I deal with a number of consulting clients and also things come up that I feel you could benefit from. Today is an example of what I mean. Learn from this case study. See how anything here applies to your firm, it at all. Imagine how you could do better if you ran this company. No company is perfect, every one is a work in progress. However, this particular case study you will find interesting because it has so many issues from different perspectives. I look forward to your input; tell me what you have learned.
Business Process Reorganization
I know I am long overdue on articles but a lot has taken place; I promise I am getting to them. I know a lot of you have been curious as to why we pulled our operations from Rome, Italy. I will explain all of that as soon as I can word it in a way that you can learn from it. Also, I know I need to explain to you more the philosophy behind the law, consulting & negotiation firm I just created for entrepreneurs, http://www.SanDiegoBizLaw.com, and that is coming soon as well.
The firm we are analyzing is not a client’s, so the perspective I will share is even better…as a customer. I attended a course about 15 years ago that was about taking you to new realms, empowering your life and the lives of those around you. The company is called the Landmark Forum; perhaps you have heard of them, they are global. To their credit, a lot of what they had to say was very powerful and worthwhile. So, let’s go forward to February 17th 2011. I decided to volunteer. I did not want to go through the whole course again because the last time I went it was like bootcamp from hell. You couldn’t use the restroom, you would be sleep deprived, you couldn’t eat at reasonable hours, and on top of everything if you questioned anything they would make a fool of you in front of a group of 100 people and label your concerns using ‘their’ language so that if anything you stated did not comport with their formula, you were wrong. Although they didn’t call it making you wrong, in plain English they would intimidate anyone who challenged any aspect of their dogma or their organization.
Why did I attend? I’ll try anything once. Moreover, a close friend and client of mine insisted this was one of the best things he had ever done. I am open-minded (often to my own demise) and took part in this course. The first part is 3 days long and the second is four. I did learn a lot and some of the education was quite powerful. I met some wonderful people along the way, and met others for whom it didn’t do much other than provide a family for them, but all the power of the course did nothing to improve the quality of their life. I finally left because I felt being a part of an organization that is so closed-minded is unhealthy. Years later I thought that it would make sense to visit it as I was told they restructured the organization and it was not so disciplinarian in nature and treated people with some respect and dignity. This is where the story really begins.
I will try to entertain you as much as I can by making it somewhat of a narrative whilst at the same time I intend to impart some very important business concepts that will apply to you, whether you have a start-up or mid-sized company, or even a Fortune 500 corporation. The lessons to be learned here will be invaluable if you understand the message I am trying to share in each part of this analysis. Remember, this is just one person’s opinion, mine. Then again, I ‘am’ extremely analytical.
When I entered as a volunteer, it was a Thursday night and I was scheduled to come in from 7 to 10 PM. They had mentioned that although we were not able to access the room we needed (where the seminar of approximately 100 people paying about $500 for 3.25 days would arrive the next day) until 10 PM. I asked if I could attend at 10 as I had tickets to a charity event.
BUSINESS LESSON 1: They stated that I committed to be there at 7 and I should keep integrity of my word. Well, I am a man of my word and was prepared to do what they needed. Arriving at 7, on time, I waited beside the ‘leader’ who completely ignored me for 10 minutes and then provided me with a less than welcoming hello and handshake before pawning me off to one of his assistants so I could be put to work.
BUSINESS CONCEPT : If you have volunteers, they are to feel welcome so that they are happy to be there. Although I could see past his arrogance (ie he looked at volunteers as just another body to get the work done – we were not people to him) a lot of other people could have been turned off by the experience of the un-welcome.
BUSINESS LESSON 2: They brought me to their storage room in order to locate items for the next morning’s seminar (chalk, paper clips, advertising brochures etc). Both I and my assistant struggled to find what we needed and in many cases simple things such as paper clips and markers were not available. On a side note, the room could not have looked more of a mess if a 12-year old ran it. It was the worst business room I have seen since I became a Business Process Reengineering consultant.
BUSINESS CONCEPTS :
1. Do not prepare for a conference the night before.
2. Do not wait until the night before to photocopy 3000 pieces of paper (we ran out of toner on an industrial copier…good luck finding it on a Friday at 10 PM)/ [luckily we found one buried in another rat's nest of a closet].
3. Always keep on hand extra toners…especially black. Keep 2 copies of all color toners if you are going to conduct a major event; one defective toner can stop the entire operation.
4. Keep manuals on how to run machines next to the machines or copy them. Another volunteer spent 40 minutes trying to figure out how to collate with this modern can-do-everything copier that was built by techies who thought we could all think like them so there was no point in making it even slightly intuitive.
5. Make lists of everything you will need before a major event/conference. Make it so simple anyone can understand in case the chief is not around (or as in this case non-existent as they try to become richer by having all the volunteers run the firm and only keep less than a handful of [lucky for them, great] staff to make sales calls). I was quoted (I don’t know the accuracy) they have 3000 volunteers worldwide, 50 paid speakers and a few skeleton staff.
BUSINESS LESSON 3: In the end, the 3 hours they needed me for was to photocopy and organize a box of requirements. In my firm that would take 20 minutes with a high-speed copier; you leave it alone and it does the job. You know where everything is and you grab it. It is not a production as it is here…I think pulling off a Royal Wedding is easier than organizing one of their seminars. By the way, seminars come in all shapes and sizes. We are not talking about PowerPoint presentations, movies and the like. We are talking about an old-fashioned blackboard and chalk, plus handouts. It does not get much easier.
1. The company required so many bodies because they were highly disorganized. If they could simply organize their supply room, people could find what they needed. The whole organization is a business process nightmare. At Harvard I studied many many business case studies. The problems analyzed had to do with business concepts, not the basics. This was run like a day care center. In fact, I could not imagine a day care that disorganized. Why did they not hire consultants? Because they are always right. Their model of self-help is such that there is no room for conversation or challenge. At the same time they are preaching that you should be ‘unreasonable’ in your goal for self-expression with others. However, others does not include themselves.
2. If you bring a volunteer in to help then make use of their time. I spent most of my time waiting for someone to give me something to do. And it was boring. A waste of time. I was patient with it, but at about 11:00 with nothing to do I had explained I was up since 6 and had to work hard the whole week to make up for the fact that I would be unavailable to my staff for 3 straight days (as we operate 24 hours a day I need to be available as situations arise) and requested to go home as the next morning I had to wake up at 5:30 to be there at 7 AM as they don’t prep for the next day until the next morning!
I was met with the leader who instead of ‘listening’, something the course talks about, shoving his dogma down my throat in telling me I was not being a man of my word, I was this, I was that….he couldn’t get that a human being gets tired after a 17-hour day. It was just not part of what he could fathom. This does not inspire volunteers or anyone else.
3. Make your volunteers feel welcome. It’s bad enough that there is no organized or defined list of duties for volunteers (it’s a seat-of-the-pants organization– when they run out of something then they go to the store that minute — an incredibly inefficient waste of resources — a company that makes $50,000 in a weekend should be able to go to Costco and stockpile on paper clips, markers, and paper).
Volunteers can oftentimes give you more heart than staff. Not because they are better, but because they are not doing something they have to, they do it because they choose to, given the many other choices they have. Those who know me, know I have a film production company as well and have spent a lot of time in film. That industry is very heavy in the use of volunteers, as it is the easiest way to learn something and break into the industry in return for some time and effort. However, the nice thing is that for the volunteers there is fresh coffee, great food, and there are bonuses, recognition, and parties. This organization, which tries to convince you they know it all, and know how to run the world, offer no more than tap water. They fill the plastic bottles from a well-known distributor with tap water and then put it out there to look like commercial water. They are too cheap (running a company on the cheap is a story I will write soon as that has led to more disasters than I can count) to even have coffee on hand for volunteers or even a slice of toast. I say toast because today, Friday the 18th, I started at 7:30 AM and was not permitted to have dinner until 8:30 PM. I had nothing to eat all day, nor was I warned of this craziness, and moreover being as money-hungry as they are, they have a dumpy office in a low-rent part of town that is 10 minutes away from the closest place where you can buy anything, even water.
If it wasn’t for the fact that so many people buy into this organization’s teachings, I could not imagine them being able to keep volunteers when I wouldn’t let my own dog undergo this. My advice to you is if you ever use volunteers in your organization treat them with care; they could be your future employees and one of your biggest assets. One of the biggest mistakes companies of all types make is take their volunteers for granted or think of them as expendable. Treat them as well if not better than a client. Remember, they will tell all of their friends and those friends won’t be your clients and neither will ‘their’ friends. It’s not a great way to brand your company, your product, or your future.
Clearly, this organization does not respect a volunteer’s time as they look at volunteers as expendable. This is evidenced by the fact that I was informed their conferences are often understaffed as volunteers don’t want to give their time. Wonder why? Yet at the same time, their greed makes them not hire paid staff and they simply work their volunteers harder.
BUSINESS LESSON 4: On Friday, the day of the seminar, we started at 7:30 getting everything organized. A little crazy coming from my business world, but there is always a lesson to be learned. What do you think of this — they always had us take the last row of chairs away during a break and then when the last people arrived we would unstack the chairs and seat people. They stated it forced people to sit closer. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it may make the people who like to be at the back a row closer, but in the end if you know how many people are there, how does it make people closer to the front when you have only as many chairs as there are people? We are talking about a global organization here.
Throughout the whole conference the ‘quasi-leaders’ (ie the three volunteers who were ‘above’ the rest of the volunteers as they had been volunteers for several conferences) were having the volunteers pass notes back and forth between people in and out of the conference room. It was chaotic.
BUSINESS CONCEPT :
1. Organize. Your customers won’t have confidence in you if you come across like this is your first time. There were times after notes were delivered that people left in a panic. Why did it take 8 volunteers to run something so simple? Because the company wanted to save money by not hiring a single competent project manager. A good one is worth his or her weight in gold.
BUSINESS LESSON 5: I had finally been able to sit down after welcoming the visitors, and getting the room prepped for the conference. No sooner had I sat down that I was assigned to phone duty. As the organization is too stingy to hire a receptionist they have their volunteers answer the phones. This is significant. The reason is the course progresses in a sequential fashion. If you miss a part you miss the part that builds on the part before. You also learn from other people’s sharing of their experiences; it really is an experiential course. Well, if you send people outside the room during the course for an hour at a time (every 2 hours) the volunteers miss what they were there for in the first place!
No sooner had I sat down to answer phones that another person asked me to make outgoing calls to volunteers to confirm whether they were coming. At the same time, another person provides me with an urgent task while I as on phones…the task was paper clipping (with the clip in the proper direction and spacing for every document, which slows you down by a factor of 4) 260 documents. It was hard to know what was more important as everyone was pulling you in a different direction. No sooner had they noted my speed of work and organizational skills that a staff member insisted I organize a supply room in their staff office because they could no longer function and it hadn’t been worked on in years. What a disaster and how tiring….not knowing who was first and watching all of the ‘heads’ running around like chickens with their heads cut off.
On top of that, what is important is that the people immediately above volunteers are completely untrained. The ones at the level above him were a great pleasure to work with and one of the best things to come out of this horrible experience. The person who was in charge of volunteers was a poor leader, rude, and inconsiderate. I have heard of this before in this organization in their treatment of a friend of mine who was a volunteer. The organization states they make leaders out of people. As a result, their arrogance makes them believe they don’t have to train their staff. What I witnessed from this ‘leader’ was that he had not had many times in his life where he could lead (in fact his wife was bossing him around as a fellow volunteer, and in a very rude way —- seems maybe neither one of them got anything out of this training) and as a result he had the uneducated attitude that you lead with a stick and treat people as ‘underlings’. This is necessary in a police force or the military, but in today’s business world the best leadership is where you inspire and reward your people, not work them to death and let the go get breakfast at 8:30 PM. You would think that a course that tells you how great they are in creating leadership would get this….they are believing their own sales pitch! Surprisingly, in over a decade nothing has changed. They still don’t monitor or train their so-called leaders. In fact, I don’t really think they care.
1. I cannot overemphasize how important this one is. This is probably the most important concept I will share. When you decide to make someone in your organization a leader, manager, etc. train the person. If you don’t know enough yourself about management, there are many day-long and weekend seminars you can pay to do the job. If you don’t then you will get management and leadership based on that person’s background and they will bring all of ‘their’ baggage to the table. Is it your company or theirs? The most successful companies I know are those that try to put systems into place so that there is a homogeneity of the message throughout the organization. You cannot have 10 managers and 10 management styles; it just does not work and your company will suffer.
2. Organize whatever you need to do well in advance of an event. You heard it before and it is worth repeating. If your clients can smell the disorganization they will not have confidence in you.
3. If someone helps you in exchange for something in return, honor your word. Don’t take advantage of people by not defining how you will hold up your part of the bargain.
THE LAST BUSINESS LESSON:
What little I got from the bit of time at the conference showed me that nothing has changed in over a decade. I was disappointed that it was not dynamic. There was no improvement or update. Yet at the same time it is ineffective for many of the leaders and they keep repeating it in the hopes of getting something out of it. In my opinion something was wrong with the formula. Or was it just a money-making machine for them? Why bother improving it if you have volunteers bringing in all their friends and ‘quasi’ pressuring people to attend their introductory evenings; it was sad to listen to. All the hype, all the dictum about how great they are and what great leaders they can make you….how they encourage you to be unreasonable in your approach to life so you can get your message out to others to do what you want them to (ie a true leader) when some of the very leaders who represent the firm can’t lead to save their lives…they are so called in the company’s language that no matter what you tell them they twist you into being wrong and you are not being sincere, with integrity etc when they are the very ones who aren’t in integrity.
I thought to myself, this is not a hospital. Even when I was a volunteer at UCSD Medical Center’s SICU and trauma unit they did not ask for anything of that nature. Yet here we have an organization with over 100 offices in several countries making about $50k x 100 per month (that is for one major seminar plus all the minis etc) = about $5,000,000 a month won’t even hire cleaning staff? I hope that the owner of this private firm is enjoying his caviar on his yacht in Monte Carlo whilst he laughs at how brilliant he was in ‘leading’ all these volunteers to work for free so that he and his partners can pocket more money. In the meantime, people are giving up their weekends and working hard in a totally disorganized operation because it’s cheaper to do it wrong than spend the money. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, despite all the money they make it’s not about greed. Maybe they think they know it all and therefore they don’t have to listen. Pay attention to this. If you own a business, any kind, and you think you know it all…look at what can happen. You, the president may be going against the very things you stand for and charge others to learn.
They brag about how great they are in bringing this message to many foreign countries. What happened to their own back yard? Where is ‘their’ integrity? Or is money more important? How many yachts do they need to waterski behind…as Gordon aptly stated in Wall Street? You would think with all those millions they have made enough where they could hire a receptionist, a project manager, and ….. one more staff member you will soon read about.
As the long boring day of being their free admin with their free tap water the volunteers were told it’s our duty to clean their bathrooms and trash…..that was the end for me. I spoke to ‘the’ leader and tried to have a conversation. One that I thought could help them. After all, they were the ones who taught us to be unreasonable in our quest for self-expression and leadership. My goal was to explain how with a bit of Business Process Reengineering they could run more efficiently and effectively. Their staff could produce more each day because they wouldn’t spend so much time looking for things and running out to buy things at the last second. I wanted to suggest they be open to it.
After all, they were the ones who attracted a lot of bad press because of how they ran their previous seminars. People were not allowed to use the bathrooms. They were intimidated in public (I witnessed it and it was horrible) when they questioned the theories; they were always made wrong So it took them many years to open their minds to the possibility of restructuring the company, which they just recently did. I am not sure how much money they lost because of all the people who were scared away by their high-pressure sales tactics combined with their strict disciplinarian approach. I am frankly surprised it took them that long and I would be delighted to know who brought that up….it took more than courage. Well, as soon as I requested the conversation in private we went to a room where a woman was in agony because her back had hurt due to being hit by a car as a pedestrian. I happen to know whom I consider to be the best chiropractor in the country. As a polo player, a chiropractor is vital.
He began speaking to me in his dogma language and I requested he speak to me as a person. The first thing he did was reprimand me for telling her of the chiropractor. He stated I represent the company and we can never be sure how she interprets this. Wait a minute. She could not stand on her feet and was laying on chairs in agony and this organization is afraid that I recommend a chiropractor to a fellow human being in agony? She was a chiropractor herself and knew if she could use one or not and she clearly wanted one. At that point, at exactly that point I gave up.
He continued by telling me that I had not help up my end of the deal. I retorted by offering to stay until 2 AM so my team would not be put out. On the other hand, more people were coming tomorrow anyway (an option I was not offered). I regretted this would be the end of my belief in anything they had to say. He asked for a conclusion. I told them any time their president comes to my office and cleans our bathrooms, I will clean his. Guaranteed. On the other hand, we hire someone to do ours; we don’t use volunteers.
BUSINESS CONCEPTS :
1. It takes a lot of work to build an idea of what your company is. Look at Southwest Airlines. Examine Nordstorm’s. Everyone loves them. EVERYTHING you do needs to reflect what your company stands for. Live and breathe your message. Not just in your company. Your company should reflect who YOU are, and what you believe in. If who you are is separable from what your company is, you are heading for serious trouble…sooner or later.
2. In the past the company mentioned they were surprised that very few professionals went to the course. In fact now, they go to businesses. Let’s look at it. I was looking for coffee in the kitchen when I got there. Of course there was none. The kitchen was a mess in which a mouse would get lost, and it smelled bad. The bathrooms were from the 60s. The building has no parking so you have to walk for blocks to get there. The building, a concrete cheap structure was not decorated or in any way made to look pleasant; I have been to police departments with more flair. The few things you see on the wall are cut-outs and collages that look like you are visiting an elementary school; there is absolutely no look of professionalism at all. How can you expect a professional to offer something of value if your operation looks like you’re in grade 5? It would be the same as a client coming to my firm for litigation and seeing that we don’t have computers….let alone a secretary running out for paper clips because I am running to court. What would you think?
3. Last but not least…and probably the second most important concept here today. People who think they’re always right are the hardest to deal with. Regrettably, it is a contagious disease in Italy. Have you ever argued with someone who will make you wrong no matter what you do and what side you take? As a negotiator, those are cases I rarely take on because you can’t win them. Now make your organization that way. Make it closed-mided because you know it all. Where do you think you will be in 10 years?
Listen. To everybody. When I moved to Emerald Plaza (my favorite office tower in the world; located in San Diego made of 7 hexagons, half hotel, half office complex), previously Emerald-Shapery Towers, I was one of the first tenants; our suite did not have walls or outlets yet. As a result, I got to know everyone from Sandy Shapery to the entire cleaning crew. I had an office Christmas party with about 150 people and had invited both Sandy, the developer, and the cleaning crew. Someone asked me why I invited them. I responded they were my friends. We spoke a lot (as they had few offices to clean at the time and I always worked late) and I learned sooo much from them. And they worked for the building, they weren’t my staff. They had some great ideas, just no outlet to implement them in. So I tried some of their ideas. Some didn’t work well, others worked great.
You can learn from anyone. Anyone. Just listen, observe; lips shut, eyes, ears, and mind wide open. However, you can learn even more from the people closer to you. You learn things about yourself that you can improve. You learn things about your company. And as you improve yourself (aren’t we all works in progress?) your company can’t help but be better. So, whether it be a disillusioned volunteer like myself or the person who parks your car….remember….diamond starts out as coal…don’t ever ever judge the source. Good luck all you entrepreneurs!