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Truth and Rights

14 Dec 2017  |  James Whitmore 
Truth and Rights

In the length of a single opinion column, James Whitmore shares an idea that could transform your business

Archaeologists have excavated a basement nightclub in Manchester. They were not seeking another Shakespearean king; these are disco historians. You’d like to think they were looking for the perfect beat. I went a few times to the reggae club upstairs, The Nile. It’s odd being unearthed. To quote a musical disc from the time, many patrons are still alive.

The seventies get a bad press and I am not sure why. Full employment, comparatively plentiful housing, low income inequality, equitable taxation, rapid growth and burgeoning prosperity are what I remember. I wouldn’t wish to go back but it was certainly a far better time than what followed under the cold dead hand of Thatcher.

The economy is in a bit of a pickle just now, not least as productivity stubbornly fails to grow. Perhaps there are a couple of things that we can dig up from forty years ago. If not exhuming the past, at least embracing the principles.

The first contender is the telephone that rings until it is answered. The ultimate real time, one-to-one communications gadget. Call someone and get it done. Give people responsibility - and no hiding place.

The trouble with the replacements, voicemail, email etc, is partly the lack of certainty. Who’s at the other end? Are they the right person, have they got the message, was it clear? Do they understand that the communication is for them and them alone - and that something needs to be done? It is also about momentum and time. Presumably the attraction of technology is that you can employ fewer people to answer the phone. You deal with incoming communication on your own terms and in your own time. Effectively you are stealing that time from your customers and suppliers. The trouble is that everyone else is pilfering time as well. Collectively we save on a relatively abundant resource, staff, and lose out on the most perishable thing of all, time.

The second candidate is overtime. We have lost control of the working day. It is a mystery why people put up with it. If you are regularly working beyond your contract hours, either in the office or by catching up at home, only two things can be possible. Either you are incompetent or your boss is.

Putting a price on extra work concentrates the manager’s mind. Instead of letting the task expand into the time available - which with technology is effectively seven whole days - we have a cost penalty for inefficiency. Care must be taken to make sure that only what is necessary is being done. Otherwise, you end up paying double time to make up for the luxury of dithering, having umpteen people in a meeting and so on. The crap, as they say, is cut.

More broadly, it would be an idea to consider the return of the 83% marginal tax on tip top earners. There would no longer be a point in paying silly salaries, which would improve company profitability no end. Maybe the big earners that did not wish to contribute to society would flounce off in a fit of pique. This would open the way for a new and more diverse generation of leaders.

And there you have it - your business transformed in less than five hundred words.

As they used to say at the Nile - lick it back, boss cat.

Orwell unwell?

Recently I attended a debate about ethics in the industry. A minor side line was that one speaker used George Orwell’s quote about advertising being the stick that stirs the swill of capitalism. The presenter went on to posit that Orwell believed consumers to be pigs, as they eat the swill. I was struggling with this idiosyncratic interpretation when another contributor felt emboldened to dismiss Orwell outright as “he was just a communist after all”.

I think that is more than a little eccentric. The comments were not central to the debate and so no one picked up on them. But it did make me wonder. How many left the event thinking that George Orwell can be discounted as a thinker as he was naught but a commie who believed consumers to be pigs? In a world of fake news, it was perhaps an example of how these things start.

James Whitmore is the managing director of Route

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08 Jul 2020 

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