Visioning: The Last Thing an Enterprise Needs When Starting Up

A husband-and-wife couple approaches and asks a consultant for help in their business.

The husband-and-wife couple just started a business selling electrical devices such as relays and circuit breakers.  Demand was strong at the onset and the couple has found themselves working around the clock serving customer orders.  Maybe the consultant can contribute some ideas?

The consultant immediately advises the couple to set aside a few days to do a Vision, Mission, Objectives, and Strategy (VMOS) exercise with their staff.  The aim of the exercise is for the couple to set goals by establishing a common vision for their business.  The consultant would facilitate the VMOS exercise, of course. 

The couple agreed and after a few days, the couple’s enterprise had written a VMOS.  When the consultant collected his fee and left, the couple realised they still didn’t have any ideas on how to serve their customers better. 

A VMOS is the last thing an enterprise needs when it’s starting up.  This is because when an enterprise is just starting, it already has a VMOS.  It can be summarised in one word:  survival.  

The couple started their electrical device business precisely because they saw there was demand.  They just didn’t realise that there was a lot of demand.  They and their staff became overwhelmed.  They had trouble catching up with orders.  Customers were complaining and the husband-and-wife couple feared they were going to lose customers. 

The couple were concerned about their enterprise’s survival.  They needed solutions to address the higher-than-expected demand.  The last thing they needed was an elaborate VMOS. 

Many consultants (and bloggers) promote VMOS for businesses.  A VMOS can be good but by experience, it’s only useful long after an enterprise has started up and stabilised.  It might be a good idea for an enterprise to do a VMOS when it is at a crossroads, such as when its owners and management are debating strategies for new ideas or products. 

For a new business that is just getting off the ground, however, a VMOS is the last thing an enterprise needs. 

When the husband-and-wife couple went to another consultant.  They found a more down-to-earth consultant who advised them to review their product lines and focus producing those items that are selling briskly.  The consultant also advised the couple to prioritise selling to customers who were willing to pay cash; this would help in turning over capital which the couple could use to invest in increasing capacity to serve growing demand. 

A VMOS exercise is nice for enterprises that are stable but are doing some soul-searching for their future. 

A VMOS exercise, however, is not what an enterprise needs when it’s starting up and its immediate preoccupation is survival. 

Enterprise executives should also be careful in engaging consultants, especially ones whose agenda prioritise themselves and their profits over the benefits for clients. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Three (3) Questions Supply Chain Managers Always Need to Answer

When it comes right down to it, supply chain managers have three (3) questions to answer:

  1. How do we get what we need when we need it?
  2. How do we make available what whoever needs them at when they need them?
  3. How do we deliver to whomever wants them when they need them?

When supply chain managers answer these three (3) questions, their responses must be relevant to their mission, which is:  Fulfil Demand. 

And when we say Fulfil Demand, it must meet the following criteria:

  1. It must be productive, i.e., at lowest cost to maximise profit margins and at minimal capital investment;
  2. It must result in competitive advantage, that is, the enterprise should come out better than that of its rivals;
  3. It must meet expectations not only of customers (i.e. quality, complete & on-time deliveries) but also stakeholders (e.g. shipment volume targets) and the communities they work in (e.g. compliance to laws, environmental sustainability)
  4. It must result in stronger relationships with customers, vendors, stakeholders. 

When supply chain managers answer the aforementioned three (3) questions to the satisfaction of the criteria mentioned, they would be deemed on their way to success. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Many Questions Supply Chain Managers Are Asked to Answer

The following are questions customers typically ask supply chain managers:

  • “Why is it taking you so long to deliver my order?”
  • “When will you deliver?”
  • “How many of the items we ordered will you deliver today?”
  • “How much of an item do you have available?”
  • “Your items didn’t meet our specs; when will you replace them with the right ones?”

Executives also ask supply chain managers the following:

  • “How much did we ship today?”
  • “How much did we ship so far this month?”
  • “How many orders did we receive from Sales today?”
  • “How many pending orders do we have?”
  • “Why do we have so many pending orders?”
  • “When will you deliver the pending orders?”
  • “When will the items be produced?”
  • “How many of the items will we make?”
  • “Why does it take so long to produce?”
  • “When are the materials for production arriving?”
  • “How much will we pay for materials this month?” 
  • “Why are we getting customer complaints?” 
  • “How are you responding to the customer complaints?”
  • “Our costs are too high; how can we reduce costs?”
  • “What’s your plan to comply with government rules on sustainability?”
  • “How safe is our product?”
  • “What’s your plan to stop pilferage of our products?”
  • “Why are we wasting materials?”
  • “How can we reduce inventories?”

Vendors and 3rd party service providers also ask questions:

  • “How much of this material are you buying?”
  • “When are you ordering?”
  • “When do you need the materials that you’re ordering?”
  • “What are the specifications of the materials that you want to buy?”
  • “When will you pay me?”
  • “How much will you pay me today?”
  • “What is your company’s response to my bid?”
  • “How many trucks do you need tomorrow?”
  • “How long do my trucks have to wait before they get loaded at your warehouse?”
  • “Your bid is too low; can you pay me more?”

Supply chain managers encounter questions like these all the time.  Most who ask want answers immediately and supply chain managers feel the pressure to respond. 

The questions, however, lead to more questions.  And it leads to more searching for answers.  Supply chain managers sometimes spend the whole day (if not days) trying to answer questions than actually managing their operations.  

Supply chain managers work in a broad scope.  The questions they are asked would likely touch not only where there are assigned but also functions adjacent to theirs.  Logistics managers who are asked the status of shipments may find out there are issues with production shortfalls and materials shortages.

And because supply chains aren’t only limited to an enterprise’s internal functions of procurement, manufacturing, and logistics but also include the interactions with other enterprises upstream (vendors), downstream (customers) and branches (e.g. service providers, parts suppliers), the questions that supply chain managers are asked would also lead to issues outside the borders of the enterprises they work for. 

Supply chain managers, therefore, are in that unique and unenviable position of dealing with questions that go beyond their job descriptions. 

Supply chain managers should welcome questions, however, not dread them.  Not only they should anticipate them, they should seek them out. 

Questions like the ones above offer windows to opportunities as they indicate what executives, customers, vendors, and other stakeholders find important.

Questions are not problems.  But they together are the first step in figuring out what and which important problems need to be addressed and solved. 

Questions unravel the problems we need to solve.  Seeking them out and defining the problems behind them are proactive methods for supply chain managers to not only answer pressing questions from stakeholders but also open avenues of opportunities which lead to lasting benefits. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

How Sales & Supply Chain People Can Work Together

Customer inquiries and quotations have long been seen as traditional jobs of sales professionals.  Field sales representatives visit customers and strive to get orders from them.  When customers inquire, sales professionals are expected to answer with accurate information. 

Trouble starts when sales professionals have no adequate answers to give.  Sales professionals may know prices, terms, and promotions.  But they may not know how much inventory is available to promise and when deliveries can be scheduled.  They also may not know how to cater to special requests and instructions regarding product specifications and deliveries. 

Sure, their superiors would have given field sales reps guidelines and information.  Sales reps may also have fixed allocations of how much they can promise to deliver.  But once they are in conversation with a customer, these guidelines and allocations may not be enough for a sales rep in discussion with a customer.

Sales reps have a lot of responsibilities.  They have territories to cover and targets to meet.  They promote products and negotiate contracts with customers.  They seek and open new accounts and they are expected to submit sales reports.  They also have to deal with complaints or worse, customers wanting to cancel orders or return products for refunds.

Sales representatives therefore expect their enterprise supply chains to deliver orders as promised.  The last thing they need is late, incomplete deliveries or pending orders that never get fulfilled. 

There’s a lot that’s been said about forecasting and managing demand, and a lot more about delivering orders.  But not a whole lot about what happens in-between: when customers inquire about products, what are available, and request for quotations (RFQ). 

In the many business meetings I’ve sat in, executives often ask what demand will be or how many orders are pending.  They don’t ask much about what customers are saying or asking.  Either they wait for their marketing people to mention anything or they just make conclusions on their own

In the retail business, store owners usually inquire from their suppliers about the availability of specific items, ask how much the prices would be, if the item can be delivered by what date, etc.  In short, the store owners inquire and expect the suppliers’ sales people to answer.

Whereas demand forecasts offer projected sales of items in cumulative numbers for an upcoming time period, inquiries from customers tell enterprises what they are looking for.  These inquiries can be and are valuable nuggets of information that can generate additional sales for an enterprise. 

But from what I’ve seen and heard, this information never really reaches the enterprise’s executives.  Either the information is forgotten or ignored.  What reaches executives are reports that have filtered the feedback from customers.

I’ve observed there are five (3) stages to demand creation and fulfilment:

  1. Inquiry
  2. Quotation
  3. Order
  4. Delivery
  5. After-Sales Service

Sales usually works exclusively on the first three.  The supply chain typically works on the last two. 

But the divisions of labour and accountability are more of formalities than realities in many cases. 

When customers inquire (1st stage), they ask not only about price, promotions, and product features, they also ask:

  1. How many items do you have available?
  2. How fast can you deliver?

And when the sales person gives a quotation (2nd stage), the customer will ask again:

  1. How long will it take you to deliver?
  2. When will the items be delivered after I place my order?

And when the customer decides to order (3rd stage), he or she will ask the sales person once again:

  1. When will the ordered items arrive?
  2. How many will arrive? 

It’s the same questions repeated at least three (3) times in those three (3) selling stages. 

Sales people naturally wouldn’t be able to answer those two (2) questions without foreknowledge of what the supply chain will do when the orders are received.  I’ve therefore observed that it’s common practice for sales people to call someone at the supply chain to get answers to those two (2) questions. 

That someone can be anyone.  It could be the one receiving the orders, the one who allocates items for delivery, the production planner, and any supply chain manager, or even all of these people all at once. 

In many cases, the supply chain people the sales people call don’t have the answers either.  And even if they did, they can’t or won’t guarantee the time and quantities of what would be delivered. 

Sales people would press whomever they’re talking to for some answers which they then can provide to their customers.  And in many times, the answers aren’t reliable or in the first place, aren’t authoritative. 

The easy way out of this quandary is to formalise the participation of supply chain operations in the first stages of selling:  inquiry, quotation, and order.  This can be done via:

  1. Assigning people from the supply chain who’d know the answers to liaison with the sales people;
  2. Establishing a system to already reserve items that customers want quoted and allocate them when the order arrives. 

It sounds hard and it will take quite some work to do #2 above.  But given that there probably is an informal system of allocation working already between sales and supply chain, the enterprise would do well to just get it set up and running. 

Note that in stages four and five, delivery and after-sales service, both supply chain and sales should still work together.  Even as the supply chain would have a higher accountability in serving orders and providing some after-sales services (e.g., warranty services), sales should be in communication with customers about the status of deliveries, getting feedback, and collecting payments. 

When sales and supply chain people work together in the five (5) stages of selling, they gain more confidence in responding to customer inquiries and requests.  They learn what customers need as much as they find ways to improve serving orders and fulfilling demand. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Pursuing Perfection Beyond the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL)

An ad promotes an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) subscription plans.  On the bottom in small fine print is written “30% minimum speed at 80& reliability.”

The Philippines’ National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in a memorandum in 2011 mandated that ISPs should provide at least 80% service reliability to customers: 

An ISP therefore should be able to provide an internet connection to its customers at or more than its minimum internet speed 80% of the time.  Or to put it another way, the ISP’s customers should be able to experience the minimum internet speed they signed up for 24 out of 30 days in a month.  If a subscriber does experiences the minimum speed six (6) days or faster in a month, the NTC considers the ISP’s service acceptable. 

The ISP is also required to tell its subscribers what the minimum internet speed is. In the ad mentioned above, the ISP informs customers that its minimum speed is 30% of what it advertises.  Thus, if a subscriber applies for a 300 Mbps plan, the ISP will guarantee a minimum speed of up to 90 Mbps.  An ISP is obliged to give only up to 30% of what the subscriber signs up for. 

Just imagine if this kind of advertising is applied in the fast-food industry.  A customer orders from a fast-food restaurant and the restaurant is guaranteed only to serve 30% of what’s on the menu.  If we order a 10-piece bucket of fried chicken, for example, and the fast-food gives you only up to three (3) pieces and the government allows it, we would surely be angry but we won’t be able to do anything about it. 

What the ISP advertises and what it actually serves evolves from the concept of the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL). 

The United States military adopted the Acceptable Quality Level (AQL) as a standard for inspection during the Second World War.  The idea is to set a level of what would be considered acceptable from a batch of items received from a vendor or a factory. 

For example, the US Army may accept a lot of 10,000 bullets if only up to fifty (50) of the bullets (AQL of 0.5%) are defective.  The US Army would be willing to pay for all 10,000 bullets even if it really would be able to use only 9,950 of them.  That doesn’t sound so bad unless you’re the soldier who ends up with the fifty (50) bad bullets. 

How AQLs are set varies from enterprise to enterprise, industry to industry.  Vendors would plead for higher AQLs if customers are buying items in very large lot sizes.  Sellers of small parts manufactured in large quantities like nails, wires, screws, and welding rods would ask for high AQLs as they would argue that defects are unavoidable and impossible to sort & separate all unconforming items. 

Customers, however, would discriminate what items deserve higher (looser) or lower (stringent) AQLs.  Customers would insist that how AQLs are set should depend on what the items would be used for.  For construction of a large warehouse, for instance, having a higher AQL for a large number of nails may be tolerable.  For owners of residential homes, however, they may not welcome a high AQL for nails or any construction material as this may result into a badly built house that can bring inconveniences if not hazards (e.g. a bad nail that leads to a collapsing ceiling). 

Food product manufacturers may accept higher AQLs for not-so-critical items like packaging materials but won’t welcome allowances for defective raw materials.  A food enterprise may accept a few imperfect boxes but I doubt it would accept even a few bad apples out of hundreds. 

And pharmaceutical firms won’t probably be too tolerant for high AQL’s for ingredients for medicines.

Utility firms apply AQLs in their services.  Electricity firms negotiate contracts with communities and try to convince consumers to accept a minimum level of power un-reliability, such as allowing for a number of days for a power plant to not supply electricity so that it can undergo maintenance.  Water companies try to get customers to agree on an acceptable quality of potability, to the extent notifying customers that the water they supply will not be fit for drinking anytime.    

In exchange for higher AQLs, enterprises sometimes offer discounts or defer price increases, from which they can position themselves as low-cost suppliers versus rivals.  In other words, customers can get products and services cheaply but they won’t get 100% quality. 

ISPs try to out-compete each other via this latter scenario.  Some offer the cheapest rates, advertise maximum speeds, but in the fine print guarantee only a minimum speed at a fraction of the time that is compliant to the law. 

Some ISPs will try to outdo the other such as by bumping up the minimum speed to 40% versus a rival’s 30%.  To the subscriber, however, he or she will never really get what they wish for from the advertising.

When ISPs advertise their maximum speeds, they reveal what they are capable of supplying to their subscribers.  But they also are insecure that their operations won’t run perfectly and reliably all the time.  Hence, they build in allowances to attain what they believe is an attainable level of performance which they can realistically provide to their subscribers. 

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it encourages complacency. 

The ISPs over time will won’t feel the need to improve the uptime of their broadband connectivity and to lengthen the time of their maximum service speed since they have the government’s blessing for an 80% reliability and a minimum speed that only requires notifying customers.  And they will continue to do so as long as rivals don’t try to up the game.

Many enterprises have over time accepted the AQL and said all right to accepting so many defects in the items or services they buy.  It becomes a standard that sometimes no one bothers to see if it can be improved.  If a factory is getting 95% acceptable product and its rivals are getting just the same, executives may not see the incentive to improve; after all, the factory is competitive at least for now. 

Up-and-coming competitors challenge established companies by bucking the AQL standard, by taking advantage of the complacency that take hold in established companies.  A new ISP company for instance may offer guaranteed minimum speeds of 80% (though they may lower the maximum speed advertised) at the same price as rivals.  

Competitors, the successful ones anyway, will claim to do better by offering better quality that improves from an industry’s AQL.  The real good ones would adopt continuous improvement that lead to zero defects. 

Acceptable Quality Levels (AQLs) were established to provide some reasonable standard in the inspection of items.  They weren’t meant to set the standards of quality; doing so only inspires complacency and encourages stagnancy. 

In a world where competitive disruption is more likely than ever, perfection in quality, via zero defects, is what we should pursue. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Delegating is a Subset of Teamwork

The following are some lines I’ve heard bosses tell their subordinates when the latter are feeding back about difficulties in their jobs: 

  • “Be creative.”
  • “Just do it.”
  • “Don’t give me problems.”
  • “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
  • “I can count on you.”
  • “That’s what I pay you for.”
  • “That’s what I hired you to do.”
  • “You have to be a team player.”

When bosses give responses like these, chances are they themselves have no clue on what to do.  Chances are too that these bosses don’t want to bother spending time helping their subordinates. 

Some bosses have the mindset that subordinates are nothing more than minions, followers on a payroll who are meant to do dirty work the bosses would rather not be doing. 

Bosses who think this way risk unfavourable repercussions. 

A middle-aged businessman thought he had a good life.  His packaging business was doing well.  He had long-term contracts with clients that assured steady revenue for succeeding years.  He had no problems procuring materials and his work force was productive as they met delivery targets to customers without fail.   

The businessman one day delegated most of the day-to-day administrative work to his accountant.  For many years after, he would hardly report to the office.  The accountant took care of everything. 

The accountant would occasionally ask the businessman to sign documents and checks, and report that all is well with the enterprise. 

The businessman would spend most days at a nearby cafe, sipping his favourite coffee, reading the newspaper, and chatting with friends.  The businessman had a steady source of income as the accountant would regularly deposit his salary to his bank account.  Life was good. 

One day, one of the businessman’s office staff reported that the bank called saying there was not enough money to fund one of the checks he signed.  The accountant was absent, so the businessman called the bank.  He found out that his cash balance at the bank was low.  He went to the office and found out most of the enterprise’s money was gone.  The accountant had fled, she apparently had been embezzling cash from the enterprise for years. 

The businessman had no cash to pay his workers and vendors.  The businessman had to lay off his workers, renegotiate debts, and cancel contracts with clients.  The businessman spent years afterward to rebuild his reputation and re-start his business from scratch.  To this day, the businessman goes to work every day to manage the day-to-day operations of his company, no longer entrusting money matters to anyone. 

It’s one thing to assign work to employees and trust them to be stewards of important tasks.  It’s another thing to assign work to employees and leave them on their own. 

Delegation is not about giving work to other people so the boss can relax and forget.  Delegation is about working together with employees to spread workloads to capable people for the sake of productivity and innovation.    

Delegation is a subset of teamwork.  Team leaders assign jobs but don’t leave the team.  When team leaders delegate, they work with team members.  Not so much in looking over their shoulders but more in communicating, responding to feedback, and helping secure needed resources.  It’s about entrusting employees to do important jobs and treating them as partners. 

When we treat employees not as minions but as partners, we not only boost productivity but we open doors for opportunities via new ideas that employees with their expertise and feedback would bring. 

We delegate not to evade work but to improve it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Can’t Fight City Hall

Can’t fight city hall is an idiom for any futile effort against a large institution like government.  If you’re just one among millions of citizens who has a complaint about a government law or regulation, chances are you’d be unsuccessful, if not dismissed at the start. 

Paying taxes and fees to the Philippine government is an example where this idiom holds true.  No matter how much anyone would disagree with the rules, we’re compelled to comply.  Else we get slapped with penalties or worse, criminal litigation. 

Some experiences:

  • The Philippine Land Transport Office (LTO), the agency that oversees automobile transportation, just let out new rules for motorists renewing their driver’s licenses.  The applying motorist has to watch a five (5) hour streaming video and then take a test before he or she could go to the nearest LTO office to do the renewal of license.  Many people have protested against the new rules but it looks like the LTO won’t budge.  Many have resigned to watching the five (5) hours and taking the test otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get their renewed licenses; 
  • The Philippine Bureau of Internal Revenue audited and assessed a small enterprise for additional taxes and penalties.  Despite presenting all the paperwork requested, the BIR disallowed a significant portion of expenses the enterprise claimed for deductions.  As much as the enterprise’s accountant tried to explain that the expenses were legitimate and that some of the BIR’s tax computations were wrong, the BIR pressed the enterprise to pay a large penalty.  The enterprise owners decided to pay up rather than go through a lengthy legal fight;
  • A city government’s Idle Land Tax division assessed a property owner for unpaid “idle land taxes.”  The city notified the owner that he didn’t pay the idle land tax for the past ten (10) years.  (The idle land tax is a surcharge for land that has no improvements or is unused). When the property owner met with the Idle Land Tax supervisor, he explained that he has been going to the city hall’s Land Tax office every year to get a tax assessment of his properties but not once has he received a bill for idle land tax.  The Idle Land Tax supervisor replied that was because the Idle Land Tax office is separate from the Land Tax office and that the property owner should have gone to the former to get the assessment.  The property owner asked how come the Idle Land Tax assessment was separate from the ones from the Land Tax?  The Idle Land Tax supervisor said that was because the computer system integrating both offices hadn’t been set up then (never mind that both offices sits side by side each other).  The property owner fully paid the Idle Land Tax. 

Government bureaucrats argue that it is the duty of citizens to find out for themselves how much taxes they owe.  Ignorance cannot be an excuse. 

There are literally millions of ordinary people, small business proprietors & enterprises who had gone through similar experiences.  Government sets a rule, slaps taxes & fees, citizens grumble & complain about the inefficiencies, the lack of logic, the unjustified amount, and/or the poor service.  But we end up complying & paying. 

As the Borg would say:  resistance is futile.

About Overtimers Anonymous

Being Proactive Requires Reviewing Our Values

My boss asked me to finish a report by Monday morning.  I was planning to submit it by Wednesday next week but my boss wanted it earlier.  Because he asked me on Friday, I had to cancel my weekend plans. 

Some bosses pile on work on their employees.  The bosses would believe there is good reason but they also would believe they aren’t beholden to explain deadlines to their subordinates.  Bosses dictate, employees follow, after all. 

Employees, however, are people too and it can be demoralising when the boss deems work more important than the quality time of employees after work hours. 

So, what can employees do? 

Either the employees just do what the bosses say or they don’t.  If they do, they can count on some praising like a pat-on-the-back assuming they did a good job.  If they don’t, they’ll risk getting on the bad side of the boss who would put a bad mark on an employee’s performance record which may lead to career stagnation. 

Not really much of a choice.  But that’s reality. 

Never mind what some consultants or so-called gurus may say, people who work for other people don’t own their time.   When we have bosses, the bosses own us and sometimes if not often, they own even our time after work hours.

This is because work for many people, like middle managers and office workers, as we know it no longer is limited to a fixed schedule.  With email, SMS texting, and Internet-enabled voice & chat technologies, the boss can communicate with her employees wherever they may be and at anytime.  (I had a boss who’d call me when I was halfway around the world on vacation and that was even before the Internet). 

But thanks also to the Internet, we have more access to more information.  We can find out if there are other jobs waiting for us in other companies.  We can submit our curricula vitae (CV) with a few clicks of a mouse.  And we can get interviewed long distances from the comforts of our own home (or office desk when the boss isn’t around). 

The hard part, of course, is writing the CV and preparing for the interview.  The harder part is deciding whether we’d want to change careers in the first place. 

The hardest part, however, is making the choice itself.  We’d wrack our brains thinking if we should stay in our jobs or move on to greener pastures. 

It isn’t just about the risks of what we choose but it’s also what we believe in. 

This is what being proactive is really about.  Proactive is choosing based on what we value.  Note it isn’t what we want, it is what we value.  Stephen Covey of Seven (7) Habits fame identifies being proactive as the freedom to choose one’s response.  But to choose what we believe is right, we should choose based on what’s important for us, which is in a nutshell are our values

Employees would opt to stick with a job with a slave-driver boss that deprives weekends off because the employees would value the job security and income needed for their families. 

An employee, however, may choose to quit because she values her time with her children more than anything else. 

But as much as it may be clear to some, it can be a lengthy exercise for many who haven’t really defined what they value or are in self-conflict with changes in what are important to them. 

As the PlanPlus Online website puts it, values “may change as demands or needs change.” 

“If a given belief or opinion is something that might be altered if the conditions are right, then it’s a value.”

-PlanPlus Online, The Difference Between Principles and Values, https://www.planplusonline.com/difference-principles-values/

When values become moving targets, we can become confused and that can make it difficult to decide things.  We therefore sometimes become dependent on others to make our minds up, like just doing what the boss tells us to do. 

Values are based on beliefs, opinions, causes, and/or the very stuff we put the highest importance on, such as our families, relationships, careers, and religions.  We often try to rank them and doing so can be a difficult process, not to mention frustrating.  The bottom line is we always are evaluating what our priorities are. 

Is there a best way to define our values?  No.  But the question maybe should be:  how often should we define our values?  Not everybody knows what he or she wants.  Lucky for those who do but there are many who constantly need to review what’s important.  Actually, it may be those who do it often are the luckier ones because they would always be updated to their versions of their value systems. 

When we know surely what we think or feel what’s important, we’d know how to choose confidently.  We end up knowing how to answer when a boss asks us to work on weekends. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Devil is in The Details

I was reading the San Jose Mercury News one morning while staying with my brother during a visit some years ago at San Mateo, California, USA and I noticed that the front page of the paper featured a repair of a road culvert. 

The culvert, a canal by the side of a main thoroughfare, was eroding and needed repair.  The news article talked about what the engineers assigned to the repair job were going to do and it included a schedule of when a lane of the road would be closed. 

It was fascinating that a big city newspaper like the San Jose Mercury News would put a story about a problematic road culvert as its main headline for the day, much bigger than other national and international news. 

I then thought, “Why not?”  Why not showcase what the local government is doing about roadwork and how it would affect those who live in or near San Jose City who in the first place probably make up the majority of readers and subscribers to the newspaper. 

And why not write in-depth about the roadwork so that people will know the details, such as what’s the roadwork timetable and how it may affect traffic in the area? 

The devil after all is in the details. 

The idiom, the devil is in the details, points out the need to take into account the nitty-gritties of a plan or solution.  It describes what happens when we find it harder than we thought to implement an idea or execute a strategy. 

Some enterprise executives decide on solutions without considering the ramifications.  They would say they did especially if a task force that recommended the solution studied a lot about it. But given the fact we live in a complex world, there would often be something left out, something that the executives and managers didn’t expect.

When the Coca-Cola Company attempted to reformulate their flagship soda in the 1985, many consumers complained and rebelled.  Coca-Cola had done a taste test study that showed consumer receptiveness to the new formula but they didn’t ask consumers whether they’d buy it.  The new formula was a failure and Coca-Cola revived the old formula by calling it “classic.” 

When a multinational food corporation changed the plastic lids of its margarine containers to a cheaper material, it didn’t foresee how fragile the lids would be on the production line.  Many lids broke during packing such that the productivity losses overrode the cost savings.  The product research group who tested the lids ignored workers’ comments about the breaking lids, and instead passed the problem to manufacturing management. 

What the devil is in the details teaches us is that for every initiative we start, we should pay attention to the nitty-gritties that would be involved. 

A lot of times it has to do with logistics; 

  • A purchaser would buy tons of a commodity to avail of a bulk discount but doesn’t realise there’s no more space in the warehouse;
  • A wholesaler offers discounts for customers who buy at least a million dollars of goods a month but it turns out there aren’t enough delivery trucks when orders come in on the last day of the month;
  • A manufacturing executive directs a production line to run on three shifts to build up inventories of finished product but finds out aren’t enough pallets to store the items at the warehouse;
  • A laboratory manager requisitions for state-of-the-art testing equipment but doesn’t stock up on the imported reagents needed for the testing procedure that comes with the new machine, which results in delays in releasing products for shipment. 

Details always start small but mushroom into big issues when they are not addressed.  Experienced executives don’t ignore details and embed themselves into the issues before they get out of hand.   They take control and put things in control. 

No one has demonstrated this more than Amancio Ortega, the founder of Inditex, the brand behind Zara, which has 1,854 stores in 96 countries.  Despite being a multi-billionaire and retired, Ortega “has never bothered with an office.”  He “prefers to sit on the floor of Zara’s women’s department.” His daughter, Ortega Perez, who has emerged as an active Zara executive, emulates her father’s hands-on management style.  Ms. Perez, just like her father, very much manages the details of the business.  

It’s easy to have ideas.  It’s another thing to make them come true. 

Because the devil is in the details. 

 About Overtimers Anonymous

We Need Librarians More Than Ever

How relevant are librarians in the 21st century?

In the 1970’s, when I was much younger, a library was that room of stand-alone shelves filled with books, spaced by a few tables and chairs.  The librarian was the one minding that room, making sure we who visited kept quiet while we browsed through the titles for one that maybe we’d borrow using our then library card. 

We don’t hear much about libraries and librarians in the 21st century.  If we do, a library would perhaps be that data collection on our desktop computer.  Or someone may describe a “library” as that dark section of the old family house where old books and documents of great-grandparents are kept. 

Libraries and librarians have changed in the mindsets of many people.  But contrary to what many may think, we actually need them more than ever. 

In a USA Today article written in November 2017, Careers: 8 jobs that won’t exist in 2030, Michael Hoon of the Job Network wrote that “you’ll have a tough time finding a job if you decide to become a librarian.”  Mr. Hoon cites “many schools and universities are already moving their libraries off the shelves and onto the Internet,” arguing that “as books fall out of favour, libraries are not as popular as they once were.”

Steve Barker in his opinion piece on the Wall Street Journal dated January 10, 2016, was blunt in that he called librarians “a dying breed.” 

Library and Information Science students Samantha Mairson (LIS) and Allison Keough of the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, immediately responded to Michael Hoon with their article of rebuttal, Are Librarians Truly a Dying Breed?

In their response, Mmes. Mairson & Keough write:

“Librarianship is far from a ‘dead-end field’ or a ‘dying profession.’ The field is transforming rapidly. Librarians and library students are leading this transformation. Library professionals are careful to consider the needs of their communities. The ‘Information Age’ needs more professionals responsibly curating information, and hiring managers agree that there’s demand.”

Sari Feldman, then President of the American Library Association (ALA), responded meanwhile to Steve Barker’s article by arguing that “nothing could be further from the truth.”  She writes:

“At a time of information overload and growing gaps between digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ the roles for dynamic and engaged librarians are growing. Though their skills and the technologies they use may be changing, they have never been more valuable to people of all ages, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.”

In the Philippines where I live and work, people identify libraries as that repository of books at a school or university.  Many don’t associate a library as an emerging essential function for enterprises, which we should. 

Many enterprises the world over have adopted standards from ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, an independent non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Switzerland.  

A popular one is ISO 9000, a family of standards for quality management systems that helps enterprises assure their products and services meet customer requirements. 

Whereas ISO 9000 sets principles in how quality management systems are established, the organisation’s trained consultants and auditors place much emphasis on documentation and records management.  Many enterprises around the world have gone to the extent of hiring librarians to oversee documents and records, not only in how they are filed, but also how they are created, edited, approved, and shared.  

In short, libraries are important for managing enterprise records thoroughly. 

As a treasurer for three (3) buildings, I have always advised respective administrative managers to organise records and documents.  These consist not only of accounting transaction records but also files of board resolutions, certificates, other important legal documents, and engineering & maintenance records. 

Building managers, however, don’t put too much priority on records management.  Whenever I inquire about a past record, for instance, I always get answers that they can’t find the documents because they’re buried in an archive in a basement closet.  It would take the administrative staff a week to dig and find something from the past, if they ever find it at all. 

Whenever I do insist that records be scanned and filed properly, building staff would go on overtime to catch up.  The building always needs to spend extra just to file and scan records and, in most cases, the records still wouldn’t be organised. 

Records management is a very much neglected function.  A good many enterprises just don’t manage records very well.  Memos, invoices, reports, and purchase requisitions that are often scattered, dirty, and torn have become common sights in many firms. 

We underestimate the value of library science when it comes to records management.  Thanks to technology, librarians have the means to scan and classify records quickly such that we can search and retrieve them much faster than ever before.

Librarians are the experts of organisation.  With reasonable support such as investing in desktop computers, scanners, and software, a librarian can turn that mess of papers and files into a systematic virtual storehouse of archives in which we can easily seek that particular document no matter how long ago it originated. 

In this age of information and the perpetual need to simplify complex transactions, we need librarians more than ever. 

About Overtimers Anonymous