UK: "I did it my, (or was it his?), way"

with apologies to Frank Sinatra, who must also have been a cynic
Last Updated: 5 November 2001
Article by John Quinton

We hear a lot about ‘Agendas’ nowadays. He who writes the Agenda has the power. So it is important that he gets it right. But right for whom?

We have become accustomed to the so-called hidden Agenda - which I take to be a list of topics which implies one objective but which is actually written so as to achieve another. Sadly, the use of the hidden Agenda has become routine in many circles including, it seems, most layers of Government from the Cabinet to the Town Council. It is now no more than a device to enable them to do it their way.

We should stop being surprised that most so-called ‘initiatives’ produce the very reverse of what was said to have been intended*. The opposite of what was intended turns out, in practice, to have been what the Agenda writer wanted all along. By the time we realise that it is too late to argue.

The routine manipulation of the system in this cynical way - by stealth - is one major reason why so many people no longer see any point in voting. (Perhaps that is the result of a hidden Agenda too? Do they just not care, anymore, whether we do or not?)

Offered the prospect of ‘growth’ most small businesses would probably listen to the siren voices. The first time. Every business wants to improve the benefit it wins from its efforts. Who would not like a better profit for less effort? Or to increase his turnover if it produced a commensurate profit increase? We all want more profit.

Any government sponsored ‘Business Support’ Agenda writer, however, wants ‘growth’, i.e. more business activity, because that will create employment opportunities, some handy statistics and at least the prospect of better tax revenues. Beware. He is an Agent of the Government, because it controls his recruitment and pays him, regardless of how his actual employment is dressed up to imply something else. (More stealth!). It is no concern of his if, in the process of growing, a business fails and leaves a consequential trail of damage to others. Others, (not small businesses, though), even benefit from that.

Those who know what it is like to run a small business - that is, 99% of all businesses - are aware that what counts is not turnover, staff numbers, the size of the car-park or its borrowings. Success is determined by the ability to provide a product or service at low cost for which a buyer will pay a high price. Any business which does not understand this, (and many don’t), is working to someone else’s agenda or providing a social service - such as lending money to clients for extended periods, propping up the banks or providing subsidised employment. All that is meeting someone else’s hidden Agenda and, if your business is doing it, you have been had.

Business is not about size. Some of the best businesses have no borrowings, no employees and no premises.

Efficiency in creating the most profit at least cost is what counts. Knowing what the overheads are, and keeping them down. Working to a plan and within a budget. But, above all, finding out what clients want and giving it to them. These are the things that command respect, not fiddling with the figures for some undisclosed purpose.

There is no secret - beyond being fully aware of what any productive unit of work costs, in terms of direct expenditures and the share of overhead it must recover.

However, very few businesses understand that and, even if they do, many think they are somehow exempt from this basic commercial reality. They run, permanently, on ‘empty’, exhausting all their energies on mere survival when they could be flourishing. Which is why few businesses survive into a second generation.

But nobody has an Agenda for dealing with that problem. It is new registrations that grab headlines, and enable Governments to claim success in, ‘encouraging small businesses’. Talking about the almost equal number which fail, and the ghastly consequences of that, would not enhance anybody’s political career. But we know what the results would be if it did reach an Agenda, so beware any initiative which we are told will tackle that problem. It would simply make it worse*.

As in any other walk of life those of us in Business had better understand that, after all the talk, we are actually on our own. We stand or fall by our own efforts. And those, guided by simple common sense and the odd grain of distilled wisdom, are enough.

Just get on with it and do it your, (or, preferably my), way!

* The well known and frequently illustrated, ‘Law of Perverse Consequences’, which states that most legislation, even when formulated, (as it sometimes is), by well-intentioned individuals, generally produces the opposite of the effect intended. The unscrupulous use this well-oiled principle to their advantage.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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