Opinion

Ask Timpo: Boozy lunches and glorified time wasting

5 min read

21 November 2007

Timpo's got the answers on sociable sales people, cash hand-outs and unproductive staff meetings.

A lot of the meetings my staff hold are just exercises in glorified time wasting. How can I make them more productive?

You are right. Lots of your meetings are probably a waste of time. You are paying several executives, some on very high salaries, to sit around a table doodling on an A4 pad and secretly search through their BlackBerrys.

Meetings are the most unproductive activity on the business calendar. Attendance is often based on office politics, and most committee decisions would be better made by individuals sitting in the bath.

Try to dramatically cut down on meetings, but don’t ban them altogether. Some meetings are worthwhile, such as board meetings that monitor progress and discuss strategy, general monthly get-togethers to tell everyone the news, and expert think-tanks that brainstorm your latest problem.

Eliminate useless meetings by using eccentric tactics:

  • Make it abundantly clear you hate meetings. Write about them, speak about them, put a notice on your office wall saying “Most meetings are a waste of time – even when I am invited”;
  • Insist on receiving the minutes of every meeting. A quick glance will tell you all you need to know;
  • Gatecrash. Drop in on a whim and ask awkward questions; and
  • If all this fails, copy the Asda example: take away the chairs and make your meeting room standing room only with a time limit of 30 minutes.

I’ve just started a small business and one of my employees is insisting that I pay him in cash, but my investors have stipulated that I must have proof of all my outgoings and costs. How can I get around this problem without losing the employee?

Your investors have their priorities screwed up. They should be interested in net profit and cash flow, leaving the details to you. If your employee wants cash, let him have it. And if everyone else follows his example, go along with them.

Your finance director will tell you it is cheaper to pay monthly, but it is more important to look after your employees. They have earned the money and have every right to say how they should be paid.

You can pay employees in cash, carrots or extra pension contributions as long as everything is declared to the Inland Revenue.

If you are tempted to use cash payments to avoid National Insurance and tax, forget it. Lots of small businesses (including many of my competitors) operate in a black market by keeping a considerable slice of their trade hidden from financial scrutiny. They will never become big businesses, and they run the risk of heavy penalties, jail and receivership.

Your investors are right to insist you stay within the law, but they should not impose rules of their own.

My sales people always file huge expenses. They claim that the boozy lunches are central to deal-making. Is this the case, or should I be curtailing the non-stop socialising?

Plying clients with caviar and Cristal is unlikely to increase sales. Good salesmen don’t need the help of alcohol to sell their product. Boozy lunches belong to days before the BlackBerry and the Breathalyser.

First, find out the facts. Check whether the person claiming the most expenses is your superstar or your poorest performer. If a person with high expenses sits in the bottom half of your sales league, you have an easy way to destroy their theory about corporate entertainment.

Even if there is the slightest hint that lavish treats encourage more business, still put a stop to such extravagance. Don’t allow your company to be associated with a laddish lifestyle – which can sometimes lead to backhanders and blackmail.

Launch a campaign to curb big expense claimants, and get to know everyone’s entertaining habits in detail. In the process you will learn a lot about your salesmen.

Try limiting expenses to a defined percentage of sales, with any overspend deducted from your rep’s bonus payments. Or use a more direct approach by pinning the rep’s claim forms on the office notice board.