What can boiling water teach us about management?
What does boiling water and your business have in common? Read on…
I was recently talking to a long-time client and friend about how his business was doing and what he said surprised me. First some background on this guy… he’s like a lot of beer folks, fiercely competitive. He doesn’t like to lose on anything. He’s the type of guy who’d burst his heart trying to achieve a goal… no driver could ever say this owner couldn’t match them case-for-case, regardless of the weather or time… hour-for-hour, day-in, and day-out. And of course he took this mentality to every thing he did… how couldn’t he, it is who he is. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so good.
So I almost fell over when we talked and he said he’s finally accepted he has to play the hand he’s dealt… I actually wanted to reach through the phone and shake his hand with a big FINALLY you’re getting it moment. He’s a MillerCoors distrib but this same can be said about plenty of ABI folks too. For his marketplace, he’s accepted that ABI corporate controls the chains and there isn’t a thing he can do about it… doesn’t matter how good he is… doesn’t matter how many times he sends in a merchandiser… simply doesn’t matter. Sure his organization has to perform well, but after a certain level… he’s simply wasting money… i.e. he’s learning to play the hand he’s dealt. You can of course play it wisely (and one should)… but sometimes the cards are simply the cards and no amount of effort can change this reality.
Many an ABI distrib has discovered the same thing… all that extra (over-kill) effort only leads to spoiled and whiney retailers… not any additional sales or share. The cards are what they are… you’ll never get everyone to drink only your products. Play your cards well with a view of both the short- and long-term, but don’t forget they are what they are.
Now what does this have to do with boiling water? Well my somewhat twisted mind is always making different connections… ways to help better understand some issue or to help others gain an insight and boiling water is the perfect metaphor for the epiphany my client experienced.
First let’s go back to high school chemistry… or was it physics? and think about boiling water. Put a thermometer in a beaker of water and place it above a hot flame. The temperature of the water slowly rises. Up it goes until the water starts boiling (212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, less up here at a mile high in elevation)… and then the interesting thing happens. You can crank up the heat all you want but the temperature won’t rise. The water will boil faster and faster but the temperature remains the same. And THAT my friend is what my buddy learned. After a certain point, all that extra energy just makes the thing boil faster… nothing else is happening or will happen or can happen. No amount of energy will change this physical reality.
Think about your company… your service policy… your pricing strategy… your policies and procedures… even how you manage your employees (or you children or spouse)… Are your actions effective and helping to heat the water? That’s a good thing. Or are you simply and inefficiently making the thing boil faster and faster to no gain… and in many cases to your (and your employee’s) detriment. That faster and faster boiling water simply evaporates that much quicker. In a business it could be represented by more and more turmoil and conflict… or on the bottom-line by more and more expenses with no increase in sales… or in hundreds of other ways.
I’ll be the first to admit it might not be easy to discover where the “boiling point” is in any of these situations… but the good thing is this isn’t a single trial. Each and every day you are presented with a lot of feedback on the boiling points in each of these areas… open your eyes and LEARN. You profit will thank you… your market share will thank you… your employees will thank you… and perhaps even your spouse and children will thank you.
· Is your business operating effectively AND efficiently?
· Are you missing several obvious areas of opportunity that a new and fresh set of eyes can identify? Warning… blatant sales pitch ;-)
· Are your efforts providing a positive return-on-investment or are they simply causing additional “churn”?
As you move forward in 2010 and beyond, think a little about boiling water and the decisions you make.