The Big Picture of Business: Lessons About Business Planning To Be Learned from the Y2K Bug

The U.S. economy spent between $800 billion and one trillion dollars fixing and treating the so-called Y2K Bug. Certainly, aspects of the bug were treated successfully, and troubles were averted because of professional actions. No doubt, public hype contributed to a ‘sky is falling’ situation that made computer consultants rich.

Technology constitutes less than 1% of any organization’s overall Big Picture. Computer activity constitutes less than 1% of the technology picture. Thus, efforts to treat a fraction of one percent took resources away from addressing the other 99.999% of companies’ full-scope planning.

My concern was that money was diverted from most other aspects of organizational wellness toward treating one symptom of one disease. I advocated a balanced approach toward planning, visioning and the Big Picture.

Rather than bash those who neglected other aspects of the organization in favor of Y2K Readiness, let’s refocus what we did and learned toward other future applications.

Among the lessons which we learned from the Y2K Bug exercise were:

  • When they want to do so, company leadership will provide sufficient resources to plan for the future, including crisis management and preparedness (of which computer glitches are one set of ‘what ifs.’)
  • When they want to do so, company leadership will provide leadership for change management and re-engineering… two of the many worthwhile concepts that should be advocated every business day.
  • People are the company’s most valuable resource, representing 28% of the Big Picture. Today’s work force will need three times the amount of training that it presently gets in order for the organization to be competitive in the millennium.
  • Change is good. Like change… don’t fear it. Change is 90% positive. Without always noticing it, individuals and organizations change 71% per year. The secret is to benefit from change, rather than become a victim of it.
  • Pro-active change involves the entire organization. When all departments are consulted and participate in the decisions, then the company is empowered.
  • Fear and failure are beneficial too. One learns three times more from failure than from success. Failures propel us toward our greatest future successes.
  • When we work with other companies and the public sector, we collaborate better. All benefit, learn from each other and prepare collectively for the future.
  • In the future and in order to successfully take advantage of the future, make planning a priority, not just a knee-jerk reaction.

Calculating Each Organization’s High Costs

People and organizations are wont to throw money at things that pop up at the moment or that look good at external publics. It is easier to tinker with machines than to admit that the organization has deep management and philosophical issues. After all, 92% of all organizational problems stem from poor management decisions.

Our society is infested with the band-aid surgery way of treating things as they come up. This approach costs six times that of doing things correctly on the front end… meaning planning, sequential execution and benchmarking progress.

Each year, one-third of the U.S. Gross National Product goes toward cleaning up problems, damages and otherwise high costs of doing either nothing or doing the wrong things.

On the average, it costs six times the investment of preventive strategies to correct business problems (compounded per annum and exponentially increasing each year). In some industries, the figure is as high as 30 times…six is the mean average.

The old adage says: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” One pound equals 16 ounces. In that scenario, one pound of cure is 16 times more mostly than an ounce of prevention.

Human beings as we are, none of us do everything perfectly on the front end. There always must exist a learning curve. Research shows that we learn three times more from failures than from successes. The mark of a quality organization is how it corrects mistakes and prevents them from recurring.

“They can’t hang you for saying nothing,” quipped President Calvin Coolidge in the 1920’s. He spent more time doing chores at his farm and taking long naps than taking care of the nation’s business. Coolidge prided himself upon doing little and, thus, failed to see crises brewing during his presidency. This ‘keep your head in the sand’ mentality is prevalent of people who move on and let others clean up the damage.

Doing nothing becomes a way of life. It’s amazing how many individuals and companies live with their heads in the sand. Never mind planning for tomorrow… we’ll just deal with problems as they occur. This mindset, of course, invites and tends to multiply trouble.

7 Categories of High Costs

  1. Cleaning Up Problems. Waste, Spoilage. Poor controls. Down-time. Lack of employee motivation and activity. Back orders because they were not properly stocked. Supervisory involvement in retracing problems and effecting solutions.
  2. Rework. Product recalls. Make-good for shoddy or inferior work. Poor location. Regulatory red tape. Excess overhead.
  3. Missed Marks. Poor controls on quality. Fallout damage from employees with problems. Undercapitalization. Unsuccessful marketing. Unprofitable pricing.
  4. Damage Control. Crisis management. Lawsuits incurred because procedures were not upheld. Affirmative action violations. Violations of OSHA, ADA, EEOC, EPA and other codes. Disasters due to employee carelessness, safety violations, oversights, etc. Factors outside your company that still impede your ability to do business.
  5. Recovery and Restoration. Repairing ethically wrong actions. Empty activities. Mandated cleanups, corrections and adaptations. Employee turnover, rehiring and retraining. Isolated or unrealistic management. Bad advice from the wrong consultants. Repairing a damaged company reputation.
  6. Retooling and Restarting. Mis-use of company resources, notably its people. Converting to existing codes and standards. Chasing the wrong leads, prospects or markets. Damage caused by inertia or lack of progress. The anti-change ‘business as usual’ philosophy. Long-term expenses incurred by adopting quick fixes.
  7. Opportunity Costs. Failure to understand what business they’re really in. Inability to read the warning signs or understand external influences. Failure to change. Inability to plan. Over-dependence upon one product or service line. Diversifying beyond the scope of company expertise. Lack of an articulated, well-implemented vision.

Remediating the High Costs

7 Primary Factors of The High Cost of Doing Nothing™:

  1. Failure to value and optimize true company resources.
  2. Poor premises, policies, processes, procedures, precedents and planning.
  3. Opportunities not heeded or capitalized.
  4. The wrong people, in the wrong jobs. Under-trained employees.
  5. The wrong consultants (miscast, untrained, improperly used).
  6. Lack of articulated focus and vision. With no plan, no journey will be completed.
  7. Lack of movement really means falling behind the pack and eventually losing ground.

What Could Have Reduced These High Costs:

  1. Effective policies and procedures.
  2. Setting and respecting boundaries.
  3. Realistic expectations and measurements.
  4. Training and development of people.
  5. Commitments to quality at all links in the chain.
  6. Planning.
  7. Organizational vision.

7 Levels of Handling Problems, Determining Effectiveness

  1. Do Nothing. Think that things will work themselves out or that causes of problems will go away. Research shows that doing nothing results in creating 3-6 more affiliated problems.
  2. Deny, Actively Avoid. Don’t see problems as such. Keep one’s head in the sand and remain impervious to warning signs of trouble. Go to great lengths to put positive spins on anything that may point back to one’s self, department or organization as being problematic.
  3. Cover Up. Cover-ups cost 6-12 times that of addressing problems upfront. In addition to financial, cover-up costs can include the effects upon morale, activity levels, productivity, decision making, creativity, adaptation and innovation. Even after the cover-up has fully played out, there is an additional cost: the period of recovery and restoration of confidence.
  4. Partially Address. Perform band-aid surgery, at such time as action is demanded. Address signs and symptoms, without addressing root causes. This shows that something is being done, but it is often the wrong thing at the wrong time.
  5. Handle in Politically Correct Terms. Some problems are addressed, partially or fully, because bosses, regulators or stakeholders expect it. Some are handled for fear of repercussion. This motive results in tentative actions, with lip service paid to deep solutions.
  6. Address Head-On. Problems are, of course, opportunities to take action. Everyone makes mistakes, and success lies in the way that problems are recognized, solved and learned from. The mark of a true manager is to recognize problems sooner, rather than later. The mark of an effective leader is the ability and willingness to take swift and definitive actions. The mark of an empowered team is its participation in this process. The mark of a successful organization is its endorsement and insistence upon this method of action.
  7. Address in Advance, Preparing for Situations. Pro-actively study for patterns. 85% of the time, crises which are predicted, pre-addressed and strategized are averted. The skill in pre-managing problems is a fundamental tenet of a quality-oriented organization.

If postured properly, the process of planning and visioning remediates opportunity costs before they occur. Running a profitable and efficient organization means effectively remediating damage before it accrues. Processes and methodologies for researching, planning, executing and benchmarking activities will reduce that pile of costly coins from stacking up.


About the Author

Hank Moore has advised 5,000+ client organizations worldwide (including 100 of the Fortune 500, public sector agencies, small businesses and non-profit organizations). He has advised two U.S. Presidents and spoke at five Economic Summits. He guides companies through growth strategies, visioning, strategic planning, executive leadership development, Futurism and Big Picture issues which profoundly affect the business climate. He conducts company evaluations, creates the big ideas and anchors the enterprise to its next tier. The Business Tree™ is his trademarked approach to growing, strengthening and evolving business, while mastering change. To read Hank’s complete biography, click here.

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