Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Black Marketeering as a PM Tool

What, you ask? Can this be true? Would a professional who values his reputation actually go over to the dark side and become a Black Marketeer? Yes. Well....sort of. Maybe I should explain.

We had been buying new task seating in incremental increments for several years and it was a very good chair. By the time we moved into our new HQ building half of the staff had these chairs and half did not. With list prices north of $1,000 per chair even that remaining half represented “real money.” But, we had a dilemma. We knew that some staff who already had the good ergonomic seating did not like the product for one reason or another. Although this was a small number of people they were vocal at times. We knew the noise wasn’t going to abate. We also knew that we would not be able to manage a process in which every occupant was given a choice, and that without choice staff dissatisfaction with the outcome would be high. Further, this particular organization is one where staff feels a high sense of entitlement. Compromise on one issue would translate to pressure on others.

What do you think we did?

We became de facto black-marketeers, encouraging staff to make their own deals without expressly condoning it. We set this black market up through the project policy we announced for seating. In essence we said if you have one of the existing ergonomic chairs you get no choice and must live with what you have. No changes allowed. If you do not have one of the ergonomic chairs then you get to choose between the existing standard and the alternate (also a top of the line ergonomic task chair but from a different manufacturer).

What do you think happened as a result of the policy we announced?

Of course. People made their own deals, just as we knew they would. Some people who already had a good chair but wanted one of the alternates made deals with those who did not have a good chair and were entitled to choose. We placed the order as the entitled person requested, put the chair in their office on move-in day, and couldn’t possibly have cared less which office it was in by the end of the day.

We purposely established a set of conditions that encouraged the development of this black market. Why? Because we knew that doing so would increase the number of people who had choice, which would in turn lead to greater occupant satisfaction and overall acceptance of the project. They got what they wanted, and we got what we needed.

Sometimes you have to be creative in finding solutions. When you do make sure your decisions and actions are oriented towards maximizing customer satisfaction within the boundaries of your project and operational standards.

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