We Get More Via Mutually Beneficial Relationships

The parish priest wanted to construct a building beside the church.  The new building would be a venue to host church gatherings and organisational meetings.  He asked his parishioners for help. 

A construction contractor approached the priest and offered to build the church at what he said would be half his standard price.  The 50% discount would be the contractor’s donation to the parish church community.  The priest and the parish laity leadership accepted the contractor’s offer. 

The contractor finished the building in six (6) months. 

But it wasn’t well built.  The contractor used cheap pipes for plumbing which began to leak as soon as they were used.  Because the pipes were embedded in the concrete floor, cracks and water seeped from the building’s second floor to the ground floor. 

The concrete flooring of the building was plain as in no tiles or quality finishing.  The building looked more like it was suited for a warehouse than a venue for gatherings. 

The doors were made of cheap lumber and poorly installed such that some fell apart in a short time. 

The building was also dark.  The contractor installed few lights and for those rooms which had lights, he bought the cheapest light bulbs and fixtures.  Windows were also few and small so that even during the day, it was hard to see where one was going without the lights turned on. 

And because there were not many windows, ventilation was poor.  Air-conditioning equipment bought and installed were the cheapest models and they conked out within months.  Groups who used the new venue complained about the heat. 

Even though the building had only two floors, climbing the stairs felt like climbing a mountain.  Steps were built so steep that senior parish lay people would have difficulties going to the second floor.  There was no elevator. 

The contractor billed the parish priest for the construction and collected his so-called half-price fee.  It was obvious that the contractor cut back on so much to keep costs down such that he would eke out a profit from his 50% discounted price.  The contractor never really donated “half of his fee”; he simply snagged a contract from an unsuspecting parish priest to earn some money. 

Suppliers, vendors, and contractors are in business to make money.  They may offer discounts and even position low prices as donations.  Whatever they may say, their true intent will always be to earn a profit.  No enterprise does business for charity. 

When we deal with private enterprises, the name of the game is not to ask for donations or ask other parties to discount for our benefit only.  It’s about knowing what we want and getting what we pay for, at the same time seeking mutual benefit with the ones we are engaging with. 

Many of us don’t seek mutual benefit.  Most of the time, we push for prices and terms that benefit only ourselves without thinking how the lower prices and better terms we weasel from suppliers, vendors, and contractors will boomerang back in the forms of poor quality and shoddy service.  In other words, we get what we pay for. 

Mutual benefit does not mean giving up our interests.  It is about pursuing a win-win arrangement with those we deal with. 

Some people criticise me for example when I charge a lower rent for a warehouse I lease.  “Why am I so nice?,” the critics will ask.  I could have raked in quite a bit more money, the critics would argue. 

The reply I give is that I don’t just look at price.  I also look at how long a period a potential tenant wants to lease.  I also consider the tenant’s profile.  I would, for example, offer discounts for entrepreneurs or start-ups but ask for escalations in rent prices as the tenant’s business grows.  I also would discount to tenants who pay in advance or agree to give post-dated checks.  I, however, would argue for higher prices if the tenant is an established firm that requires me to undergo a complicated process of collecting the rent every month. 

Mutual benefit as an ideal has worked for me.  Critics may argue I could have earned more.  But profit alone is not how I measure success.  Good relationships with customers, vendors, suppliers, and contractors have resulted in a steady continuous stream of income for my business. 

We get what we pay for.  But we get more via mutually beneficial relationships. 

About Ellery’s Essays

About Ellery’s Essays

Hi, I’m Ellery. I’m a supply chain engineer and an administrator.  I write essays that promote productivity and Aha moments.    

I’ve been immersed in supply chains since 1984.  I’ve worked with plenty of people in manufacturing, logistics, purchasing, engineering, and planning.  It’s a broad field where many do overtime anonymously and where there’s room for improvement when it comes to productivity.   

I’ve been a full-time property administrator since 1997.  I manage properties like warehouses and offices which not only has kept me in touch with supply chains but also has introduced me to professionals from other walks of life.  And I can tell you there are plenty of professionals in the property administration business who toil anonymously with overtime and who could use a little help in uplifting productivity in their workplaces. 

I co-wrote a book, Speed Kills, with the esteemed supply chain advisor and speaker, Jovy J. Jader and from that pivotal point of becoming a writer, I’ve gone on to write blogs then essays. Formerly titled Overtimers Anonymous, my blogs-turned-essays evolved from everyday issues in supply chain operations management to Aha’s, insights from everyday experiences.  

We all have Aha’s and as I promote productivity wherever I am, I hope to also demonstrate that we can convert some of our fleeting thoughts into ideas, no matter how seemingly insignificant, into inventions of significant benefit.  

If you want to pick my brains for information and ideas, please feel free to contact me (ellery_l@yahoo.com) or drop me a text at +639178353546. I’m also on LinkedIn , Viber, Twitter, and Facebook

Ellery S. Lim

A Reminder to Walk Around

I finalised a contract to lease an office unit to a new tenant in February 2022.  I obliged to give the tenant two (2) free months of rent or up to the end of March 2022 to allow him to make improvements and buy & move in his furniture & equipment.  I didn’t see the need to check the office periodically as I didn’t want to go out from home as the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t over yet.

That was a mistake.  I should have made the effort to inspect. 

At the end of March, the tenant hardly finished his improvements and wasn’t ready to move in.  His contractor was going too slow. 

The tenant also wanted to buy additional air-conditioning equipment as the building’s existing centralised air-conditioning operated only from 8am to 5pm Mondays to Fridays.  The tenant’s business was a back-room operation for a North American firm and had to operate afternoons to evenings.  The tenant needed air-conditioning after 5pm.

I had entrusted the oversight of the improvements to the building’s engineer.  But when I asked how come he didn’t update me on the tenant’s slow progress and the need for additional air-conditioning, the engineer said it wasn’t his job.  The tenant wasn’t doing any major renovation so citing building policy, the engineer said he didn’t have to oversee what was going on in the office unit.  In other words, the responsibility of oversight was mine.

Even as I was frustrated with the engineer’s apathy and failure to communicate, I knew I made the mistake of not being on top of what was happening at the office unit. 

And because I made that mistake, I had to grant another month of free rent to the tenant and had to rush assisting the tenant in regard to the air-conditioning.  Any new air-conditioning would fall under my ownership so even though there was a re-negotiation on the lease contract with the tenant, I was responsible for the purchase and installation. 

This is what happens when I don’t take time to walk around and see for myself what’s happening at what I’m managing.  It is a simple core of the idea of Management by Walking Around, or MBWA, in which managers should habitually get out of their desk chairs and visit the operations they oversee.

By seeing with one’s own senses what’s happening on the ground and what people are doing, managers keep themselves in touch with the operations and personnel they manage.  They don’t rely solely on status reports and staff meeting agenda. 

Because of a raging coronavirus pandemic that forced restrictions on movement, managers have resorted to overseeing their operations remotely from 2020 to 2022.  Most of what managers have done in the pandemic period had been via online meetings (e.g. Zoom), email, text messaging, phone calls, and project management software (e.g. Trello, Basecamp).

Many managers have not been to the sites they were assigned to for months, if not for more than a year.  Many lost touch with their workplaces. 

It didn’t seem to matter at the height of the pandemic.  Many businesses were shut or scaled down due to government-mandated restrictions.  But as the pandemic eased in mid-2022, enterprises have emerged and asked workers to slowly but surely return to their offices and factories. 

Because managers mix their schedules with work at the office and work from home and because they want to be cautious in meeting people face-to-face, they didn’t see MBWA as a viable exercise, and it seems that many managers would no longer take MBWA as seriously as before. 

Which is too bad.  Numerous challenges have faced enterprises as they resumed their businesses in 2022.  Customers were clamouring for deliveries and supply chains were gridlocked due to higher demand for merchandise coupled with daily disruptions arising from festering coronavirus surges in some nations and from conflicts between nations (e.g. Russia’s war with Ukraine). 

Managers need to know what’s going on with what they’re managing.  They need to see things first-hand to empathise what their people are experiencing.  Veteran managers may claim that they can know what’s happening just by reading the reports as they may say they’ve been in the business long enough to know.  But they won’t.    

Wise managers who have been in the business for a long time know not walking around on the pretext of experience is more an excuse than a truth.  Wise managers know that every next day is always different.  Challenges never come back identical to those from the past.  The numbers on a report may be similar to one some time ago but the circumstances would not really be the same.  It’s one thing for a report to say something; it’s another to see it for oneself. 

The problem with MBWA is there isn’t much statistics to back up its effectiveness.  What we can only rely on is what managers have said about it.  And from my experience, it is effective. 

MBWA has become an idea shelved by the urgency of a plague in 2020.  But as enterprises re-emerge and face many issues, it may be a good time to consider MBWA as a basic tactic in the exercise of management.     

About Overtimers Anonymous

Our Waiting Nation

This blog was written on May 19, 2013 and was re-published a few weeks after the 2022 elections.

-Editor

Waiting area to a school classroom turned precinct on Election Day 2022 (Mandaluyong, Philippines)

12 noon, Election Day, May 13, 2013

I’ve been in line for almost two (2) hours waiting with about 40 other people to vote at our election precinct at the elementary school at Mandaluyong City, Manila, Philippines. 

I sit uncomfortably in a chair and desk made for perhaps a 7-year old child inside a classroom that serves as a holding room for waiting voters.  It’s hot and humid and most of the electric fans aren’t working.  It doesn’t help my shorts has a gaping hole thanks to a hidden nail on the desk that I didn’t notice till it was too late. A teacher assigned as an election worker constantly barks at us to move forward as we were on a line outside the classroom that was slowly moving towards the voting area. 

Six (6) years or two (2) elections ago, voting would take not more than a few minutes.  There was no holding room and no line.  I’d come into the precinct, sign up on the voters’ list, fill my ballot, punch it into the ballot box, and go.  I’d have the rest of the day to myself as Election Day is always a holiday in the Philippines.

It no longer is like that.  With the introduction of automated elections in 2010, practically everyone has to wait in line unless you’re a senior citizen, a person with disability, or an arrogant politician with bodyguards who can cut to the front. 

The centrepiece of the automated elections is the Precinct Count Optical Scan Machine or PCOS for short.  It’s a black machine that looks like a photocopier.  After a voter signs in and fills his ballot, one would feed the custom-made ballot into the PCOS where one’s shaded choices would be scanned and stored, ready for transmission after voting ends later in the day. 

It takes two hours to vote because there aren’t that many PCOS machines.  The government, via the Commission on Elections or COMELEC for short, allocated several precincts to every PCOS machine.  Whereas before, where one would vote inside a classroom exclusive for a single or couple of precincts, voters have to vote in a room designated for as many as seven to ten precincts.  That has resulted to a significant increase in the number of voters in the same place I used to vote in.

This brings us back to my situation that election day morning.  Even though about seven precincts, including the one I’m assigned to, were combined into one classroom, there were at most only three (3) public school teachers working as election coordinators.  Teachers that used to man each of the seven individual precincts 6 years ago were not assigned correspondingly to the classroom which now hosted the same precincts.  The COMELEC apparently thought that even though there were going to be more voters, a classroom with seven precincts could still be managed with three teachers. 

It’s a downright misleading notion that just because a process is automated, one can do just as well or better with same or fewer resources.   Well, the COMELEC can always argue that because of PCOS, the Philippine nation would now know the results within hours after voting ended.  So what if I and a million others wasted two (2) hours waiting in line?  It was a holiday and the economy wasn’t like to going lose any percentage points in gross domestic product or something, was it? 

Anytime anybody spends time doing nothing like waiting in line, there is a waste.  Time that could have been spent doing something other than nothing may not contribute to the economy significantly but it sure would contribute to the ever-so-many things there are to do.  I lost time I could have otherwise spent for chores I could have done at home.  Others lost time which they could have used with their families. 

We see the same mindset in banks, utility companies, movie theatres, factories, retail stores, or just about every service business.  Managers ignore the importance of time clients waste in waiting as the managers scrimp on service.  We wait in traffic and we wait for the elevator at the office.  We wait at bank teller machines and we wait at the grocery check-out line.  We wait to order in what is supposed to be a fast-food restaurant!  Every day, office workers who live in the suburbs waste four (4) hours commuting an average distance of about 16 kilometres to their work places in the business districts.  

Many executives and political leaders don’t recognize the value of reducing waiting time.  To them, improving service entails additional investment in manpower and equipment.  And in the first place, many well-to-do executives or politicians don’t know what waiting is all about as more often than not, they are given special treatment from having their own private elevator or just by having the influence to get to the front of any line.

The irony is one can reduce waiting time without having to spend too much. At that election precinct where I voted, many voters didn’t know what precinct they belonged in.  They or the teachers had to read through several lists to find out.  The incumbent Mandaluyong mayor, Benhur Abalos, wisely mailed my precinct number a few days before the elections so when it was my turn to vote, I knew what and where I was supposed to go and I was able to quickly sign in and wait for my ballot. Others who for some reason didn’t know their precinct numbers wasted precious minutes looking through all of the lists, searching for where they were assigned to vote.

The line would have been much shorter if everyone knew their precinct numbers.  Six years ago, before the automated elections, the voters’ lists were posted on the doors of classroom precincts.  Anyone could simply just look their number up and knew what list to sign onto when their turn came to vote.   [Voters’ lists were posted on precinct entrances in succeeding elections but some voters still couldn’t find their names. -Ed].  It would have been quick and easy.  If the same was done this past election, perhaps a few million people wouldn’t have had to wait so long and waste precious time otherwise spent for better use. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Adversities versus Miracles

Adversities are events that we don’t look forward to.  They are the disasters that set us back, the incidents which lead to outcomes that we rather not face.  Adversity is the unfavourable situation that we run into or that arrives in untimely fashion.

Adversities have become more prominent in our daily lives and even if they are hard to anticipate, we are tasked to prepare for them.

It was implied that opportunity is the opposite of adversity.  

It isn’t. Miracles are the opposite of adversities. 

Miracles, like adversities, are events that disrupt our daily lives but unlike adversities, bring pleasant results, often accompanied with welcome benefits.  

We usually categorise an event as a miracle when it is unexpected, spiritually uplifting, and just plain wonderful.  Miracles are the awesome surprises that we classify as rare and we usually reserve them for those that arrive only once-in-a-lifetime and that are life-changing.  To those that have strong religious beliefs, miracles are those attributed to a provident deity either as rewards for strong faith or as presentations of power. 

But I believe miracles happen every day just as much and just as often as adversities.  We experience disruptions from both, although we’d classify one as good and the other bad. 

For many of us who call ourselves ordinary people who work hard to earn a living to support ourselves and others, we’d prefer not have disruption of any sort in our daily lives.  If many of us were to choose, we’d rather have predictability than uncertainty.  Disruption implies changing of plans and the likelihood of extra expense in resource and time.  We have enough to do already so please let there be no disturbance if possible.

Unfortunately, disruption is a part and parcel of life.  And we get it, big and small, just about every day.

We therefor try to anticipate, mitigate, and plan contingencies.  No matter how much we try, however, there would always be one that we didn’t see coming. 

Natural disasters, unexpected traffic on the road, the unannounced visit of a relative or friend, flight departure delays, and the unscheduled power failure.  We undergo disruptions all the time.

But disruptions aren’t all bad.  There can be good ones too. 

These “good” disruptions are from the miracles that occur just as much the adversities that bring the “bad” ones.  We may not recognise miracles because we are too busy managing the “bad” ones, we don’t consider them as miracles based on our expectations, or we don’t recognise the benefits outright. 

What are examples of miracles that come with “good” disruptions? 

  • It’s the weather forecast for rain that turned out wrong and in which the day ended up sunny and nice;
  • It’s the good friend who calls and whom we haven’t heard from for a long time;
  • It’s the email of our CoVID test results that shows we are negative of the virus despite we being sick with cold symptoms;
  • It’s the surprise gift from a sibling working overseas who just got a bonus and wanted to share;
  • It’s the boss granting you permission to go home early because you finished a job ahead of time. 

Some of us would discount these miraculous disruptions as mere events that don’t really brighten our day enough versus the adversities we also are facing. 

This may be because adversities demand our attention and action.  We become preoccupied and at the same time frustrated and downcast by the disruption we did not expect and want. 

Unlike adversity, miracles don’t need to be addressed outright and don’t need to be acted upon immediately.  The benefits have been felt and all that’s needed is to give thanks. 

Giving thanks after all is not urgent; addressing adversity, however, is. 

Adversities are seen as threats.  Miracles are not.  But as much as we need to focus on adversity more than we do for miracles, we should make sure that what we perceive as adversity is really what it is. 

Adversities can be miracles in disguise.  They can be clouds with silver linings.  And the actions we take to address adversities may also result into potential miracles. 

  • A typhoon that disrupted our operations may have brought rainfall that replenished the nearby reservoir and alleviated a potential water shortage;
  • The traffic standstill that is making us late for work gave us the opportunity to call clients via our smartphones in which we were able to collect some past-due accounts;
  • Spending time with a relative who arrived unannounced ended up with the family becoming closer;
  • The unscheduled power failure resulted in the family playing an impromptu board game that resulted in a cheerful and enjoyable night of bonding. 

Miracles are the opposite of adversities.  Either one doesn’t have to be earth-shaking; they both can arrive big or small. 

We tend to preoccupy ourselves with adversities since they vie for our immediate attention.  But miracles can be adversities in disguise or may be concealed in what may look like “bad” disruptions. 

How we respond, how we perceive, and how we determine what our attitudes will be can turn some, if not all, adversities into miracles. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

We All Have Superpowers

Ed was a retiree who lived near our family store.  One day, Ed saw me and asked me what kind of business he could get into. Ed said he could use some extra income as his pension wasn’t really enough. 

I asked Ed what he used to do.  He said his job before retirement was at a petroleum company’s main facility, doing office work.  As a hobby, he learned Taekwondo and became a black belt master.  He used to instruct one or two people a month in Taekwondo.

There you have it, I told Ed.  You’re a black belt Taekwondo master qualified to be an instructor.  You can earn some extra income teaching students in Taekwondo.  Ed nodded his head and said that’s right. 

We all have superpowers.  We just have to acknowledge them and tap them for our benefit and for the benefit of others. 

A superpower doesn’t have to be a unique kind of ability.  It can be a skill every person may have.  The idea is that whatever superpower we have, we do it well.  So well that we stand out. 

A janitor nicknamed Poning at the factory where I used to work was a very hard worker.  He cleaned the offices of the executives early in the morning every day before people would arrive for work.  Poning learned how to proficiently operate the office photocopier, the stand-by generator, and the centralised air-conditioning system.  From an everyday janitor, Poning practically transformed himself into the office’s all-around utility man.  The office staff would not let him go when his agency’s contract was up for renewal.  He stayed for many years. 

Tony used to be a construction worker.  He took it upon himself to learn about plumbing, carpentry, and welding and became pretty good in each.  He became a free-lance handyman.  With a trained pool of helpers, he was able to snare job after job with households and buildings to repair or renovate bathrooms, kitchens, and furniture.  He later set up his own private business and continues to get jobs with clients all over the city. 

A security commander at an office building learned how to fix desktop computers and laptops.  He now has a side-line repairing computers of office workers.  He also invested in an eight-seater van and during the 2020 pandemic, shuttled workers to and from their residences to the office building where his duty as security commander was.  Needless to say, he earns much more than his peers. 

We don’t need to look for some super-duper skill or invent some super-duper product or service.  We don’t need to be geniuses or Olympic-level athletes to be successful.  We just need to decide what kind of stuff we want to do and be good at it. 

All of us have superpowers.  We don’t need to find them because they are already within us.  We just have to cultivate the ones we like to do and become excellent in doing them.  We become super-people when we do. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The True Benefits of Earth Hour

Since 2007, countries around the world have turned off lights at landmarks, homes, and offices in a united symbolic effort to fight the perils of environmental degradation. 

Every year, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and partners promote Earth Hour.  People around the world at 8:30pm on the last Saturday evening of March are asked to turn off lights at homes and offices to “call attention to climate change.”   

In 2022, at Manila, Philippines, where I live, Earth Hour passed with nary a notice.  Some malls had posted signs about Earth Hour but generally no one really paid much attention.  The latest deadly surge from the coronavirus pandemic had just passed two (2) months earlier and people wanted to enjoy going out to make up for lost time with families and friends.  They didn’t want to turn off lights even for one hour as they felt that they had enough inconveniences from the coronavirus in the pandemic’s two (2) years of lockdowns and restrictions. 

Earth Hour had demonstrated, however, that collective global action even via the simple turning off of lights for one hour can have significant effect.  In previous years before the pandemic, Earth Hour participation resulted in decreased energy demand, as much as 4% in a survey of ten (10) countries. 

The demand drop, however, doesn’t translate to outright energy savings.  Power plants continued to run during Earth Hour and their consumption of resources generally remained the same.  Even as Earth Hour intends to showcase the benefit of people around the world coming together to combat climate change, it remains a symbolic effort that doesn’t result in real savings in resources. 

Real savings occur when resources are significantly reduced in the delivery and consumption of a product or in the experience of a service.  Real savings happen when we make more with less or we use less to experience the benefits of products and services.  There is no savings if less usage in one resource leads to more usage in another.  

For example, an enterprise successfully reduces the number of defects of metal products it makes.  The fewer number of defects have resulted in less scrap and rejections from customers.  The enterprise has reduced the amount of money it refunds to customers not to mention the costs of logistics to retrieve and rework bad products. 

The enterprise, however, had to add steps to its production operation to reduce the defects.  The enterprise also added inspections to ensure products made were of higher quality.  The cost of adding steps and inspectors ended up almost equivalent to the savings from fewer defects.  Real savings did not end up at all that much significant. 

Some executives would express frustration at the lack of significant real savings from projects. 

But they shouldn’t.  At least not by first checking all the benefits of any endeavour they initiated. 

Again, from our example above, fewer defects resulting from added production steps and inspections may not provide much of real savings but it would propel the enterprise’s product quality reputation.  Customers would see better quality as an attraction to buy more from the enterprise versus its competitors.  This would lead to higher sales that might be even better than what was expected from just real savings. 

Real savings is not easy to realise as trade-offs are likely whenever we try to change our operations.  But it shouldn’t be our one and only yardstick of measure of performance. 

Critics say that real savings from Earth Hour is negligible and it is nothing more than a “feel good event.”  As much as Earth Hour really hasn’t contributed to better energy savings, it has helped raise funds for environmental projects that have resulted in nature conservation benefits.  

Real savings is nice to shoot for but we shouldn’t take our eyes off the big picture of what we are really pursuing. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

Visioning: The Last Thing an Enterprise Needs When Starting Up

A husband-and-wife couple approaches and asks a consultant for help in their business.

The husband-and-wife couple just started a business selling electrical devices such as relays and circuit breakers.  Demand was strong at the onset and the couple has found themselves working around the clock serving customer orders.  Maybe the consultant can contribute some ideas?

The consultant immediately advises the couple to set aside a few days to do a Vision, Mission, Objectives, and Strategy (VMOS) exercise with their staff.  The aim of the exercise is for the couple to set goals by establishing a common vision for their business.  The consultant would facilitate the VMOS exercise, of course. 

The couple agreed and after a few days, the couple’s enterprise had written a VMOS.  When the consultant collected his fee and left, the couple realised they still didn’t have any ideas on how to serve their customers better. 

A VMOS is the last thing an enterprise needs when it’s starting up.  This is because when an enterprise is just starting, it already has a VMOS.  It can be summarised in one word:  survival.  

The couple started their electrical device business precisely because they saw there was demand.  They just didn’t realise that there was a lot of demand.  They and their staff became overwhelmed.  They had trouble catching up with orders.  Customers were complaining and the husband-and-wife couple feared they were going to lose customers. 

The couple were concerned about their enterprise’s survival.  They needed solutions to address the higher-than-expected demand.  The last thing they needed was an elaborate VMOS. 

Many consultants (and bloggers) promote VMOS for businesses.  A VMOS can be good but by experience, it’s only useful long after an enterprise has started up and stabilised.  It might be a good idea for an enterprise to do a VMOS when it is at a crossroads, such as when its owners and management are debating strategies for new ideas or products. 

For a new business that is just getting off the ground, however, a VMOS is the last thing an enterprise needs. 

When the husband-and-wife couple went to another consultant.  They found a more down-to-earth consultant who advised them to review their product lines and focus producing those items that are selling briskly.  The consultant also advised the couple to prioritise selling to customers who were willing to pay cash; this would help in turning over capital which the couple could use to invest in increasing capacity to serve growing demand. 

A VMOS exercise is nice for enterprises that are stable but are doing some soul-searching for their future. 

A VMOS exercise, however, is not what an enterprise needs when it’s starting up and its immediate preoccupation is survival. 

Enterprise executives should also be careful in engaging consultants, especially ones whose agenda prioritise themselves and their profits over the benefits for clients. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The People First Proposal

I would like to propose organisations put people first when it comes to their priorities. 

Organisations may say they already do but based on my observations, they aren’t. 

Two (2) banks asked me one day to update my business’s account information.  They gave me a pile of forms for my business accounts’ signatories to fill up.  On top of that they required board resolutions and corporate secretary certificates that formally authorise the signatories as representatives of the business. 

I told the two banks that I submitted forms with the same information when we first opened the accounts few years before.  I also said there were no changes in the board resolutions and corporate secretary certificates from ones we gave already.  I complained that filling up the numerous forms and having them signed by the account-holders would be a time-consuming inconvenience.

The staff from each of the two banks shrugged off my arguments and said it was bank policy; my complaints meant nothing.

Both banks had mission statements that placed high importance on their customers.  But after going through the tedious experience of filling up forms with information that didn’t need updating, it seems that the banks don’t really practice what they preach.  People aren’t first; policy is. 

It’s not only banks.  Government agencies and private enterprises seem to have relegated people to a lower category of importance. 

We don’t have to look far for examples. 

Employees of businesses complain they have to fall in line and wait for hours when they need to transact with government agencies.  Sometimes the agencies would turn away people who had already been waiting for half a day, citing excuses such as computer glitches or CoVID-19 limits. 

Staff of these agencies would tell complaining people that it’s government rules.  Rules, in other words, are more important than people who had invested time to wait only to be turned away. 

When I complained to an internet service provider (ISP) that my internet reception was spotty, the ISP sent a technician to check.  After inspecting my modem, the technician told me that the cause of the problem was a cable box outside of my residence but that another contractor would have to fix it as he wasn’t authorised to do so. 

When I followed up with the ISP, the agent replied that my “account and job order were escalated and already included/linked to plant isolation which [the agent] can’t commit any ETR (estimated time of restoration).”  Whatever that means. 

The agent continued saying he “will now close this conversation since your current concern has been noted, explained, and escalated to the pertinent group.”

I received no more news and the internet never got better.  Apparently, the ISP put their procedures first before people.  I plan to change to another ISP once the contract with the current one expires. 

I propose organisations put People First in their policies & procedures, and show it.     

Banks shouldn’t burden customers with unnecessary forms and requirements that in the first place don’t need to be filled up and submitted. 

Government agencies shouldn’t make people wait for hours only to turn them away. 

ISPs should fix problems and feed back to customers, not leave them hanging. 

It doesn’t need much in terms of resources or staff training to put People First.  Much can be done by making it part of common-sense management. 

First of all, it doesn’t take much for staff to be polite and to listen to their customers.  Listening does take effort but it isn’t rocket science.  One just has to take time to hear what the person is saying. 

Second, organisations should study the impact of their policies & procedures.  What are they putting first? 

Bank staff would cite periodic audits as the reason for clients having to fill up forms.  The staff fear audits because any detected deviation would be a bad mark on their performance.  The fear of negative audit reports has made it a priority for bank staff to follow policies & procedures and ignore the complaints of clients.  People don’t matter to bank staff because their attention is in their preserving their so-called good performance via compliance. 

Executives can re-orient their policies & procedures and put People First.  It starts with executives re-writing policies & procedures that consider clients’ needs and how performances of employees are measured and managed. 

Why not, for instance, banks consider waiving the updating a client’s account information if the client can simply sign a statement that there is no change? 

Why not include auditing the feedback of clients on how they feel about the bank on top of looking for errors or oversights in the execution of procedures?  Why not praise staff for very good positive feedback rather than punishment for performance no one can perfectly do? 

Why not ISPs set up a system to check the completion of jobs for clients?  And have a small team be accountable for the completion?  But consider every completion that receives positive client feedback as a basis of praise for the team? 

Why not government agency heads just have a front-liner who’d monitor the queues of people waiting to be served?  And communicate at the earliest about how long the wait would be rather than turning people away at the last minute?  The same front-liner can also feedback to agency heads how many people wait every day and find ways to reduce the queues.  And why not agency heads praise staff who succeed in reducing the queues? 

Such sample steps would go a long way in shifting attention for the sake of people than for the sake of procedures and rules. 

Putting People First is not just a slogan meant to be seen in a mission statement poster.  It is a principle meant to be ingrained in all who work in an organisation. 

About Overtimers Anonymous

The Chore of Buying A Smartphone

My OnePlus 6 smartphone is overheating and automatically turning itself off.  And it’s annoying. 

I bought my OnePlus 6 phone in mid-2018 at quite a high price.  Reviews then touted the OnePlus 6 as the best Android phone in the market.  I liked its features and its chipset, a Qualcomm SnapDragon 845.  Because OnePIus promised continuous updates to the Android software, I believed the phone would last for at least five (5) years.  I was wrong. 

Three and a half years later and the phone dies on me two or three times a day.  It takes about an hour or so before I could turn it on again as I have to wait for the phone to cool off.  Having my own phone unavailable for me to use has become a major inconvenience.

I decided therefore to buy a new smartphone.  And as much as I wanted to think it would be simple, it wasn’t.

There are many smartphone models in the market.  And from what I’ve read and observed, there are three (3) categories:  high-end, mid-range, and budget.

High-end phones like Apple’s iPhone 13 and Samsung’s S22 are loaded with features from network capabilities (e.g. 5G) to multi-faceted high-performing cameras.  High-end phones are supposedly built well but they’re expensive.  Many customers buy high-end phones for the status symbol as much as for what they offer.    

Mid-range phones sell for about 30% lower than the high-end models.  I notice reviewers from North America and Europe put Samsung and OnePlus models as the best mid-range phone brands to buy.  Other Chinese models like Oppo and Vivo do get some good comments but not much, which I think is a bit unfair as the phones look good and many people buy them.  Mid-range phones look quite as good as the high-end ones.  They may not have the same network capabilities but their features are similar or not at par with high-end models. 

Budget phones offer themselves as cheap but still capable of providing the basic features if not more.  When I held some budget phones, they were light but they had the same responsiveness, if not better, than my OnePlus 6.  Reviewers, however, seem to shun them, especially the Chinese models.  Some reviewers even lambast some models as junk.   

I decided to set criteria for the phone I would buy.  It has to have network capabilities such as 5G (preferably not 5G with limited bandwidths).  It has to have decent memory storage (e.g. 128 gB) and a good CPU (e.g. octa-core at about 2.0 GHz).  And it has to last for at least five (5) years; the phone shouldn’t die on me like my OnePlus 6 is doing to me now. 

Most high-end, mid-range, and even budget phones met my criteria.  Except one:  the five (5) year life-time.  No smartphone brand would guarantee a five (5) year life cycle for their models.  No reviewer could argue for any model that would last for five (5) years.  I’d be lucky if a phone I buy will last up to four (4) years. 

Reading between the lines:  smartphone manufacturers build their models for a life cycle of up to three (3) years.  They count on users to switch phones every two (2) years as they tempt consumers with newer models with new features every six (6) months. 

The marketing focuses on the features rather than on the life of the product.  Hence, smartphones may look good with nice cameras, fast responsiveness, and a good-looking body but they’re not meant to last for the long-term. 

No smartphone model therefore met my criterion for a five (5) year lifetime.  I would have to choose a phone then based on how much I’d be paying year on year for the price I’d be paying for.  An iPhone 13 at $999, for example, would come out to USD $250 annually if it would last four (4) years.  A Vivo budget phone priced at USD $200 would cost me $USD100 a year if it lasts two (2) years.  Mid-range phones priced at $USD 499 would come out costing me USD $167 per year for a three (3) year estimated lifetime. 

Choosing a smartphone is a chore that requires one to set criteria but at the same time one has to be flexible to the realities of what are available in the market. 

I find it annoying that I have to buy a new phone because my OnePlus 6 is a perfectly good phone if it weren’t for the overheating and shutdowns. 

For the money we invest into our smartphones, we don’t get the value we want from what we pay for.  Instead, we gamble that the smartphones would last and perform longer than expected.

About Overtimers Anonymous