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Les McKeown's Predictable Success Blog

First published August 31, 2009

Is your business model efficiently ineffective? 

Systems and processes are a vital precursor to achieving Predictable Success. Overdoing it can send your organization into decline – even while looking efficient. Like many European airports, Frankfurt airport extensively utilizes buses to transport passengers from the terminal building to the airplane (rather than using walkways to board). On the way to Florence recently I joined my fellow passengers in boarding a bus that then proceeded to drive 75 yards – about three times its length – to the waiting plane. While for the very last passengers to board the bus this was a humorous diversion, those who boarded the bus first could see how horrendously ineffective the process was – they could have walked to the ‘plane and boarded in a tenth of the time. On the return flight, we all ‘deplaned’ (as the airlines insist on calling it) into the waiting bus, only to wait for 10 minutes while one passenger argued with the air crew abut whether or not he was entitled to retrieve his baby carriage there or in the terminal. On both connections, the bus – once it had reached the terminal – remained unmoving for between five and ten minutes, waiting for the busses in front to finish unloading and move forward, leaving passengers with tight connections staring at the terminal doors mere feet away and berating the driver for his unwillingness to open the doors and let them out until he had reached the official unloading zone. Even allowing for the short patience of travelers and the tendency of air travel to contract time frames, this is a business model that manages to be highly efficient, yet painfully ineffective. Other examples? The local outlet of a regional convenience store chain insists that their checkout staff ID’s everyone who buys alcohol, irrespective of their age. I’m a 53-year-old who absolutely looks their age, and the chances of me being mistaken by anyone as being under 21 is precisely zero – about the same chance as me remembering to take my driver’s license into the store when I decide to grab a bottle of wine on the way home. Net result? The liquor store round the corner gets my business, despite being between five and 15% more expensive, depending on the wine. The convenience store is being efficiently ineffective. My local bookstore, gasping to survive against the triple threat of Amazon.com, two giant ‘physical’ book retailers and declining book reading in general has a loyalty program of which I’m a part and wish to be a regular participant. The sales clerk can verify my registration by using my phone number to access their database, and can see how much credit I have earned from pervious purchases, but won’t allow me to use it unless I produce the little printed coupon they hand out when I bought the earlier purchases. Gloriously efficient, painfully ineffective. Net result? Fiduciary duty wins out against the desire to support local retailers for my wife and I, who between us spend around $5,000 a year on publications. Which parts of your business model are efficiently ineffective?

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