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December 21, 2012 / Mervyn Dinnen

The Tale of the Fish and the Bicycle – Part 1

Fish On a Bicycle

Once upon a time, on a distant Island, there lived a fish called Frank. He was a very sociable fish, who loved swimming and meeting people.

The Island was a lovely place to live. It was self-sustaining and had a small number of village communities all situated at one end. In the middle was a large hill, and on the other side a port where all the nice things that the Islanders couldn’t grow or make for themselves were delivered.

If you didn’t have a particular craft yourself then there was work delivering the parcels and packages that came into the port.

Frank worked for a small business that delivered parcels. As they only employed fish, they had to use the river that meandered its way around the hill. To compensate for not having the fastest delivery service (the river did meander quite a bit) they made sure that they employed people who took pride in spreading happiness. You see, the fish that started the business had realised that these parcels bought something good and happy into people’s lives and he wanted delivery fish who could be part of that experience.

Frank loved this part of his job. People were so happy when they saw him swim up to their homes or businesses, as they knew that he would be bringing with him something they wanted. It could be a DVD, book or CD, some clothes, or even a voucher to try out a new restaurant in the village.

When he was small, Frank had watched lots of episodes of Postman Pat and he now saw himself as a similar character, an important member of the community, enjoying his work, and bringing happiness in to people’s lives.

The biggest rivals to Frank’s company were called Parcels4U. They were a very different kind of business, hiring the strongest and fastest cyclists to do the deliveries.

Whilst Frank’s company were able to charge more money per delivery, as they believed they were offering much more than just the delivery, Parcels4U charged much less. They believed that the important part was getting the parcels there quickly, so they employed cyclists who could navigate their way around the hill as fast as possible.

**********

The Regional Director of Parcels4U who looked after their operation on the Island was not happy. His bonus had been reduced as he had missed one of his key metrics. One of the findings from the annual customer satisfaction survey that his company conducted in every region was that, whilst Parcels4U were praised for the speed of their deliveries they came out very low in the ‘service you would recommend to a friend‘ category.

He was in a meeting with his Delivery Operatives Manager for the Island. Neither was happy, as neither could see quite why the company had placed so much importance on this metric. After all, their company statement, which was pinned to the wall of every room, clearly stated ‘The Fastest Service You Can Get. No Hill Too Big‘ – nowhere did it mention being nice to the customers. If the customers were too lazy to go to the port and pick it up for themselves then what did they expect.

If we give them a bonus for being nice to people instead of how many deliveries they complete in a day then they will all leave‘ said the Delivery Operatives Manager. ‘They’re athletes who train hard to be fast cyclists and like to be rewarded for that.

The Regional Director was staring out the window, ironically at the River which ran past their offices. ‘OK, we don’t want to unsettle them. I’ve got a bit of flexibility in the budget so why don’t we hire one of the fishes and set up a bespoke service? It will pay for itself. I’m sure we’ll be able to charge a lot for it. If they want a slow service with a smile at the end then they can pay for it

And so the plan was hatched. Find out who the best delivery operative fish was and make them an offer.

**********

Frank was quite flattered, and more than a little excited, to get the call. He swam home quickly to tell his wife and children.

‘I’ll get more money, my own team, and a real challenge to make a difference. Just think..‘ he was talking quickly and enthusiastically ‘…how great it would be for me if I was the fish that got Parcels4U known for a giving a great service‘.

His wife wasn’t so sure, but with her job at the neighbouring farm looking in jeopardy the extra money would come in useful ‘OK then‘ she said ‘if you think you can make it work, why not go for it!

She gave him a big hug and they made plans for a short family holiday during the time off he would have between jobs.

**********

As the months went by, the cyclists started getting a bit restless. A new performance metric had been put in place which required them to complete a minimum of 4 deliveries every day else they would have some money docked. Yet every time they dropped off a package they would invariably pass Frank (or That Fish, as they referred to him) enjoying a chat and a coffee with one of his customers as they opened their parcel and told him all about the party that they wanted to wear the new outfit for.

The Delivery Operatives Manager wasn’t enjoying having to explain to them why Frank had different targets as, to be honest, he didn’t really understand them himself. He had only ever managed cyclists and was finding it hard to keep check on a fish. He had called the Regional HR Manager for guidance but he wasn’t really sure either. He told him to try to keep the metrics as close as possible to those that the cyclists had so that there were no grievances.

He had tried to break the river course down in to four phases, with a time tracker on each phase, just as he did for the cyclists, but there were so many variables on the river that the roads never had that it didn’t help. Plus the Regional Director had allowed Frank to actually spend TIME with his customers, which is the thing he found oddest of all, and had no idea how to place a value on.

The top cyclist had asked to see him. ‘The thing is’ the cyclist was clearly a bit nervous ‘we’re not prepared to see That Fish treated so differently. He’s a swimmer and we’re cyclists. Yes, we can go faster but we don’t see why he doesn’t get a comparable target. Anyone can talk to customers but not everyone can get the deliveries done quickly’

The Delivery Operatives Manager feared there may be more to come. He anxiously asked ‘Is that it?‘.

‘NO!‘ snorted the cyclist who sensed that he now had the upper hand ‘unless it changes some of the guys are talking about leaving and setting up a business on their own. There’s a lot of talk that Parcels Warehouse are looking to get into the delivery market on this Island and they may be prepared to make them an offer.

That was the final straw for the Delivery Operatives Manager. He used to work for Parcels Warehouse on a different island and he knew that if they came in to this market it would mean a price war. That could mean less business and fewer bonuses.

He called an immediate meeting with the Regional Director and recommended that the premium service be stopped. He said it was unsettling the main cyclists and he then produced a budget showing the possible effects of a price war with Parcels Warehouse. The Regional Director agreed that their patch had to be defended, but there was a catch – he really liked Frank and felt guilty about how he had coerced him into joining them.

We need to pool our resources and protect the core business. I will shut the river service down‘ he said ‘but on the proviso that we transfer Frank to the cyclists team

But…he’s a fish! He can’t ride a bicycle!‘ shouted the Delivery Operatives Manager as he rolled his eyes and looked skywards. He knew that this was the last thing that the other cyclists would want.

Fishes are very resourceful creatures’ said the Regional Director in a placatory voice. ‘Let’s give him all the help he needs to transition. I’ll get HR to speak to you about a performance plan for him

[To Be Continued – Read Part 2]

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