“System Failure”       

Issue 13

By:  Ron Brounes    

May 1998


Last Monday, I strolled into the office first thing in the A.M. prepared to start another highly productive work week.  After a quick glance over the news headlines de jour and a review of my daily calendar, I turned on the trusted computer and was ready for action.  Countless creative ideas for pending projects popped into my head as my computer performed its ritual warm-up before letting me begin.  Suddenly a strange message appeared on the screen: “System Failure: File Corrupt – Retry?/Abort?”  Thinking very little of this potential crisis, I punched “R” (for retry) and returned to the sports page. “System Failure: File Corrupt – Retry?/Abort?”  Still not overly concerned (I did, after-all, take a few ‘data processing and analysis’ classes a mere 14 years ago in the days of punch cards), I went the “control - alt - delete” route this time, assuming a simple reboot would solve my problems. “System Failure: File Corrupt – Retry?/Abort?”   All at once, panic set in. 


I scanned a few worthless user manuals that came with the hardware and software, but to no avail.  They may as well have been written in Japanese (actually they were). With my heart now beating a hundred miles a minute, I immediately called my resident expert in these matters (my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law) only to find him in meetings until late in the afternoon.  A few more calls to others equally as computer illiterate as myself produced nothing but sarcastic comments.  I was almost fresh out of ideas, and had a few deadlines to meet that day.  Luckily I remembered an old (very old) electric typewriter and “ten key” locked in storage.  (I couldn’t find the abacus.)  Problems solved, for the time being.  A routine hour long project took a mere five hours to complete, but the liquid paper was hardly noticeable.  My resident expert called back early that afternoon with a detailed analysis that I could not begin to understand.  A few simple keystrokes and the corrupt file had been repaired with no permanent damage (other than my stress). 




My point is, often in the workplace we become so incredibly reliant on the computer that the slightest problem occurs and our entire schedule is ruined.  Always remember to backup all relevant files on a regular basis and save hard copies as well.  “Y2K” (year 2000, in computer lingo) may create some interesting dilemmas, but that’s a story for another time (and a more technical person to explain). 


In actuality, computers are not the only resource on which we become too reliant.  Individuals typically are our most valuable resources, playing important roles in our organizational successes.  Occasionally, however, certain people may play too important a role which may lead to unforeseen problems down the road. 





A friend I used to work with had always been a pretty decent salesmen.  He had a tremendous work ethic, cold calling from morning till night, while opening up more new accounts than most anyone at the firm.  He was earning a comfortable living when finally he landed that one dream client.   My friend had “bagged the elephant” so to speak.  Immediately, his income surged, as this one customer monopolized almost all of his time and energy.  He began to neglect his other smaller institutions and never made any more cold calls.  Why should he?  In fact, his hours around the office began to shorten as he and his client would hit the links most every Friday afternoon.  His lifestyle was upgraded as well, simply to keep up with his newfound income: bigger house, faster car, sharper friends. 


One day, unbeknownst to my (ex) friend, his client was bought out by a larger institution.  His contact lost his job; the business relationship ended.  Unfortunately, he had practically forgotten all of his previous (smaller) accounts, having become far too reliant on this one customer.   Needless to say, his business was never the same.  The key to continuous success is to always keep that pipeline growing and never allow one customer to provide too large a piece of your business pie. 




Similar situations occur when companies become far too reliant on individual employees.  In fact, in many cases, that individual happens to be the computer guy.  While we treasure that excellent worker who maintains specific expertise in certain areas, we find ourselves in binds when that person is no longer around.  A simple week long vacation can result in disaster (or countless long distance calls) if no one else has mastered the tasks at hand.  Occasionally, companies can be held hostage by employees who know good and well that they are entirely irreplaceable.  Remember, no one is ever irreplaceable. 


Make sure that another employee or two are crossed trained to perform each and every task at the firm.  Working in groups whenever possible can help promote a sense of teamwork while training employees at various skills.  Maintain and update “policy and procedure” manuals to ensure that as problems arise, they can be easily detected and remedied.  Certainly some individuals are truly invaluable to the continued efficient operations of the company, but others must always be able to step in when emergencies arise.  A company should not be forced to “abort” because management was unprepared to handle a simple “System Failure.”   


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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. The above advice does NOT apply for those of you who have become overly reliant on these newsletters to aid in your business operations.  Some professional information is truly irreplaceable.