionally asked to produce numbers and proofs and then put up with counter proposals.  Recently, one such negotiation gave rise to a fifteen thousand line spreadsheet that I totaled and sub-totaled in order to show the changes and potential revenue that we would gain or lose.  The client reinterpreted my spreadsheet in order to prove to me that I didn’t need to do the price increase but should actually reduce prices.  
I fretted and whined about the unfairness and why shouldn’t we be able to just raise prices once in a while.  Gas prices move around with changes in temperature.  Grocery prices go up and down like pogo sticks.  Why shouldn’t we be able to raise our barely profitable, incredibly competitive and yet insignificant prices once every ten years?  (Like I said, I whined). 

I jumped through hoops.  I analyzed.  I justified our claims in several letters.  I slept less and less.  Over the course of two weeks I regretted ever having been an entrepreneur.  I knew I would never, ever be a success.  On the last day, I dropped my head to the desktop and tried hard to sort out the confusion and despair within my head.  I realized that maybe this time the customer would walk out the door.

And then I cracked.  Boat Drinks.  That was it.  It just hit me.  Write boat drinks.

Business is not a do or die, make or break, get-me-rich-and-support-me sort of game.  Every time I look out to the shop floor or talk with another employee or sell, I see an individual or a group of them.  I want the people to work here happily.  They should enjoy their lives.  None of us should stress to the breaking point.  There is no joy in that, nor is that the way that my company works.

The letter that I wrote?  I just said, “Let’s skip the numbers and the complex accounting.  Here’s my new price.  It is fair.  Really.  Take a look at it and stop making me prove to you that my costs are higher or that you can do better spread sheets on your computer.  This is not a numbers competition.”

Boat drinks.  (hidden lesson).  They look really complex with their little cute umbrellas and foam and shaved ice and floating slices of fruit.  Underneath, though, they’re just simple little things that are designed to get you drunk and fall temporarily in love with the stranger next to you.  They are not complicated at all.

Neither should business be complex even though it seems so on the surface.  We have an obligation to our employees and to ourselves to pay the bills.  So we set our prices to do that.  When we raise prices, our customers are either going to absorb the increase and stick with us or not. 

If they don’t, then we’ll just find another stranger, offer up another glass of rum with a pretty little umbrella and see what they say.