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Friends & Friction: The fat will clog your business arteries

Sep 24 2017 06:00
Muzi Kuzwayo

FAT – that slimy stuff that adds no value to a company.

It eradicates profitability and kills good businesses.

Sadly, too many people mistake fat for growth because they confuse activity with progress.

About 10 years ago, I had a break-in at my house. I called someone to install security gates and a new motor for the driveway gate.

The gentleman arrived and, within 36 hours, everything was done.

Two weeks ago, the motor needed some maintenance.

I called the same gentleman, my memory of the quality of his service still fresh.

I called him at about 7am, which I have since realised is too early to phone most people for business.

Well, I come from a place that was once called the East Rand. The sun rises a whole lot earlier there, and we truly believe in the mantra that the early bird catches the fattest worm – and I like masonja.

The gentleman told me that his office did not open until 9am, but, to his credit, he gave my number to one of his staff members, who promptly called me.

A few hours later, four men came to fetch the motor, which is the size of a briefcase.

Three of them unscrewed its four bolts, while the driver sat in the car.

Six staff members later and after more than six calls, a few broken promises and 10 days, I still don’t have my motor back.

I have also not received an invoice.

It’s almost the end of the month, and the six staff members will be looking to the owner for their salaries.

If you’ve been part of a small business, you’ll know the month-end drill – all eyes are on the owner.

The staff members watch him like a hawk, as if he might run away from his own business.

The owner, who is probably ducking calls from suppliers whose accounts are in arrears, is avoiding eye contact with his employees.

Many small business owners experience this dilemma.

They realise that they need more people to do the work so that they can focus on growing the business.

But every pair of hands comes standard with an accompanying pair of bums, and what do bums do? They simply sit.

So, 10 years ago, a sale that took 36 hours to turn over now takes more than two weeks, plus four extra people, to complete.

There must be something wrong with a system that consumes so many resources, but ultimately creates an unhappy customer like me.

As a business owner, you must audit the skills and activities of your employees regularly because too many people have mastered the art of being sustainably ineffective.

They move just enough to give the impression that they are not dead, but not too much to be picked up by the boss’ radar.

In Hungary in Europe, this phenomenon is called “in-house unemployment”, which basically means going to work to do nothing.

Many people go to work to push paper. This is often euphemistically referred to as “administration”.

It is the worst form of psychological violence, and employees take it out on your customers.

They become grumpy and downright unhelpful because they hate their jobs.

David Graeber, a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, defines hell as “a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at”.

Make sure that your business is not hell on earth. Cut the fat.

Muzi Kuzwayo is the founder of Ignitive, an advertising agency

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