10%? 50%? Do you actually read everything that lands in front of you?

Are you the kind of person who reads the terms and conditions when you hire a car, when you sign a deal? What about online purchases – of course you haven’t got time to read all the legal blurb so you just tick the box and move on don’t you?

How about when you get to work? Do you like to understand the implications of a contract?

All too often we hear tales of people being found wanting when the ‘small print’ catches them out but if it is presented to you and you elect not to read it then your defences are going to be severely hindered if things don’t go to plan.

The reasons why many people don’t read stuff are obvious. For a start we are all too busy to get buried in legal mumbo jumbo and besides, the terms and conditions may not be negotiable even if we don’t like them, plus of course nothing is going to go wrong.

My mantra on this is to check the details at outset. It is easier to resolve differences then instead of waiting until you have a problem and are at loggerheads with the other party.

A couple of quick examples. Many years ago we hired a car whilst on holiday. The guy handed me the forms marked with the places I needed to sign and pretty much held out his hand expecting the paperwork straight back. For some reason I turned over the sheet and read through the T’s and C’s. Luckily I spotted that although we had named my wife as an additional driver she was below the minimum age for the vehicle we had hired so would have not been insured in the event of an accident.

The jobs I undertake nowadays are all governed by contracts and I learned very early on that clauses indicating I would get paid only when the end client has paid the intermediary were to be avoided so I quickly learned to read and understand the contract before signing.

Challenging such terms at the beginning means issues can be resolved and in my view definitely better than waiting for the ‘car crash’.

Once you sign – you’re locked in.

So, big, complex documents – none of us like them. Sometimes they are a necessity but often we are trying to create something of use, of value and something that people get some benefit from by being able to find what they want quickly and easily. There’s a lot we can do around structure and presentation to help in this regard.

This week I read through a Business Continuity Plan that was 24 pages long. It wasn’t so much a plan as the complete history of Business Continuity and of the department it related to. I hope they only suffer protracted incidents otherwise they will never have chance to get through it all! It needed to be much more focussed and practical to suit the purpose for which it was intended.

A particular area to look out for in Business Continuity land is supplier contracts. If your organisation relies on the services of a supplier make sure the contract is clear on who needs to do what in the event of a disruption. The supplier is likely to do what is in the contract, nothing more, nothing less but if you expect them to keep delivering when disaster strikes, make sure you factor in your requirements at outset.

Have I made your life better or worse? I hope I have convinced you of the value of reading more of the material that passes across your desk, which I know isn’t going to be to everyone’s taste, but by doing so you will be going into contracts better prepared, with greater clarity and potentially with greater benefits than would have otherwise been the case.