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By Kelly Riggs | Sales + Leadership

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May 02

Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later

by Kelly Riggs

Is there anything more valuable than your time?

All the money in the world won’t buy you a single extra second of time; but, without time, you couldn’t enjoy the benefits of having all the money in the world.

In the workplace, it’s the one thing that managers never have enough. “I don’t have time” – the four most dangerous words in your leadership vocabulary – is the most common excuse managers offer up for failing to work on the most critical leadership activities – communication, training, development, and planning.

It’s not that managers don’t understand they need more time to do those things; they just never seem to have any extra time laying around. However, although managers constantly complain they never have enough of it, it’s amazing to see how poorly they invest what time they do have.

There is an old brain teaser that goes like this: “I will offer you two things today and today only. You must choose one, and the offer expires in one minute.

First, I will offer you $1 million dollars in cash, in your hands today. Or, as an alternative, I will offer you a single penny today. Then, tomorrow I will pay you double that amount, and I will continue to double the amount each day for a grand total of 30 days. You would receive one cent today, two cents tomorrow, then four cents, then eight cents, and so on until you reach thirty days. Which one would you choose?”

You get $1 million, in cash. Immediately.

Or, in 7 days you could accumulate…let’s see…1+2+4+8+16+32+64… a show-stopping $1.27 for ALL 7 days combined.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of things you can do with a million dollars in cash in hand. And $1.27 is utterly meaningless. But, you’re thinking, maybe you just need to be patient. Maybe this can go somewhere.

Well, at the end of two weeks, on Day 14, your payday will be a whopping $81.92. Fourteen days of pay and you have accumulated $163.83. Not exactly a million bucks. For two weeks of waiting, you have less than two hundred bucks, which is not even enough to make a decent car payment. Meanwhile, the dude with the million dollars is tooling around in a Ferrari – with a free and clear title, and plenty of extra cash to spare.

However, to be fair, maybe you just need to give it a little more time. There’s got a be something to this, right? Or why would I make you the offer?

So, things start to look a little better at the end of the third week. On Day 21, you get a nice stack of cash, exactly $10,485.76. However, your total income for 21 days – THREE WEEKS – is only about $21,000.00. Not terrible, but it is still a long, long, LONG way from a million dollars.

Like $979,000 away.

Looks like you should’ve gone with the million bucks in cash. Maybe you thought there had to be something tricky about that penny offer, and you decided to take a chance. BUT, if you’re like most people, you looked at all those stacks of Benjamins and jumped on that million bucks.

Good call!!

Well, no, actually it wasn’t. Sorry, just trying to make you feel better. Actually, you were an idiot to take the $1 million.

In Week 4, that would’ve become crystal clear. On Day 25, your payday is over $165K. On Day 28, your haul is seven-figures – more than $1.3 million. Your final cash payout on Day 30 is over $5.3 million.

All in, for the 30 days, starting at one penny, you would have accumulated over $10.7 million. Which, is just a tad bit better, and all it took was a little patience.

This illustration has been around a long time, and it is typically used to illustrate the power of compounding – doubling an amount every day for 30 days provides a crushing return on your investment. The problem is that the allure of immediate gain can be really, REALLY difficult to ignore, especially when the long-term return is not clearly fixed in your mind.

One thing is certain, if the pain is bad enough, some people will opt for the $1 million today even if they know they are only 30 days away from $10 million.

Leaders make this mistake a lot.

There are a variety of things that leaders fail to do that can have that compounding effect on performance, but they never seem to get around to doing them. They will freely admit they need to do those things – they WANT to do those things – but they just don’t have time.

So, they continue to spend their time on short-term relief.

They continue to step in front of employees and do their work for them – because they don’t have time to teach and coach.

They continue to make every decision – because they don’t have time to teach employees how to make think.

They continue to solve every problem – because they just don’t have time to explain all the details to the employee.

They continue to suck at communication – because they just don’t have time to do anything more than send a mass email.

Each of these choices – making decisions, solving problems, and so forth – represent seemingly small investments in time to the leader. And the rationale is simple – it is NECESSARY to act this way because time is always in short supply. But, here is the bad news: Each of these short-term fixes have long-term implications. Employees don’t learn, they don’t engage, and they don’t contribute their own creativity and thinking. They work without purpose and direction, and they wonder why no one ever tells them anything.

Which means, very clearly, that those short-term time savings provide absolutely NO RETURN other than to briefly relieve the pain. And it never gets better. EVER. You wind up paying far more in terms of time (and money) than you ever save in the short-term. The reactionary, short-term, time-saving decision process turns into the black hole of death for corporate leaders.

So here it is: There is never enough time because…THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME.

The flip side is to bite the bullet, tear down the old house, and rebuild the foundation.  Endure the pain and invest significant amounts of time (and money) now in communication, planning, and people development. It takes longer NOW, at a time when you’re convinced you don’t have ANY time (or money), but it leads to huge time savings in the future as employees become more capable and more independent.

Oh, and just for good measure, in case you’re wondering, employee performance improves as well, which provides the Holy Grail – a return on your investment.

To be clear: when it comes to employees, you WILL pay one way or the other. The only question is when, and how much. If you save time now, you will pay in both time and money for the many questions, and mistakes, and short-falls, and other employee issues your short-term decision didn’t not anticipate. The short-term, Band-Aid fix is a seemingly small payment to make in time, but it inevitably leads to bigger chunks of time lost in the future. Or, you can choose to invest your time and money on the front end and actually create a return on investment in the future.

This is why leadership is a pay me now or pay me later adventure. One way or another, you are going to need to invest time and money in your employees. Your choice is to be proactive and invest, or to be reactive and spend, spend, spend to pick up the pieces and clean up the messes.

Short-term pain relief is not always a good idea.

Even if it is a million bucks.

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About the Author

Kelly Riggs is a business performance coach and founder of the Business LockerRoom. A former national Salesperson of the Year and serial entrepreneur, Kelly is a recognized thought leader in the areas of sales, management leadership, and strategic planning. He serves clients ranging from small, privately held companies to Fortune 500 firms.

Kelly has written two books: “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING! A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”