My new favorite term is “pencil whipping.” I heard that phrase used for the first time last week when visiting with one of our most successful member companies. This member company calls out any employee who might cut corners in sales reports or try to save time in reporting by just checking boxes without being thoughtful.
After thinking about this term within the context of an integration firm, I see pencil whipping happening all the time. I see it when projecting the sales funnel and probable sales ratios. I see it in operations when projecting percentage of completion. I see it when companies report on benchmarks and milestones toward the business plan. I see owners pencil whipping reports to the banks and bonding companies. I see it in employee reviews and filings.
Most of the time, we pencil whip reports because we don’t think it’s doing harm, or because the person asking for the information isn’t using it anyway. The real harm, however, is going through the motions in a thoughtless manner: It creates a lack of engagement throughout the company. That behavior erodes trust and causes everyone to become skeptical on every other report metric kept.
Your manager (or the owner of the business) will eventually conclude that the shortcuts you take when submitting reports is due to a lack of passion for what you do, or a lack of respect for the processes in place.
I highly encourage anyone caught in this trap to start thinking like an owner: If the process can be improved or automated, then speak up rather than get in the pencil-whipping habit. Many employees simply don’t understand the importance of reports and benchmarks. For example, if you gloss over productivity or billable hours reports, you may be skewing an important metric that the company uses for staffing or scheduling. If you guess at a billing or completion date, you may be impacting cash flow projections.
It doesn’t hurt to question reporting methods, but it is very harmful to business profitability to dismiss the importance of inputting accurate information.
If you’re an employee, put yourself in the owner’s chair. Imagine making strategic decisions and plowing profits back into the business when the forecasting report submitted by the entire sales team was overstating projected revenues. It can do far more harm than what you might think. –Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director