Ask any established businessman to list his chief bugbears. Chances, are he’ll include accounting, invoicing, and logistics. The devil, of course, is in the details. How do you calculate and bring in what is due? How do you manage the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of consumption?
Over several board meetings, we concluded that we had a real problem.
“More and more of our stakeholders are losing faith,” I argued. “They can see that our systems are a shambles. Key product delivery is often late, and frequently early, but it’s rarely on time.”
“It’s a hellish mess,” agreed my business partner. “Lots of people settle minor accounts in advance, but most of our heavy debtors are deaf to encouragement, reminders, and warnings—months and years pass before they pay up.”
The very foundations of our business were rocking, and we were desperate for a road to redemption. Which is probably why we fell for the marketing spiel.
The company we brought in promised salvation.
“We are global thought-leaders,” they affirmed. “And we’ll push the envelope, harvesting knowledge to leverage your competitive advantage and introduce market-leading process velocity.”
My partner and I didn’t understand a word, but—foolishly—we bought it. And here’s what happened:
- Wall-to-wall dark suits
- Condescension and platitudes
- Off-the-shelf solutions that had no place, or hope, in our business
All delivered by consultants that seemed like 12-year-old kids to our eyes.
After six months, grinning like the self-satisfied offspring of the Cheshire Cat, they showed us a PowerPoint slide.
- A new IT program
- Containing 30/30/30 smart-system algorithms
- That will support payment price prioritization
- With automated links to a dedicated “no nonsense, no exceptions, no excuses” enforcement team
- Triggering robust action to ensure prompt payment
(Let me explain in layman’s terms: all major debts and credits would be settled within thirty days, interim values within thirty weeks, and minor accounts would enjoy up to thirty years’ grace).
When you’ve been in business as long as I have, you’ve witnessed more than your share of unjust or disastrous outcomes. Time after time, I’ve seen the criminally corrupt emerge triumphant, while the honest brokers end up bloodied and beaten. So maybe I should have been prepared for what happened next.
System development overran, and consequently, user acceptance testing was sacrificed. The planned “go-live” date of January 1st slipped some ten months. And that’s when I really should have seen trouble coming. But, despite what you might think, omnipotence is not an exact science.
See, I’d always thought of November 2nd as the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed. It was only when I pressed the button and chaos ensued that I remembered it’s also called All Souls’ Day. The prioritization algorithms were useless, but enforcement was one hundred percent perfect.
Everyone was invoiced simultaneously. Every account got settled immediately. Every soul turned up together.
The usual soundtrack to my existence is happy voices as long-lost friends are reunited, a blast of trumpets as lovers kiss again, the thump, thump, thump as the tails of childhood dogs greet again their once-young owners. But today, for the first time in the millennia since my partner and I argued and made the company a two-site business, I heard raised voices on my floor.
Going out to investigate, I found a graying couple in heated argument. You’d have thought he’d be happy, finishing off his chef-prepared gourmet lunch before a round on his private golf course with his lifelong best friends. Instead, I heard him berating his wife:
“You and your fruit and fiber, your damned Pilates and yoga. Stop smoking, drink less. Without your interference, I could have been here years ago.”
My partner’s suffering worse. In his department, he’s got imp shortages on the fuel supply lines. And demons working double shifts, trying to separate squabbling bankers, politicians, and pedophiles—each arguing the others should be first in line for the pits, and thus burn the longest. (Tough call for Lucifer, that one. I don’t envy him.)
What I’ve learned from all of this is that outsiders can never know your business as well as you do yourself. Now, I just have to figure out how we switch our old accrual system back on.
And if I’m ever tempted to dabble in that creation thing again, rest assured I’ll be wasting none of day six on making consultants.
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