You’ve heard the story a million times. He started the business on a card table in his living room. She went door to door selling makeup out of her car. He was a milkshake machine sales rep who thought the burgers were pretty good and he bought the place. The large corporations love to tout the stories because they humanize the corporation.
These stories put a personality behind what everyone is doing at the organization. It’s also the great American success story and let’s the founders obtain a status that’s more of a legend than simply a savvy business person or someone who worked hard but happened to be at the right place at the right time. They do serve an important reminder.. and that reminder is that most organizations start very small and have to grow. There are a few who are seeded by large buckets of financial resources and start very well organized, but they are more the exception than the norm.
So these little companies grow, and they continue to grow. In the early days throughout the last century and, even today, the accounting system is in a notebook because that’s all you need. Well today maybe it’s a single excel spreadsheet. As the organizations maintain their growth pattern, usually heavy growth in the early years, they become very good at limiting their expenditures. Why spend new money on old systems if the old systems continue to work? The thing is they don’t work all that well as the company becomes more and more complicated. Even when new systems are put in place and the managers try and use the old and familiar tools, tools they are comfortable with. Things like manually prepared spreadsheets become the norm for reporting.
Eventually these spreadsheets, and word docs, and accounting systems start to bend under the weight of size. Need a report of every single customer, it’s easy to keep a spreadsheet of them when it’s a few dozen or even hundred. It’s a little bit harder when the number of customers is measured in the thousands or even more. Even when the companies invest in the new technologies to help manage the load of information, for example, adopting Salesforce.com as the company CRM, the managers don’t bother to truly integrate the system. The management balks at putting resources not just behind the system, but customizing the system, and making sure everyone in the leadership stack truly understands and is incentivized in how to use it.. how to be an expert in the system. So these very important leaders do what they always have done.. they concentrate on the things that got them to where they are, not the things that will get the company to where the company needs to be. “Just put it in a spreadsheet” is the mandate when someone has the gall to ask why they don’t use the automation tools themselves.
And that’s the moment the professional individual contributor comes in. The PIC knows how to work the systems. They know the benefits.. They know at customers can be billed automatically.. that reports of every single different type can be generated.. they know paper forms can be automated. Yet, they are asked to do manual report after report.. put together a powerpoint to tell how this territory is doing. Put together the top twenty customers in this vertical. Only excel spreadsheets are allowed to be uploaded to the vendor. The team has to manually update the shared doc weekly. Never mind that it’s two clicks away for the senior manager who requested it. Never mind that all the paperwork can be completely automated with just a few days work and an involved leadership group who commits the resources and their own time to make it happen.
And so the paperwork continues. The tools go to waste and time is wasted that can be better spent on other things. It’s why we still continue to struggle with paperwork every single day in uncounted numbers of ways. It’s also why there is no end in sight. I’d love to track all the different ways we waste time with the systems around me. I could create an app for my smartphone that automatically records them as I run into them. It would upload to the cloud and the blog at the same time, maybe even post them to the peluso Presents twitter feed. That would be so awesome, but sadly I don’t have the time.
I guess i’ll just keep it all listed in a spreadsheet.