Quotes in the News

“A diet of cheap and excessive debt has created a bloated financial system.” - Satyajit Das on the fall of the Subprime Loan Market in the US.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Your Freedom Lies in Monkeys

I have attended alot of conferences in my career. Although there are many types of conferences, the motivational ones are always interesting. You never walk away from these conferences fully satisfied but more with a slightly subdued hunger. This is not a bad thing by any means. Overeating at any conference can leave you bloated and with a headache. The key to any conference is to walk away with a few "nuggets" of wisdom with which to build on.

The scale you see at the top is one such nugget. The scale was developed by William Oncken, a consulting guru best known for his time management techniques and metaphorical monkeys. Centering around managers, Oncken's technique is to depict everyday issues and challenges as monkeys and show ways to remove them. The path to less stress and more time in your day to do YOUR REAL JOB is be rid of monkeys - especially those that are not yours. If you think about it, we all do this on a daily basis where we walk in the morning physched about our day and then are bombarded but OTHERS issues. As a manager you have a responsibility to those above and below you in the chain of command. So how do you be the best you can at your own job, while still supporting your staff, boss, and organizational needs?

The strategy with the depicted scale is to have the majority (if not all) of you staff performing above a #3. The more independent your staff is of your decisions or controls, the more time you have to spend on issues that you want to be engaged in. I added the arrows on the side to illustrate the key problems that managers face in moving up and down this scale.

  1. Trust: Many managers do not inherently trust their staff to make the right decisions. They are micro-managers because of this fault and feel the need to be involved in all decisions, no matter their importance. The issue of trust is hard to overcome but highlights a larger problem. If you do not trust your staff to make the decisions necessary in their position, why do they exist! Not everyone needs a #1 employee but allowing your employees to feel empowered with some decision making is one solution to overcoming this issue of trust.

  2. Self-Importance: A phenomena that my wife has actually coined, this is where individuals make themselves to be more important to a situation then they may need to be (or actually are). Many managers don't want staff making decisions simply because they like the control. There is a subtle difference here as trust implies you think your staff will not make the right decision, whereas self-importance means you view decision making as an issue of self-worth. The more decisions you make, the more self-worth you have. The logic is flawed and the issue of monkeys is even more prevelant as individuals with a high degree of self-importance often complain the most about having no time.

This scale works at all levels, even if you are in a subordinate role or at the bottom of the corporate ladder. DO NOT feel the need to be "yes" man(woman) and accept responsibility for everyone around you. DO work you feel you would be engaged in, and work with others to find common grounds on who takes responsiblity for issues on a daily basis. You will always a few monkeys on your back, but this scale provides a good check to remove many others before they turn into gorrillas. I was even told about an executive who has a monkey on his desk that he shifts to those walking in the door. This ensures you have a visual of issue at hand and that it is given to the appropriate person after the conversation finishes.

My 2 thoughts anyways......

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brinks Alarms: Beware of the Fuel Surcharge Tax

I like to inform consumers when I feel they are being wronged. A run-in with Brinks leads me to believe that I am not alone in my 2 thoughts....

I recently had a problem with my Brinks alarm. I was trying to test the system and realized I didn't have a live connection with the monitoring group. For those not familiar with the Brinks alarm system (or don't currently own an alarm that is monitored), your are expected by Brinks to "test" your alarm once a month. This is done by asking the system to send a signal to the central server to ensure the unit is performing correctly (verifying a live signal) and then sending a counter-signal back to the device to let the user know (with a loud beep) that a successful connection was made. After repeated tries, I decided to call Brinks to get help with this problem.

We purchased through Brinks because we wanted a reputable company. We were assured of their great technology and years of expertise in residential service. We were also assured of their no-hassle technical service should we have a problem with our system at any point. Imagine my surprise when I asked for a technician to come out and Brinks hesitated. They first asked if I had a digital phone. I told them I did but it was in place before I had the system put in (which I was told at the time wouldn't be a problem). They repeatedly stressed that their system has problems with digital phones (monitoring requires a connection via the telephone line). They (Brinks) wanted to let me know that a charge would be made if it the problem wasn't theirs. I told Brinks I didn't care as the phone was well in place before and the system had worked fine for months. What I also found out was technicians only work Mondays to Saturdays and only during work hours. With the exception of a Saturday visit, I would have to take time-off work to be home between the hours of either 9:00am - 12:00am or 1:00pm to 4:00pm. I booked a Friday knowing my wife would be home on one of her days off.

I called later that day to see how things went. My wife told me the technician had come and mentioned that Brinks was having several problems with their systems similar to ours. He ended up fixing the system but then asked my wife for a $5.00 fee to cover the fuel costs for the trip. She paid the fee but knew full well that I would have not endorsed such a cost.

I called Brinks yesterday to examine the plausibility of the cost. Here is Brinks arguments for charging the $5.00 fee:

  • Its a Canadian Law to charge the $5.00 fuel surcharge.

  • Its Brinks policy.

  • Everyone is charged and has been charged since March of 2007.
Here are my arguments:

  • Firstly, there is no such Canadian Law that asks all services calls for warranty approved work to be charged a $5.00 surcharge for fuel.

  • The very meaning of the word "surcharge" implies this is a company policy to add an additional cost to its clients, not a Canadian Law demanding such a fee. Also, Brinks constantly referred to this $5.00 surcharge for fuel as a "Fuel Surcharge Tax", talk about trying to group words together to make the argument.

  • The Protective Service Agreement that I signed with Brinks to enter into this arrangement in section 6. under "Repair Service" does not mention any such surcharge to warranty approved work. There is mention of acts of god, misuse, negligence, fire, but no mention of a surcharge that will accompany a visit where the system is not performing to its designed specifications.

In the end, the Service Call Manager (of course I had it elevated) gave me another number to call to get my credit of $5.00. He said that he would neither agree or disagree with me on this matter as he did not have the authority to change company policy. This in itself is an admission of error on the part of Brinks.

If anyone else has had similar challenges, the number to call is: 1-800-437-3611. They are only open Mon-Fri 8am to 5pm.