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

Two Tactics That are Better than “No”

Most managers (and white-collar workers) face barrages of requests, if not directives, just about every day. 

Executives and peers ask managers to do many things such as write reports, attend meetings, do feasibility studies, pay suppliers, or test new products. 

Many managers would find themselves busy responding to these requests.  So much so that they’d not have any time left in a day to do what they should be doing, which is, managing. 

So-called time management experts would tell managers to just say no to requests that aren’t relevant to their jobs.  Saying no would demonstrate proactivity, the power to choose from one’s own perspective of priorities.

Unfortunately, saying no doesn’t work outright in the real world.

When I was a manager of a shipping department, I and my team were asked to work through a holiday weekend.  I and several of my subordinates had plans to for that weekend, but executives “asked” us to shelve those plans and work because the they wanted us to deliver pending orders to meet the company’s monthly sales target.  Executives wouldn’t accept a “no” and didn’t want to listen to our reasons (which generally was to take a break from work).  We ended up working through the weekend, met the monthly sales target, but didn’t get any praise or reward (except for some free pizza which the executives sent while we worked over the weekend). 

Executives don’t like no’s especially from subordinates.  This is because executives perceive any “no” as an affront to their agenda.  Executives see “no” as defiance and therefore will not take “no” for an answer. 

When a boss makes a request to a manager, it’s really a command done politely.  A request from a boss can be translated as “I’m asking you nicely to respond but if you don’t, I’ll tell you to do it.”   Executives don’t allow much room for compromise when it comes to their directions, everyone in the supply chain must march to the same beat. 

The impracticality to say “No”, however, isn’t the end to a manager’s hopes.    Managers still have two (2) ways to push back.  They can procrastinate and negotiate

Procrastinate

In the various management positions I held, I always had plenty of work to do.  Memo requests I received were often marked urgent or rush and whoever wrote them asked for immediate responses.

When I received such requests, I would categorise either as Will do or Will Not DoWill Do requests were those I’d be willing to do because I judged them as consistent with the needs of the workplace I was managing.  Will Not Do requests were judged the opposite, as in not helpful or relevant to my job description.  I’d place the memos on their respective piles but I didn’t throw them away.  (This was in the 1980’s so there weren’t any e-mails or chat groups yet.  But I do the same categorisation today via my computer and devices). 

I wouldn’t tell the sources of the Will Not Do tasks that I won’t be doing what they asked me to do.  I’d wait to see if they would follow up.  If they didn’t, I’d just leave the request sitting in that pile of Will Not Do.  If they did follow up, I’d still not do the task.  I would procrastinate. If the source comes back and follows up repeatedly and frequently, only then would I consider moving the task to the Will Do group, otherwise it stays in the Will Not Do pile.  I figure a request would be important only when the source spends significant time asking (or telling) me to respond.   

Negotiate

But even if I consider converting a Will Not Do to a Will Do, I would still push back.  I would ask the source why the request is important and why I should do it.  Maybe the source can delegate the request to someone else?  Or the source can review whether the request is worth the work?  I’d negotiate.  I would finally agree to responding to a request after I’d be satisfied with the argument of the sources and their justification. 

Or I’d finally agree to respond if the source is a superior who stops asking and starts commanding me to do it.   And even if it comes down to a command, I’d still ask the superior source politely to put it in writing. 

I learned not to commit immediately to requests.  I’d acknowledge them but I wouldn’t make promises.  I would if the sources press me to but only after I’d do some procrastinating and negotiating. 

By experience, I have found both tactics to be simple but effective means to filter the urgent and important from those that aren’t.  Many requests have turned out to be trash or withdrawn after procrastination and negotiation.  And it has saved me time. 

For managers, doing these two tactics can make a difference in how their time are spent and getting to meet goals that they fully feel are more important. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Solving Problems, Cultivating Ideas Together

I worked for Procter & Gamble Philippines in the late 1980’s.  I was a production manager who oversaw the food packing lines of the company.  As production manager, I was invited at times to join the food brand team meetings led by marketing managers, who were responsible for their respective products’ success. 

P&G is famous for its brand management approach.  Introduced in 1920’s by Neil McElroy, who later became P&G’s president, brand management focused on individual products rather than the overall business.   Every product would have a brand manager who would be accountable for its market share and profitability. 

The brand managers of P&G formed teams represented by different functional members from all over the company.  These included people from product design & development (PDD), finance, sales, market research, and manufacturing. 

For the two (2) food product brands, my senior manager boss of food manufacturing was the member of both brand teams but the brand team at times would invite me to join meetings in cases where they needed some technical input. 

Brand managers delegated problems with their ideas to respective team members to solve.  PDD, for example, was charged with solving product design issues.  Finance was accountable in forecasting profits and presenting costs.  Sales made sure they got customer orders and that the product was distributed in all trade segments and geographic markets. Manufacturing was expected to provide time and resources for PDD’s test runs of product prototypes and to ensure volume targets were met when the product was launched. 

Brand managers would press brand team members to solve problems especially when there were tight deadlines to meet.  The careers of P&G brand managers depended on the successes of their ideas; failure was not an option.

This caused some friction between departments in which brand managers had to work harder to get supportive commitments from team members.  Some did and became successful.  Some didn’t and they left the corporation.   

One factor to why brand managers were unsuccessful was that they overly delegated problems to team members, to the point of blaming them for failures.  These brand managers misplaced delegation with teamwork. 

As much as there may be individual inventors who bring their ideas into realities single-handedly, successful idea-creators see the need to work with problem-solvers. 

Ideas and problems are not mutually exclusive.  Neither idea nor problem is worked on separately.  Problems are not obstacles to ideas and ideas should not be seen as unpleasant disruptions that lead to problems.

We should welcome both ideas and problems.  Ideas are the “a-ha’s”, the insights that are foundations of creative concepts.  Problems are the challenges that can provide us opportunities. 

When we encounter problems while inventing from an idea, we should try to seek opportunities from them, as much as we may try to overcome them as obstacles.  Problems can lead us to better ideas, as much as ideas can lead to problems. 

Team leaders therefore should not delegate as in pass problems with accountabilities to other team members.  Telling a team member to do a job and to do it correctly or else is not delegating; it definitely isn’t teamwork. 

Delegating is about entrusting and empowering a team member to do a job rightly and excellently.  It doesn’t exclude the compelling need to work with people. 

When an idea for a new product is created, a brand team should cultivate it together.  Team leaders and product design experts should tinker with new product ideas together.  Leaders should study profitability with finance experts together.  They should plan roll-outs to the trade together with the field sales people.  And they should test products and observe production runs together with manufacturing. 

The key word is together.  Teams are there together for a common purpose and when it comes to ideas and problems, they should tinker with them together to attain success. 

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

Automated Queuing Systems Don’t Reduce Waiting Times

A large bank installed an automated queuing system at its branches.  Clients were required to enter the details of their transactions on a terminal and receive a queuing number and then wait to be called by the teller via a display on a video screen. 

The system replaced the previous process of clients writing on paper transaction slips and proceeding to the tellers.   Instead, the teller would access and process the client’s transaction from the entry of transaction data into the terminal. 

With the automated queuing system, the teller no longer has to input data from the previous handwritten transaction slips.  The teller also no longer has to decipher the penmanship of individual clients from the transaction slips.  Errors and rework are eliminated.  The teller just has to take and confirm the cash or checks the client is giving or just has to count the cash the client is withdrawing.  The time to process the transaction was thereby reduced.

But was the process time really significantly reduced?  Did the system really improve the client’s experience, or specifically, did it reduce the client’s time at the bank? 

Queuing systems have become the norm among banks.  But the system varies from one bank to the next.  Most of the differences between banks are in the user interface, which consists of the design and manner of layout of buttons and sequence of steps in how data would be entered into a remote terminal.

Some banks also offer the feature in which clients can access the queuing system online from their smartphones, tablets, or desktop computers before going to the bank’s branch.  A client either receives a QR code or a transaction number which he or she then presents at the bank.  The client is then given an queuing number which is usually for a line exclusive to those who did the input online. 

For the walk-in clients who had to input data into a terminal, I didn’t see much difference in their waiting times whatever bank they went to.  For some, especially those who aren’t what people call tech-savvy, it got worse.  They would almost always require assistance from a nearby employee or even the security guard.  When there were plenty of clients, such as on Mondays, Fridays, payroll days (i.e. mid- and end-month), and tax filing deadlines, the waiting times would surge to more than an hour.  Fewer tellers during the day would aggravate the waits of clients. 

I also didn’t see much difference in the productivity of tellers despite the elimination of hand-written transaction slips.  Tellers still had to count cash and examine checks which made up most of the transaction time.  Tellers also had to print out the client’s transaction receipts or withdrawal confirmations.  When the system sometimes ran slow or hangs, any productivity gained is wiped out. 

The less tech-savvy clients also sometimes don’t take advantage of the queuing system’s feature to bundle transactions under one queuing number.  Some clients would enter one transaction for one queuing number at a time as they had been used to do with hand-written transaction slips.  The less tech-savvy clients would then have a handful of queuing numbers which adds to the queue to the tellers and lengthens the teller’s time to process as she’d be going through the client’s queue numbers one by one.

The tech-savvy clients have a slight advantage as they usually are assigned an exclusive line separate from the walk-ins.  In some banks, they can go straight to the teller, show their QR codes or online numbers and have their transactions done right away.  But in many cases, tech-savvy clients still had to wait.  Tellers would often be busy with clients at the time the tech-savvy clients arrive.  In some banks, they’d still be required to register at a terminal to get a queuing number and there’d be a waiting line there too. 

Automated queuing systems by themselves don’t reduce waiting or process times.  As much as the system may make it more convenient for clients and efficient for tellers, it addresses only a part of the process. 

Queues and how long they will be and how long one will wait are determined not only by the length it takes do a process but also by the number of processors (i.e. tellers) and by the behaviour of arrivals (i.e. how many clients arrive at a given time and how many transactions they are bringing).

A state-of-the-art automated system can only do so much.  If banks are serious about improving productivity for tellers and clients, they should take a harder look at the steps and gather information about the volume of transactions done at their branches. 

And when I say steps and information, I mean all the steps and all the information that would be involved.  Targeting one step at a time does not improve productivity; one has to target the entire process from beginning to end and identify the factors that influence all of it. 

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

Finding the Right Management Style

Different Strokes for Different Folks” are what we apply when we as managers deal with subordinates.  “Different strokes” imply that we should behave differently toward different people.  But behaviour just by itself might not be enough. 

A household of two (2) married relatives of mine has two (2) female domestic helpers and a male family driver.  The domestic helpers get along very well with my relatives and do their jobs very well.

The family driver is newly hired.  The driver does his job satisfactorily.  He is careful while at the wheel and is quick when summoned.  He follows instructions and has even helped with the gardening at the home. 

The domestic helpers, however, don’t get along well with the new driver.  He has no sense of humour and doesn’t have a rapport with the helpers.  The new driver also is often grouchy and sometimes rude. 

My senior relatives sought my advice on what to do with the driver.  I say there is nothing to point to that the driver is doing wrong.  The driver is doing his job as asked and even goes the extra mile by helping with the garden.  He may not get along well with other people but he is doing his job.

Different strokes for different folks” seems to be good advice on how my relatives should manage the driver and the helpers.  Treat each person with a different behaviour.  My relatives can have light conversation with the helpers but be more serious with the driver. 

Different strokes for different folks” implies we take on a different personality mask whenever we talk to a subordinate.  Do we try to be funny with some but serious with others?  Do we put on a smile or do we look emotionless? 

But it goes beyond that.  This is because how we manage people should not only entail how we behave but how we influence them to do their jobs well.  

Paul Hershey and Ken Blanchard introduced a situational leadership model in 1969 that argued that there are different “leadership styles” when it comes to managing people.  Hershey and Blanchard essentially said there were four styles: 

Through the years since the 1970’s, managers have built on these “styles” and as in my case, I’ve adopted the following depending on whom I’m overseeing: 

  1. Dictator: I dictate in detail to the subordinates what I want, what they must do and I supervise them to make sure they does what I tell them to do;
  2. Coach: I provide instructions, tell subordinates to demonstrate, and then I correct them for any mistakes.  I monitor their performance from a distance but continue to make corrections as needed;
  3. Facilitator: I set standards and goals and leave the subordinates alone to perform.  I check their performance and ask them what they can do better.  I provide continuous advice to improve their performance;
  4. Delegator:  I allow the subordinates to set performance standards and targets and leave them to perform although I occasionally provide feedback.  Essentially, I trust them to do their job and just check that their results are aligned to what I want. 

To get to know which style is best, I assess first the subordinate.  And that requires listening, and not just analysing performance based on my own point of view.  It seems logical that to know someone, I’d have to seek what his or her thoughts and feelings are. 

When I tried these approaches with different people, managers felt I was being too nice sometimes.  That I should apply a firm hand, that is, punish poor performance right away even before asking the person how or why he or she didn’t do the job as expected. 

This “shoot first, ask questions later” policy did work for veteran managers who already knew their people well, especially the ones they knew were hard-headed and who would short-cut work at any given opportunity.  It didn’t seem to work for me when I was just new to a managerial position as I wouldn’t be outright familiar with the people reporting to me. 

In other words, as a manager I needed to learn fast and apply the styles unique to every individual subordinate as soon as possible.  I could be listening too long and people would abuse that courtesy.  Getting to know people does not give me a luxury of time; I needed to assess every subordinate quickly. 

A lesson I learned when it comes to managing people is it would be ideal if I were the one who hired them or got to know them before I became their manager.  It was an advantage that I was there when my relatives interviewed and hired the family driver so I sort of had a head-start in knowing his personality.  It also helped that I’ve known the domestic helpers for a long time especially whenever I visited my relatives. 

I advised my relatives to talk to the driver professionally, that is, just tell him what the next day’s schedule is so he can prepare the car and be immediately ready.  It would also allow the driver to plan his work schedule for the garden.  The driver had that personality in which he’d speak up when he was in the mood, so I told my relatives to not prod the driver with too many questions or small talk.  Instead, just tune in when he does start talking.

And over time, the driver did start talking.  He’d once in a while give small talk and some opinions about his work.  He would answer quickly when I and relatives asked about the garden.  He suggested improvements which I and the relatives approved.  It isn’t the perfect employer-employee relationship the relatives envisioned as the domestic helpers still find the driver’s stoic behaviour annoying, but the driver does his job well so there are no complaints. 

We count on continuing improvements with the management styles we use which hopefully will be effective in the long run. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Problems are Doorways to Opportunities

Since the start of 2021, semiconductor chips, which are used in cars, trucks, computers, and smart-phones, have been in short supply.  Supply has been so short that automotive companies have shut down assembly lines and consumer electronics corporations have delayed roll-outs of new products. 

Bloomberg reported in its September 22, 2021 Supply Lines newsletter that the gap between “ordering a semiconductor chip and delivery is still growing.” 

But four years before in 2017 (see chart above), it was already taking at least 10 weeks to deliver a semiconductor chip from time of order.  So, while businesses in 2021 anxiously wait up to 20 weeks for their chips to arrive, why were industries tolerating long order-to-delivery times of up to 10 weeks in the first place?

The dictionary defines a problem as an “unsatisfactory situation.”  It is a “state of difficulty that needs to be resolved.” 

Many of us equate problems with crises and disruptions, that is, we see a problem only when it hurts us such that it becomes urgent to address it. 

Hence, we tend to avoid them or try to resolve them as quickly as possible.  The fewer problems we have, the better, we usually say. 

The dictionary, however, also says it is a “a question proposed for solution or discussion.” 

Problems can be doorways to opportunities, in which if we think of them that way, we should seek them out and solve them for the ideas that would benefit us. 

Enterprises and even governments are scrambling hard in 2021 to fix the semiconductor chip shortage that has crippled factories and caused supply shortfalls of many products, from cell-phones to computers.  Most saw the problem when order-to-delivery lead times extended from 10 to 20 weeks.

If enterprises in 2017, however, proposed the “question” of shortening the supply lead time of 10 weeks, and found a solution, would industries be undergoing a crisis in 2021?  Wasn’t there a way to bring the number of weeks of lead time down to 4 weeks or even less? 

It was obvious that since 2017, company executives had accepted the 10-week order-to-delivery cycle and adjusted their inventories and production schedules to cover for the waiting time.  Executives managed the 10-week lead time into their financial forecasts.  The 10-week lead time was not considered a problem. 

If one enterprise in 2017 had seen the 10-week lead time as a problem rather than as an acceptable fate, and in the process of “discussion” found a “solution,” one wonders how much of a competitive advantage that enterprise would have in 2021. 

It’s never really worthwhile to ask “what-if” questions especially after the fact of a crisis.  But in the process of problem solving, as a question becomes clearer, it would have been likely that a solution would have addressed future adverse situations. 

As companies see their businesses compromised by the semiconductor shortage of 2021, it becomes more sensible to seek out the problems and pose the questions for “discussion” and “solution.”

For the pain many had been experiencing in 2021, it would have been worth it if they had only sought and solve problems then. 

It’s never really good to dwell in the past unless we learn something from it. 

About Overtimers Anonymous