Loosen Up!

If every hour of every day is all planned out, you may actually be hurting your business.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the July 2001 issue of Entrepreneurs Start-Ups magazine. Subscribe »

Despite everything you've probably ever heard about efficiency, businesses may be doing themselves damage by trying to be too efficient, according to a contrary view of efficiency presented by bestselling author and project management expert Tom DeMarco in his book Slack (Broadway, $23).

DeMarco, who sharpened his management skills in the software development industry, takes on practically every management trend of the last century when he declares, among other things, that working too efficiently isn't working very smart. His central point: When everybody works at 100 percent efficiency, they don't possess the time, energy or leisure to be flexible. In this age, when lack of flexibility is considered a serious business failing, DeMarco's criticisms ought to be well-received, notwithstanding their iconoclastic tone.

DeMarco offers some good ideas for making sure your organization has the requisite slack, which he defines as time during which people are zero percent busy.

One of the most common mistakes businesspeople make, he says, is to aggressively schedule delivery dates, promising customers that a product or project will be ready at a speed that requires extraordinary effort. This kind of situation stresses people and organizations, making them less able to be innovative and agile, he argues persuasively. So instead of promising the moon and then trying to figure out how to get there, he says, offer due dates you know are achievable with reasonable effort. That way, you'll protect your credibility while maintaining everyone's ability to engage in some slack.

Customer Winback
Jossey-bass, $28.95

It's one thing for you to engender customer loyalty-but what about regaining the loyalty of customers you've already lost? That's a tougher problem, but one that marketing consultants Jill Griffin and Michael W. Lowenstein tackle effectively.

The book prescribes a step-by-step process for returning strayed customers to the fold, beginning with how to determine whether they're worth winning back and ending with techniques to make your company defection-proof. But you don't have to follow the book's steps in order: If you've got a specific problem today, you can also profit by simply picking an appropriate trick from the repertoire provided. For instance, one method that can help you regain disaffected customers is to ask-or even require-them to give you notice before they actually cut you loose.

Once they've started patronizing another supplier, customers are especially difficult to get back. It's much easier if you have a little advance warning and can halt a defection before it happens. Many Internet service provider agreements, for example, require customers to give 30 days notice when canceling their accounts. Having 30 days to figure out what's wrong and fix it can make the difference between keeping a customer and losing one, Griffin and Lowenstein argue. If your business doesn't allow for similar notification obligations, then analyze your sales figures to keep track of waning customer loyalty. Then, act now to save later.

Building Trust
Oxford University Press, $22

According to CEO Fernando Flores and philosopher Robert C. Solomon, trust is a big commodity that you can win, retain and regain only with a combination of communication, self-confidence and understanding. The book is pragmatic: Its "trust" includes accepting the possibility of betrayal; that is, with some people, you just want to minimize the chances of treachery.

30 Days to a Happy Employee
Fireside, $12

The most likely reason you lose an employee is failure to acknowledge his or her contribution, says entrepreneur Dottie Bruce Gandy. But it doesn't have to be that way, she adds, outlining a quick campaign to make sure everyone in your company feels valued. Start with what Gandy bills as the 30-Day Process. For one month, share with your employee every day a quality or trait that you admire about him or her. If you run out of admirable characteristics halfway through, don't blame the employee. Blame your own inability to appreciate-and look harder. Gandy's book is filled with similarly high-impact, low-cost tools.

  Katie Lukas
CEO of StickyData LLC, a Web-development firm
New York City

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
Little Brown, $24.95

"The Tipping Point is about that point at which little movements become big trends-any of those things that catch on like wildfire. As a marketing concept, the tipping point is extremely powerful, and it's also a great conversation piece-I can't say how many times I've found myself paraphrasing Gladwell since I read [this book]."



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