Ready? Sell more products! Boom! Please send the dinner invitations to my secretary, put the champagne in the fridge, what’s the phone number of that Nobel Committee?
Oh you need more than that . . . let me see, how about half the costs? Boom! Phone the Dinner Committee, put the champagne in the secretary . . . erm . . .
There is a story that I often repeat from the time the Global Financial Crisis swept through the world in 2008 and arrived at Germany’s doorsteps, am unsure if it’s hypocraphyl or not but let’s say it’s true. At a time when companies were either going bankrupt or letting go of employees like emptying your waste paper basket, German companies were reducing work days to four days a week. Why increase unemployment and make a few people suffer immeasurably? For a 10% cost cut across the board, implement a 9-day fortnight. Need some drastic cost saving, implement a 4-day week to save 20% of your costs.
When you make cuts across the board rather than at just a certain, specific group, people care more, people buy into it. “Hey everyone, we’re not doing so well, so we’re all going to take a pay-cut, no exceptions”. Yeah ok, seems fair enough. The more common corporate view though is if we’re deviating from our route, someone is going to suffer. If I’m an Executive driving a Mercedes and start erupting about the need for redundancies, what kind of reaction would you expect from the employees? I know what I’m thinking, and it’s laced with titillating expletives.
The awesome Simon Sinek related the story of another company that, in times of financial turmoil, decided to give all their staff four weeks of unpaid leave that they could take any time they liked. The result? Without prompting, employees traded with one another, so that the more fortunate exchanged holiday with those that needed the regular income. How amazing is that? Put up the bunting people, humanity isn’t just a bunch of washed-up selfish bastards after all!
Another way many companies have tried to reduce the cost of their employees is by process improvement (saving costs) or offshoring. The latter is a model that can work, but which requires substantial investment to be successful, far more than a company thinks is necessary, which is why it often fails. It’s effectively like buying a cheaper pair of trainers then after 6 months buying glue for the sole (or soul, eh?), and then some new laces, and the tread has worn quicker and then when you’ve factored the time taking for doing all that stuff . . . oh my God you’ve spent how much?!! I’d hazard a guess that when a company offshores, instead of saving the 40-50% on wages, when you factor in quality, speed, efficiency, training, you’re probably saving 5-10% at very best. At worst, you’ve just tanked your company.
There are of course complaints to offshoring in that jobs are lost and pushed overseas, and yet eBay and Amazon have been offering that for years. Globalisation seems to be one of those things that is considered favourable until it impacts you directly. The talk of the town is now near-shoring, or as everyone else calls it, regionalisation. Same problem, but less costly as you’re not travelling as far and the time zones may work more in your favour, yet the wages are higher.
But essentially companies must simply balance cost and revenue, supply and demand. Simples. Which is why there are millions of companies worldwide and only a handful are successful because that balance is bloody hard. But if you’re company are going through lean times, think creatively to reduce costs rather than recouping for the short-term. Reduced working days and even more working from home days (reducing the cost of your real estate) all help the cause. Oh, and sell more products. Where’s that damn champagne?
In my company, and probably most companies, there has been a huge drive to target the customer. “The customer at the centre of everything” was the last CEO’s moto, and the livery and bunting still pervades. It’s a world dominated by service industries. The Customer is King. The Customer is always right. If we do this, what will be the customer impact? We are entirely enveloped in a society obsessed with the customer. The customer wants this, they’ll get it. If they don’t get it from us, they’ll get it from someone else. It’s a customer centric universe. We live and die by THE CUSTOMER! That’s one important customer, but we get the gist.
The Net Promoter Score
The Net Promoter Score, the global industry standard for measuring customer satisfaction, is a company obsession. It is updated daily on the company home pages and spruiked at every event. KPIs are rest upon it, bonuses are paid on it, livelihoods depend on it. And yet, it doesn’t mean it’s right.
But the engagement of the employee is seemingly less important than the customer feedback, which sets a precedent that the customer has priority simply because they have the cash. The customer, which you may have never met or even heard of, their happiness, outranks that of your employees. Can you have happy customers and miserable employees? Yup, Amazon. Happy employees and miserable customers? Possible but unlikely. If people are happy and engaged in their role, customer satisfaction will also follow.
How many people buy a new computer or a new drone or a new phone and ridiculously happy with it? Oh my god this thing has amazing voice recognition, it has the best battery life, the colours are incredible! With products like that, you barely need marketing because people do it for you. Free advertising purely by word of mouth. That’s power. What could be more influential than the recommendation of a trusted friend, spouse or family member? If your husband comes to you and says “try this, it’ll change your life!” are you going to listen? Damn right you’re going to listen!
How about if that was a company? A mother comes home to her husband who is cooking dinner – it’s the 21st century people, time to change our story templates – and she is raving. Not about how bad her boss is or how awful the project is, but how amazing the people are, how their products will change the marketplace, how inspiring her leadership is, how she feels empowered to do her job to the best of her abilities because she has the trust of her management. Makes my eyes tear up just thinking about it.
In turn, those employees will be advocates themselves, promoting the business because they love it. They will go on to attract other like-minded brilliant individuals that want to work for a company that has happy employees, that lead and inspire. The true wealth of a company then isn’t about Net Promoter Score or even Employee Engagement, it’s about Employee Promoters. Of course customers are important, but if you have no one to do the work, what’s the point of having them? They won’t be customers very long. Conversely, if you have a great team that love what they do, customers will be knocking down the door to work with you because you have a workforce that are energised, empowered and inspired to create great products, and will naturally find ways for that product to be used in the marketplace to impact and benefit the customer. Focus on employees, the rest will follow.
I was at a recent company event, something I’m privileged to join and which champions women in business. I generally love these sessions as they have someone from the company or a successful business, usually the higher echelons, come and share their wisdom and experiences. The topic for this one was about resilience and confidence, the latter summarily distilled to simply the Australian motto ‘give it a go’. However, it was the resilience side that piqued my interest.
At the end of the discussion there were plenty minutes left over for questions, and since I was sitting on the front row, I out my hand up – if I hadn’t been sitting on the front row, I’d have probably chickened out since unbeknownst to me probably another 150 people had arrived behind me. The question I asked was an important one for me: has your resilience ever been broken and what did you do to recover? Naturally it wasn’t as straight-forward or as elegant as that, and being the first question and absolutely naïve to the microphone, I had to say ‘is this thing on?’ <sigh>. One of the leaders promptly smiled and responded ‘every day’, and the other relayed a time that they had a challenging time at a certain point but they got through it. Neither really helped, but perhaps it was too much of a public forum to announce. It would have taken a lot of courage.
Having been through an arduous time personally, I wanted much more of an answer, for I am one of the ones that broke. Not for any cataclysmically awful reason, just that lots of things ran away from me at the same time and I felt I couldn’t cope. I lost confidence in myself and my abilities, and after having always thought of myself as resilient (I’ve even presented presentations on it in the past) and able to conquer anything, it was a foundering of myself and my abilities. Oh, and it hurt like hell. Like having your brain torn apart and wandering around in a shell of yourself. I distinctly remember being on a conference call, one of the 9 or 10 that day, and someone pinged me a messaging app from a Senior HR role asking some usual business type question. Within 3 lines I was telling someone I barely knew that I was about to cry. There are a myriad of reasons and points leading up to that moment, but I knew then that I was fucked.
A few years ago a colleague put it to me that you wouldn’t trust someone to build you a bridge if they’d never done it before: it was the experience that you needed. Not the theory, not the reciting of dissertations, best practice or quotations of famous architects, it was the person that had gone there and built the damn bridge. So back to the leaders teaching of resilience. How much advice can someone offer you on resilience and confidence, if they have never not only had their resilience tested, but found the limits of their resilience?
Learning About Yourself
For me, a year and a half on, there is still real fear and a real sense of confidence loss. Thoughts that it will happen again are common, and it is scary. It’s the realisation of vulnerability, finding you’re not invincible and can break. You’re not infalliable. This may seem obvious, everyone knows they can fail, but experiencing it is another.
One thing I did take from the talk was of survival. I made out alive with a few mental scars to help me along the journey next time, and the end results mean that mentality needs to be treated like a muscle: it needs to be flexed, but also nurtured. Do things that push yourself to your limits, but also take time to massage that big brain and let it have a rest day. Meditation, music, sleep, relaxation, something to take away the every day stresses.
In turn, what have I learnt about my own resilience? That I have limits.
Financial Brain Freeze
What puzzles me though is why this is the case: why do not only I struggled, but many others? Other than being a good human being and learning to communicate successfully, I cannot fathom anything else more important. This is the first time I’ve made positive steps to learn about money and how to make it, save it, invest it for the future so that it worked for me. Is there a more fun way of getting that information? Probably. Have I found one? No way. In saying that, there is an excellent 30 minutes video about financials by Ray Dalio, someone that a few weeks ago I had never heard of, and I now revere.
Learning - Not Always Fun!
I’m learning Spanish as well at the moment, and I confess that I find listening to that less galling. There is nothing wrong with how Tony Robbins writes - his voice drips from the pages as does his endless enthusiasm. Anecdotes and quotes interlace well, yet the topic, for me at least, is like tucking into a dry cracker with filling made of sand. I have long, long understood that financials are effectively a tranquiliser harpoon for me: a kryptonite made of pure snooze. I have always believed this is because of lack of comprehension. And yet now I understand them more (being two-thirds of the way through the book), I have learnt and incredible amount and will endeavour, nay, make damn certain, I will pay attention to my finances and how to get the best out of them. . .but I still think finances should come packaged with radiation warning levels of ennui.
Never Too Late
And yet at 37 I'm cursing that I didn’t learn financials sooner, and am clinging to the hope that it’s never too late and that if the going is good, I have 40 more years of work and potential income to take matters into my own hand and rescue the situation. Here is hoping! <Kerrriissst, 40 years!>
They key principles I do aim to take are these: save more in long term bonds; risk more in stocks through index trackers instead of gambling in individual bonds; waste less on things I hold no value for – to be balanced though with time, and the latter is something entirely new to me. Let’s tackle the first thing.
Spend On Things Of Value
One of the things I don’t care generally for is food. My partners loves it, yet I eat to live not the other way around, so I can quite easily have some bread and tuna for lunch with an apple and orange and be more than satisfied. If lunches usually cost me $10 per day, I can usually change that to less (5 apples and 5 oranges are about $6, loaf of bread about 3.50, can of tuna 80 cents - my lunch now costs me about $2.50). So that saves $1600 a year . . . which really isn’t much! But if I can save a $1000 a year, about $80 a month (so only a 3/4 of my lunches are my own), invested at 5% return compound interest for 40 years . . . now we're talking. You'll have $129k as a nest egg. Not bad from putting away a few extra dollars a month. The calculator is actually pretty addictive once you get into it. Unfortunately kids, mortgages and any period of not working will heavily impact. But start small and look at the big picture, which is probably the biggest take out of the entire thing: think long term.
The trick is having money that is going to get you 5% returns. How do you do that? Through a balanced portfolio. Yes, every financial self-proclaimed guru talks of a blanaced portfolio, but what the hell does that actually mean? In this case portfolio meaning the money and assets you have i.e. don't gamble everything you have on one horse which may get shot at the first hurdle. Buy a house as an investment; invest in bonds; buy assets that don’t depreciate (brand new cars are a ridiculous waste of money, for example); and take some risks. And finally, probably one of the bits that I am guilty of and that I should do more, is treating myself – everyone likes that bit of the advice! Tony Robbins suggests that if you get a bonus, split it in thirds: one for the risk bucket (stocks); one for the growth bucket (bonds or guaranteed investments); and one for yourself.
Writing and writing...