Tom Foster of ManagementBlog.org interviewed me. Here is the second installment of that interview. We discussed maximizing efficiency.
— Start interview
TF: Intuitively, we try to maximize efficiency (profitability) of the entire company by working in each functional area to maximize its efficiency. We are thinking if every area is absolutely efficient, then by default, the entire company will be profitable. You disagree.
Dr. Lisa: Take an extreme case where a company may break itself into separate P&Ls. The logic is that if we maximize each P&L then we will maximize the P&L of the company as a whole. (And of course it’s much easier to hold each manager accountable only for their own P&L.)
I have a client, a not for profit, who collects donations that they sell in 14 retail stores. Each store has its own P&L and each store manager is measured and rewarded accordingly. The average selling price of an item is $2.25.
Imagine you are one of the underperforming stores in this company. To improve your profit, you need to sell a lot of volume at $2.25.
There are, however, some donated items that fetch $100 or more and sell very quickly. All the store managers love these items. Yet, there is one item that sells for $100 in 13 of the 14 stores, yet, sells for $200 in one of the stores, because of its location. It’s a cowboy item and this store is located near cowboys.
If I hold this item up in front of the group of 14 store managers, which store manager wants it for THEIR store? Of course, they all want the item, but, who should get the item to sell? The cowboy store can sell it for double.
So, if one of the other stores (not the cowboy store) gets a walk-in donation of one of these cowboy items, what should that store manager do?
Most store managers would keep quiet and sell the item quickly for $100 to improve their own P&L. This maximizes their own silo, but steals valuable profit from the company as a whole. This story illustrates how maximizing each silo does not necessarily benefit the system as a whole.
When management teams attack a problem, most often they try to fix a small segment of the company without even seeing the larger system problem.
…to be continued.
Here’s to maximizing YOUR profits!
By Dr Lisa Lang
© Science of Business, Inc