Yesterday, Vala Afshar tweeted out the following
"You likely have to get management approval for a $500 expense… but you can call a 1 hour meeting with 20 people and no one notices."
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) March 7, 2016
… to which Paul Graham of YCombinator fame responded:
Such a valuable insight. Companies should have someone who watches over time the way CFOs watch over money. https://t.co/GbRmG7AVM6
— Paul Graham (@paulg) March 7, 2016
I beg to disagree with Paul, but not how you would expect.
One of the valuable intellectual behaviours one learns from studying Talmud is to analyze a situation from all directions, teasing out all potential logical explanations, no matter how strange or absurd they appear at first.
If all of the following is true:
- A company treats employee independent control of time – their own and others’ – to a greater degree than cash;
- Time is at least as valuable a commodity as cash.
Then you have two options:
- “Companies should have someone who watches over time the way CFOs watch over money.” (Paul’s tweet)
- Companies should learn to trust employees with cash the way they do with time.
I do not disagree that employee time is the most valuable commodity. I disagree that the solution is to trust employees less with time; instead we should trust them more with money.
Indeed, that was my response:
@paulg or maybe companies should trust employees with money the way they trust them with time….
— Avi Deitcher (@avideitcher) March 7, 2016
Of course, no company trusts any level of employee with unlimited cash or time. A new intern cannot call a company-wide meeting; even the CEO must go to the Board to spend $1BN.
Yes, you want a purchasing department so that you can negotiate the best deals across the company. Yes, you want a CFO so you know how much cash you actually have on hand and manage towards strategic P&L, balance sheet, and cash-flow targets.
But you only will achieve those targets by your employees executing on plans and delivering. If you trust them on time, trust them to a similar degree on cash.
16 years ago, I was hired as VP Enterprise Management for a financial services company. At the time, we were in desperate need for a turnaround in many areas of the business. Yes, I was a VP with my own budget and approval, but it was the first time I had seen someone cut the red tape. Within a week, I went to my boss, the CIO, to ask, “how do I get travel approval?”
His response was classic:
Get on a plane and fly. If you make a mistake, we will resolve it later.
Of course, if I had flown First Class to Sydney, Australia, with no business there, I might have been in some hot water. But I still could have done it if I felt it was right. He was saying, “I trust you with the company’s time to do what’s right, in exchange for doing what’s right; why wouldn’t I trust you with our cash?”
It’s always been a matter of trust….