Devote more energy to growing the beans rather than counting them.

Running a business in the UK is complex enough so why do we platinum plate compliance and other bureaucracies to the extent it strangles growth?

Early in my marketing career, back in 1997, an American company invited me to travel to Chicago to present about critical illness cover. Their marketing director had seen me talk at a UK conference and felt I could help them launch their protection range in the States.


It seemed a long way to travel just to deliver a couple of seminars. So I spoke to Swiss Re (our primary reinsurer at the time), and they set up a week’s worth of meetings with US financial services companies.

A couple of colleagues accompanied me, and we spent that week sucking in knowledge and ideas which we hoped to bring back across the pond to try in the UK market. We also managed to visit a great blues bar for an evening of exquisite guitar playing.

One business meeting still sticks in my mind to this day. The larger than life, cigar smoking marketing director of a large protection insurer welcomed us into his office and gave us his perspective on business.

Not an accountant or actuary, he was a career sales and marketing man. I can still hear him saying one of his pearls of wisdom.

He leaned forward through the smoke and said, “Never employ more people to count your beans or measure your beans than you do to grow your beans.”

Now nearly twenty years on I hear those words every time I come up against bureaucracy from the companies I deal with (admittedly not just from the financial services sector). How many of us employ more people to count and measure than we do to grow? And how much of that extra headcount is because we have platinum plated the guidelines?

I see companies with 48-hour approval processes for Tweets which require signing off from compliance, marketing, legal and customer service. I see marketing teams having to fill in 20-page procurement forms to engage someone to write a 500 word article for a blog. I see complex internal IT legacy systems that stifle the ability to experiment and require 18 months to 2 years to build new propositions.

When I studied marketing at university, I remember reading about two approaches to business. Marketing led, and sales led. It seems these days we are either led by risk and compliance or IT and Projects.

The FCA’s recent paper on social media (FG15/4) means that companies should find it easier and simpler to “comply” social media messages. I believe the time is right for businesses to accelerate (or begin) to put their social media and content marketing strategies in place. Will this happen or will companies build another complex process around the guidelines that continues to stifle creativity?

It’s time to stand up to the often self-inflicted complex and bureaucratic business landscape. I believe that success means we must simplify our propositions and messages, create incredible content and experiment with new marketing tactics to grow our business. And that means simplifying the governance behind them.

It’s time to devote more energy to growing the beans rather than counting and measuring them.

Questions for you:

Am I being unfair in my views here? Have you any examples of platinum plating? Please share your experience on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn. And even Google+.

You can find the original version of this article at Panacea Adviser.