Business Shortcuts vs Cutting Corners: the good and the evil


First off, let’s establish that there is nothing wrong at all and everything right with working smart, and with developing shortcuts to help make a business more profitable. There are consultants driving around in luxury German automobiles and living in exclusive zip codes, who have made their money from teaching people how to streamline their business and cut waste.
For example, in a service industry, TIMESHEETS are one proven way to help owner/managers manage time; their own and their staff’s.  When I worked as a business consultant, one of the first things I would ask my clients would be to breakdown each of the “inventory items” they sold to customers and associate them with a “production time.” For example, how many person hours does it take to make an Acme widget? The constant surprise was that majority of companies, at least the ones I worked for, had only a vague idea how long it took them to produce what it was they sold! I would ask three senior-level managers to give me information about a specific item and this usually resulted in three different answers.  And they were seldom close.
This was a particular problem when the services being sold had a strong “intellect” component; writing a report or client brief, or delivery a training program for instance. But there was also a vagueness concerning more concrete tasks. (In the dive industry, this might be servicing a regulator or oxygen cleaning a scuba cylinder.)
My ten-thousand dollar solution was timesheets. Since success is in the final analysis is about making money, you can’t begin to walk down that path until you have some sort of correlation between cost of sales and price charged; and since time is money, and since time is a perishable commodity – try as you might, you cannot buy yesterday back – you need to have a firm grip on how you (and your staff) spend their days. In a recent study of government employees in the UK, it was found that average productivity – measured in actual hours doing what their job description said they should be – was around 25 percent. Sure, that’s government and that’s the UK, but I don’t think that figure is too far from the average.
Every manager has his or her own way to motivate themselves and the rest of their team, and we don’t have to go there, but the first step surely is finding out how time is spent doing the various jobs that we get paid to do and that our customers in turn pay us for.
Of course, once we know that it takes on average, let’s say two person hours to make, inspect, pack and ship, and create an invoice for an Acme Widget, we can do two things; review the price we charge, and refine the process to see if there is a shortcut available to us that does not impact quality, but that lessens production time.
Any strategy or more correctly, tactic, we come up with is a business shortcut and is perfectly acceptable. For example, posting a simple flowchart at every workstation in one production unit I studied, resulted in cutting average production time for their “widgets” by more than 15 percent; and translated in better QA results for finished items. This is an example of a simple and effective tactic born out of a manager sitting down and studying a set of detailed timesheets, and finding where the time leaks in the system were.
There are several lessons here for those of us who run dive operations and retail businesses. Apply the timesheet principle to every process that makes up YOUR job description. Keep a notebook handy and try to include every task you and your help do during a normal week, from inventory control and ordering, to servicing dive gear and managing students for their pool and open water sessions.
The time saved is money earned. And time saved can be used to generate more business. As a general rule, the consultant’s advice to management is for a portion of the time saved after a “time audit” to be spent building stronger customer relations. Another company I worked with found that through more effective time management, their senior staffers had time to introduce a different kind of customer satisfaction survey. It translated into a straightforward policy of picking up the phone on a regular timetable and making exploratory calls.
Imagine the impact on your customer retention when Joe Diver gets a phone call from you three or four weeks after their open water certification asking about their experience. “Hey Joe, tell me about that vacation you took after our certification class together…” Do you think that customer would be impressed? Do you have time to make that type of call?
Now all the above presumes that the parties involved understand the difference between a shortcut – as a viable business best practice – and cutting corners – which in our industry can result in the most awful situation.
Take for example the dive shop worker who decided that partial-pressure filling cylinders for nitrox and trimix fills took way too much time. He cut corners by speeding up the process; oxygen as 60 psi a minute, nonsense he said, it takes too long. Or his fellow Darwin Award candidate who did not bother to calibrate the gas analyzer in the mornings and from that moved swiftly to letting nitrox tanks leave the fill station without having customers complete the diver fill log.
Admittedly these are extreme examples, but they serve to illustrate the major point: Shortcuts are good, cutting corners, especially in this game, could get you and your customers hurt or worse.
If you think your business would benefit from taking a few shortcuts, my advice is to start with timesheets and process analysis, and use any saved time to do focused customer follow through.
One final example. We push onLine programs and the whole blended learning issue because it fits into the paradigm outlined here. Basically, it saves time (a good shortcut) because a large component of the learning is self-directed by the student. In doing so it gives instructors and facility owners a report on student progress, which of course allows the perfect opportunity to make that pro-active phone call. “Hey, I am your dive instructor. Noticed you are making great progress and I wanted to talk to you about getting you kitted out for the dives…”
Be well and dive safe.


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