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Economic Development is . . . (increasing the flow) of capital through the community and reducing its leakage.

A Barber Shop Lesson

A young boy enters a barber shop. The barber whispers to his customer in the chair, “These kids’ these days never learn. Watch while I prove it to you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns! They are all like these days, so into texting and video games that they don’t have a clue about the real world.”

Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

This story is a reminder that some times what we think is going on is not the real truth. This isn’t a new concept by any means.  It was Phaedrus (one of Socrates’ inner circle) that said ― “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”

In the last few weeks we have been discussing numbers as they relate to growing companies in Tama County. The lack of focus on numbers is often the reason why many businesses fail. It is only when you begin to dig deeper into what really is going on within the companies’ financials you find out what is really going on.

What if we went a step further? What if you started showing your employees the key numbers— financials, from sales to overhead—and helped them to begin to understand what their daily jobs could do to affect these numbers?

A few months back a friend of mine who owns a roofing company started sharing a couple key numbers with his employees; one in particular was— labor cost as a percent of sales.  Last week one of his employees asked in a meeting why the number had increased this past month. It turned out that the bad weather prevented them from doing two scheduled jobs resulting in the decreased sales. That one key number allowed the employees to recognize the real repercussions of the numbers.

The same employee suggested that they all begin to look for new revenue sources to offset the bad weather. As a result the group has started asking clients to sign annual maintenance agreements (3 as of today). The funny thing, two years ago my friend tried for six months to get his employees to go after maintenance agreements and they never signed a single one in two years.

I’ve been a part of sharing numbers with employees several times and every time, we heard insights that the management team never thought of. We also ended up building a much more dedicated workforce. The people began to be really involved in what they were doing. It wasn’t a mind-numbing job anymore; they became part of the team that could affect change within the company.

As we continue to look to discover and share our key numbers that will grow our companies in Tama County, remember the lesson of the boy from the barbershop— things are not always what they seem to be, the first appearance deceives many. Let’s not be deceived.


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