Sunday, October 28, 2007

Clock’s Ticking, what’s today’s Deposit?

For US based firms, this time of the year is the most exciting. They don’t recognize time in hours, days and weeks. The new time measurement is ‘deposit days’. That is the number of days remaining when the banks will be open to accept the avalanche of payments that will hit the firm. It is amazing how, firms who don’t meet their target, blame the lack of ‘deposit days’. That is almost like saying; I could have passed that exam, had I another – 15 hours!

The concept of time is so very allusive. For years I spoke of time as an illusion, it is an intangible and doesn’t really exist. However, it is the basis on which everything in our world operates. Webster supports my contention of time being an allusion with “ the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, as past, present, or future”. With that said, the demarcation of events is what we have built our entire existence upon, and rightfully so! Without the concept of deadlines, nothing would ever get accomplished! Imagine in our professional world, Ms. Client you need to pay your bill. By when? Mr. Taxpayer, your tax remittance needs to be paid! By when? Notice how ludicrous these statements have become, without the recognition of some point in time?

Although allusive and only an event marker, time is the traffic cop of our economic system. It is how we, judge success and failure. Essentially we establish a goal, set the deadline date, and then judge success by the achievement of that goal. With long time lines, most goals become achievable. However, as each day brings one close to the deadline date, the difficulty in the achieving of the goal increases, for some, exponentially. Essentially time gets away from us! But how can it? It isn’t real. It isn’t like that glass of water we drink or we watch evaporate. Time is only the reference between two events; sunrise and sunset. However, when we fail to achieve our target or goal, it was the fault of time – it couldn’t be us!

There is an entire industry out in the world that sells on the comfort that our failures are not our fault, it is the fault of insufficient time. This industry, it the time management consulting industry! Spend a moment in the local bookstore or go online and search for time management. There is probably more written on time management than anything else. I feel, time management is the fad diet for the mind. It is comfort to know that I didn’t fail, it is the result of time getting away. All of which gets fixed with the day planner, the Rock Theory or whatever.

Success at a goal doesn’t come down to managing time. It comes down to managing oneself around the achievability of the goal given the time available. The keyword here is achievability. Have we established realistic expectations, have we the required skill set, and have the required amount of time (sequential passage of events) to meet the deadline? It is in this area that US based professional services organizations become their own assassinator of their own goals. These organizations set lofty goals based on whims, set unrealistic time frames, and then beat their staff to compliance. This cultural phenomenon has been going on as long as I can remember, and probably long before I came around. Sadly enough, no one takes an account that this approach is physically and emotionally destructive and yields only marginal results. Steven Covey refers to this as “take time to sharpen the saw”.

This time of the year, for US firms. There is no time to do anything but, push, push, and push. People have become so conditioned that there are only X deposit days left, so we need to do all we can. In so doing, we capture the low hanging fruit, and reach higher and higher up the tree. The problem with this approach is what I mentioned earlier, as the time to the deadline approaches the difficulty in achieving the goal increases. To these firms, collecting the easy receivables in September/October leaves all the difficult receivable for November/December. Ideally, the low hanging fruit should be left to the end and the more difficult receivables should be tackled in the early days, the early days of January to September!

I sense all of the issues we see in professional service organizations is a direct result of the lack of ‘necessity to change’ in their history. Professional services have always been shielded from the ‘real world’. Since they are privately funded and there has been no outside entity pushing them to grow and become efficient, there was no need to. Their desire to grow only rests within their own hands; evidence that self-policing doesn’t work. Today’s firms need an outside financing body, which will force them to grow. Time (deposit days) don’t need to be managed, rather the culture of the firm needs to be managed; without which, tremendous profitability remains tied up in archaic practices. And the insanity of ‘year-end’ push, will be here to stay!

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