It got me thinking about 2 things: how time feels & the nature of contracts.
In my early career I worked for a great firm called Telephone Rentals – I’m sure there is or ought to be an alumni group. It was ruled by total excellence in engineering and lasted from pre the Post Office monopoly until acquired by Cable & Wireless in the early 90s.
We used to sell 14 year contracts for phone systems, messaging, fire, time and other systems and I can remember thinking that was a life sentence for the business customers concerned. But such was the quality and the ability to swap out for the latest gizmos, that it all seemed to work very well.
As a model for customers, it worked. As a model for SME selling, it worked, with “reps” in “repscorts” covering every corner of the land. I covered Northamptonshire and knew every business. I had 14 folders of small cards each with hand written records going back to the year dot. Many companies had renewed several times over generations.
Many adapted to a changing world and are still there – Cosworth talent for example spawning many a company, not least Mercedes F1 in Brixworth. Very traditional shoe makers like Barkers and Griggs, who are doing well, by being traditional or setting up new approaches like Doc Martens. Many have morphed such as the Anglia Building Society which became Nationwide. And some will have gone by the by.
At the time I couldn’t imagine 14 years. But the values of the firm, the quality first, cost second, had endured through many generations of management and customers. Funded by an unusual and effective commercial model that allowed those values to flourish. At least at that time – but 14 year contracts for modems & routers – I don’t think so. It was of its time.
Many staff worked their whole careers there with pride. Today that’s become less the norm.
When it comes to fighting for the best talent, that freedom from being contracted, or that fear of no contract or a zero hours contract, has become less relevant in today’s world. Good people know they can get another job and they’re not bothered. Socially many young folk are secured by the bank of mum and dad and so worry less.
Of course, the market I’m talking about is the educated and employable. Zero hours is wholly a different debate for those who live in poverty in the UK.
But, whether recognised or not by large corporates, this fight for the best talent is the big issue. More even than the battle for customers’ ££s or $$s. Attracting and retaining the very best talent gets the full attention of the best CEOs & entrepreneurs.
And it’s expensive to get the talent battle wrong. Very expensive in the short term fees and loss of momentum. And for the loss of knowledge, the teams that break up, damage to pride in the brand and the economics of the business model.
I know many brilliant people who have stayed in one business 14 years. Both in large companies and in their own companies. I’m not sure the 20 and 30 year olds of today have that expectation. Their mantra is less patient “If it’s not right, change your boss”. Of course they mean get a new job, but maybe we should take it more literally.
We’d all do well to adopt that mantra in our dealings with colleagues, peers, staff of every kind. “Change your boss” by increasing his skills, his awareness and his perception of how he’s useful to you.
And if we do, time will fly. 14 years is a pleasure not a sentence. If we don’t, 14 years will be the sentence of fear of changing job.
“If it’s not right, change your boss” is a rallying call for bravery at work.
Say it like it is, don’t be silent, speak out against values atrocities. You can coach and mentor upwards, sideways and every which way – there’s nothing says you can’t. Your CEO will love you for it too.
No one can inflict a 14 year sentence of tedious work on you – only you can do that to yourself.