Monday, February 12, 2007

Free Coffee

At one point in time, my Dad had more than a handful of people reporting to him. (Let's put some scope on this... he led project management for multi-billion dollar construction projects.) As a result, he managed non-trivial budgets.

An auditor once gave him a hard time about some of his line items. Free coffee for his floor? A copy machine with auditing turned off? No reports for fax machine usage? My word! My Dad is bleeding money! On a public project no less!

My Dad asked the auditor how much he thought was spent over 1 year of these frills. "Guess," he asked. "At least a few thousand dollars a year," the auditor responded. "Single digit thousands?" my Dad asked back. "Year. Probably."

At this point my Dad showed his staff turnover rate. "Compare this to the other departments and their corresponding HR chargebacks," my Dad challenged. The auditor had admit, my Dad’s chargebacks were considerably lower than other departments. "That's me not paying for recruiting fees," my Dad explained.

My Dad continued: "Now, would you say that telling my employees that I trust them enough with free coffee and audit-free copy machines is a much better deal for the state than paying for HR chargebacks? My team is happy with the place they work and the state saves money. Seems like a win-win to me. What do you thing?"

My Dad passed his audit. And the coffee remained free.

Not too long ago, I was looking into published numbers on stolen laptops. Usually, there is some degree of variability in things like this depending on who gets asked, when they are asked, and how they are expected to count the numbers. What struck me about the numbers around stolen laptops was the remarkable amount of consistency. It was almost like they were all citing the same source...

Following the trail, I found the source. A press release by a major end point security vendor for a study they commissioned by a one man research company. Yup, an entire industry forming around one person's unverified commissioned research. It was like the same group of bad ideas were circulating around and everyone just started writing about it.

Absurd, but at least the outcome pushed for better security of laptops. For a person making a business decision, check the numbers twice. For a person trying to advocate getting appropriate security for laptops (that should be there anyway) done, cite away.

Unfortunately, this same trend made its way around to recommendations for reimbursing mobile devices: don't pay for it all, those end users are making personal calls with it! I saw this recommendation in no less than three publications and my previous employer instituted the policy last year.

This is absurd. In case you're wondering why your employees hang Dilbert comic strips up, own calendars from Despair, Inc., and know all the lines from the movie Office Space, it's because of short sighted policies like this.

We ask our teams to be on call off hours. We want them to be on 5am conference calls in order to facilitate a global market. We want them to answer email in the evening. We want them to go above the call of duty. But we can't fork over an extra $30 a month for an employee's phone bill? The phone that they mostly use so they can do 5am conference calls and jump on weekend emergencies? Please.

"But the budget," I hear, "we can't be going around wasting money on calls that aren't work related!"

Fine. Can't stand to go above the call of duty for your employees when they go above the call of duty for you? Why not just hire another employee so you don't have to make employees go above the call of duty in the first place? They don't owe you. You don't owe them.

Oh right... That's because coughing up another headcount is far more expensive then coughing up a few bucks for a cell phone. So please... To all the CFOs out there – quit being a cheap ass and pay for the bill. Really. In the grand scheme of things, you're coming out ahead.

1 Comments:

Blogger ChinaLawBlog said...

Reminds me of law firms that set up whole bureaucracies to charge things like copying and long distance to clients. We have found it's easier on everyone (firm and clients) to just skip it. I have no idea how it affects our bottom line and I do not really care.

6:42 AM  

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