I told them: “It’s bad news, folks. Income fell hard and fast in the third quarter.” Sombrely, I traced along a plummeting red line with the light of a laser pointer. “We might be in some bother.”
Fortunately, I’ve concocted a solution to our heavy-spending problem.
“We’re going to take a harder-line with difficult clients. They’re leeching the life out of us with their ‘mates-rates’ and devil-may-care approach to payment.
“We’re chasing late, inaccurate or unpaid invoices, and most of our clients say ‘the cheque’s in the post!’ We know it isn’t, they know it isn’t, but we go along with the facade anyway.
“What’s more, your team are diligently working on projects with little to no return, little knowing their annual salary is hardly covered. We need them filtered across to new, paying business and the sales staff need to start locking in those new contracts.”
It’s a lead balloon. Tough crowd. I let it sink a little and give a reassuring look to the accounts team, now eyeing me nervously. Time to bust-out the Einstein quote:
“’A ship is safe at the shore, but that’s not what it’s built for.’ Our ship, our business, needs to take chances to get ahead, or risk losing it all.”
There’s stunned silence around the room. Perhaps I’ve played my best hand too soon? Or perhaps the true genius and our real manifesto for change, can be achieved in baby steps:
“I have many more ideas to get us back on track:
“One. We’ve noticed that (on more than one occasion) we’re not inviting clients to their own ‘working lunches’. It’s a strange phenomenon sweeping the firm that’s sending entertainment costs through the roof. We spent £325 on tempura alone between January and June. That’s too much free batter for one workforce. A guest list will prevent internal lunches and splurges masquerading as client lunches, wouldn’t you agree?
“Two. At the Christmas party, we willingly throw money into a bottomless canyon. This year, the five-star French bistro is out. The staff take it upon themselves to self-medicate with spirits to dull their boredom and drown out the harp player who only knows how to play the Harry Potter theme tune. At least, let’s swap the Prosecco for a white wine spritzer during the toast. It’s far less ostentatious and no one will notice anyway.
“Three. Cedric, our great leader. You have a penchant for flying first-class, while the rest of the senior team scale it back (a bit) and book business. Plush lounges, all-you-can-eat continental breakfast, massage chairs, shower pods and pamper suites are for honeymooners and vloggers flying with Emirates, not business travel. But, sometimes the creature comforts help you do a better job, I understand that. Let’s compromise: Accounts will book economy and you can indulge in the upgrade at check-in…using your own money.
“Four. Every department has a company credit card, and the staff are spending without sign off. The cards are whipped out so fast they barely have time to smoulder. The receipts aren’t submitted usually because they’re MIA. Perceived misdemeanours with chaotic consequences! We’re constantly puzzling over the statements, unpicking what new (and pointlessly expensive) investment is draining the account this month. Departmental spending is essential, but not without governance. Prepaid, surely, means we get full transparency on every pound spent in your name? Will that make them less inclined to burn that plastic? We must try.
“Five. The staff want their employer to do well, so let’s get them thinking about day-to-day spend. I’d suggest sign-off for items from the stationery cupboard. A ‘cycle-to-work’ scheme to reduce petrol reimbursement. The end of free milk, everyone needs to bring their own and finally, let’s tighten up the photocopying privileges with limits on pages that can be printed.”
Cedric stands and looks me square in the eye: “We won’t be able to let the unprofitable clients go if that’s what you mean Clive. But you raise some interesting points…”
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