Cookie wise, success foolish.

Recently I met -- completely unrelated -- a number of people who told me "My (new) boss is obsessed with numbers". "Well", I thought, "very good!". Being obsessed with numbers is not the worst thing for a boss (besides being obsessed with people). After all, it's business we're talking about.


But actually that wasn't what people wanted to tell me. "She is scrutinising my travel expenses over and over", "He is pressing me to clock every second", "Everything gets budgeted and controlled and budgeted and controlled again" ... , they followed up without me even asking. Well, that's sort of an obsession with numbers, too. But is it the proper one? Surprisingly, the answer might actually be yes. If you're in a low margin commodity business, this kind of obsession and austerity might actually be exactly appropriate. Every cent you save might give you a competitive advantage.


Yet in other cases, this kind of obsession is just a sign of not understanding your business properly. And your numbers likewise. Soon after I started my career, the company I worked for entered a phase of austerity (it comes in waves). Every single intern had to be approved by the Board of Management. Cookies at meetings were served only if we had external guests. As the company still made billions of profit, I asked (being young and naive) my manager whether these savings would really tip the needle towards success (or failure). He told me that it definitely wouldn't BUT that it would be a psychological trick to make everyone seriously aware of the need of saving money.

I remember having been impressed. "That's the art of management!", I thought (then), "Psychologically tricking people into a desired behaviour". And being the person who does so comes at a salary premium, even if times are tough.

It took me quite a while to reason that this approach (and my related admiration) might be flawed (I am sort of a romantic). Not only does it appear slightly inappropriate paying out high bonuses whilst saving on cookies (though I am no social romantic), over time I also developed a certain aversion against patronising adults (or being patronised as an adult). And trying to trick adults into a certain behaviour is the worst form of patronisation.

If you have to save, save where it matters. Tell your employees why it matters and ask them for their creativity and support! Don't start with the cookies and don't continue your own pet projects and don't claim privileges for the hard work of teaching austerity.

Plus, the saving game might well be just the last resort or the wrong angle to look at the problem. Revenue is always the other option (well, profitable revenue that is). That cookie might just provide the extra energy to come up with a great growth idea (or even a saving idea). That retreat might just be the motivation to walk the extra mile back home (or the experience that keeps your employee away rom looking out for new job opportunities). The trip to your client's site may just bring you the extension of your contract. You might consider these as investments, not dumb costs.

Well, as so often the answer is not a simple one and sometimes penny-wisdom is a proper one. But sometimes the claim of being obsessed with numbers is just pound-foolishness in disguise.


Photo by Shot by Cerqueira on Unsplash

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