I began working on farms in Iowa, where I grew up, when I was twelve years old. Back then kids could work on farms at the age of twelve and for other types of businesses when they turned sixteen. I couldn’t wait until I was sixteen so that I could put my application into the local grocery store. As I worked my way through high school and college I had a steady procession of jobs over the years with differing levels of responsibility, but regardless of the position I held there was always someone that I worked with that seemed to know more than the manager supervising us. I’d hear them say, “If I were in charge we’d be doing things differently.” They’d go on to explain in elaborate detail how they envisioned the company’s operation. I’d listen intently and nod at the appropriate times and would than walk away wondering if there actually was a better way of performing the work.
Perhaps I was a slow learner but it took me almost twenty years to amass the numerous degrees I obtained in business related fields. Through my course of studies I learned that in most cases the managers whom I’d worked under were directing us to perform the work appropriately. I also learned that there were costs associated with every job that was performed and while there may be other ways to perform the work those alternative might be less cost efficient. This knowledge led me to make business decisions based upon my own check book. What would I do if it was my money I was spending? The concept has proven to be very valuable over the years and has reduced considerably the time it takes to
make good business decisions.
Of course today I am spending my own money. I’m also in the position of being the supervising manager who directs the activities of a significant number of employees. Occasionally I hear some of the employees talking amongst themselves about how they would do things differently. On a few rare occasions I will have an outspoken employee tell me that I’m not directing the business operation appropriately. It is at those particular moments that I take the time to walk the employee through my decision making process utilizing their theory of how things should be done. I point out to them the cost of their plan and the cost of my plan in terms of direct and indirect costs. I than ask which plan would they choose if they were spending their own money. The choice becomes obvious.
The concept has caught on at my firm and I will hear the staff talking through the decision making process as to what course of action should be taken and somebody will make the comment, “Okay, get out your check book if you think that is what we should do”. While business owners are sometime reluctant to speak about money related issues in front of their staff I’ve found it quite beneficially in getting the staff to see the broader picture. Perhaps the next time you have a conversation with a doubting employee you might want to ask them, “What would you do if it was your money?”