The Entrepreneur and the Dirty Diaper

Let me set the scene. We get a call from a customer and boy is he mad. He rants and raves about how he’s been wronged by one of our team members. “She was so incredibly rude to me!” he exclaims. “And she even laughed at me when I explained my issue.” Honestly, what is our first thought? It may be that we can’t believe our team member would act in this manner. We may also prepare ourselves to have a serious conversation with this team member and really lay down the law. Perhaps we are even ready to put a note in the personnel file about the incident. What happens next? We’re plenty steamed, so we track down our team member and lay out the situation in a somewhat accusatory fashion offering plenty of righteous indignation in the process. Except . . . it turns out that the customer was all wrong. What happened here? I call it the “The Case of the Dirty Diaper Tossed Over the Cliff.”

In this situation, we heard a complaint (the Dirty Diaper) and immediately jumped to a conclusion (the Cliff). We failed to gather solid evidence in a calm and reasonable fashion and instead rushed into an unpleasant encounter with our team member half-cocked. In this specific scenario, had we conducted a proper investigation we would have discovered that there was a witness – another customer – who observed the whole thing. And after talking to this customer, we learned that the accuser had an axe to grind with our team member and called her names and said ugly things to her. Not the other way around. Unfortunately, we failed to give her the benefit of the doubt when we launched into our accusation which of course caused unnecessary tension.

In the “heat of battle” aka/confrontational situations – it’s easy to sympathize with the party that is upset. Perhaps our team has had the type of issues in the past that are being presented in the current situation. We instinctively may have a tendency to jump to erroneous conclusions and even worse, act upon them. The fallout from this approach can be devastating. Our team member felt that we weren’t supporting her and the feelings of trust she had for us were broken. Other team members learned of the incident and the trust with them was damaged as well. Ultimately the team member involved quit – all because this matter was so incredibly mishandled.

Maybe this has never happened to you. I truly hope that is the case. I’ve seen it occur in my own organization and I’ve even been the “accuser” in a bit of a milder way, but nonetheless I didn’t do my homework first. I’ve resolved to listen carefully to information that is being provided by the complainant and ask questions sufficient to fully understand this person’s point of view. I also try to glean as many facts as possible. Often there’s a lot of emotion involved, and the “diaper” gets really dirty very fast. It’s critical to be adequately sympathetic without taking sides and try to focus on the facts. Then, rather than taking the “dirty diaper” and “throwing it off the cliff,” I try to factually determine the other side of the situation without accusation or condemnation.

There will be times when the facts presented by the two parties are vastly different. Let’s assume for a moment that there are no witnesses and there’s just no way to corroborate either version of the encounter. We have to be very careful passing judgment in such situations and determining that one party is right and the other is wrong. Instead, we offer our counsel with the intent to coach our team member, and we do what we can to placate the party who is aggrieved. In a sense, we need to operate as would a judge or jury. If the evidence is insufficient, it’s pretty hard to render a clear decision. Should a pattern develop with our team member where we learn of similar issues occurring on an ongoing basis, we may need to take stronger action based upon such a pattern.

Strong teams are built on trust. We must protect this trust by handling contentious issues in a calm and measured fashion; gathering evidence and resisting the inclination to jump to conclusions.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Case of the Dirty Diaper Over the Cliff

Let me set the scene. We get a call from a customer and boy is he mad. He rants and raves about how he’s been wronged by one of our team members. “She was so incredibly rude to me!” he exclaims. “And she even laughed at me when I explained my issue.” Honestly, what is our first thought? It may be that we can’t believe our team member would act in this manner. We may also prepare ourselves to have a serious conversation with this team member and really lay down the law. Perhaps we are even ready to put a note in the personnel file about the incident. What happens next? We’re plenty steamed, so we track down our team member and lay out the situation in a somewhat accusatory fashion offering plenty of righteous indignation in the process. Except . . . it turns out that the customer was all wrong. What happened here? I call it the “The Case of the Dirty Diaper Tossed Over the Cliff.”

In this situation, we heard a complaint (the Dirty Diaper) and immediately jumped to a conclusion (the Cliff). We failed to gather solid evidence in a calm and reasonable fashion and instead rushed into an unpleasant encounter with our team member half-cocked. In this specific scenario, had we conducted a proper investigation we would have discovered that there was a witness – another customer – who observed the whole thing. And after talking to this customer, we learned that the accuser had an axe to grind with our team member and called her names and said ugly things to her. Not the other way around. Unfortunately we failed to give her the benefit of the doubt when we launched into our accusation which of course caused unnecessary tension.

In the “heat of battle” aka/confrontational situations – it’s easy to sympathize with the party that is upset. Perhaps our team has had the type of issues in the past that are being presented in the current situation. We instinctively may have a tendency to jump to erroneous conclusions and even worse, act upon them. The fallout from this approach can be devastating. Our team member felt that we weren’t supporting her and the feelings of trust she had for us were broken. Other team members learned of the incident and the trust with them was damaged as well. Ultimately the team member involved quit – all because this matter was so incredibly mishandled.

Maybe this has never happened to you. I truly hope that is the case. I’ve seen it occur in my own organization and I’ve even been the “accuser” in a bit of a milder way, but nonetheless I didn’t do my homework first. I’ve resolved to listen carefully to information that is being provided by the complainant and ask questions sufficient to fully understand this person’s point of view. I also try to glean as many facts as possible. Often there’s a lot of emotion involved and the “diaper” gets really dirty very fast. It’s critical to be adequately sympathetic without taking sides and try to focus on the facts. Then, rather than taking the “dirty diaper” and “throwing it off the cliff,” I try to factually determine the other side of the situation without accusation or condemnation.

There will be times when the facts presented by the two parties are vastly different. Let’s assume for a moment that there are no witnesses and there’s just no way to corroborate either version of the encounter. We have to be very careful passing judgment in such situations and determining that one party is right and the other is wrong. Instead, we offer our counsel with the intent to coach our team member, and we do what we can to placate the party who is aggrieved. In a sense, we need to operate as would a judge or jury. If the evidence is insufficient, it’s pretty hard to render a clear decision. Should a pattern develop with our team member where we learn of similar issues occurring on an ongoing basis, we may need to take stronger action based upon such a pattern.

Strong teams are built on trust. We must protect this trust by handling contentious issues in a calm and measured fashion; gathering evidence, and resisting the inclination to jump to conclusions.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Father Changing Baby's Diaper --- Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

Father Changing Baby’s Diaper — Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

Judgment Day

Most days are good days for me. Every once in a while I’ll feel a bit more intense and may have a tendency to behave in ways that are out of character for me. Recently I observed a situation that reminded me of how dangerous it can be to let my guard down in this way. Allow me to set the stage for this story.

We were vacationing with friends and enjoying breakfast in a small outdoor café. A mid-60s couple was sitting at a nearby table. The woman was seated next to a small ledge and unwittingly shifted her chair and toppled over backwards. Immediately my friend who was closest, jumped up and rushed to her assistance. With her glasses askew and an embarrassed look on her face, she got back on her feet with my friend’s help. Fortunately she was not hurt.

The focus of this story is not on the woman’s accident but on the husband and how he reacted. He just sat there. While my friend came to the rescue, the husband just sat in his seat drinking his coffee like nothing had happened. At one point he joked to his wife that she “looked like a circus clown.” Once she regained her composure, the woman left the café – smiling but humiliated. After a moment the husband looked at us and said half in jest, “Well, you sure made me look bad.” And then he left.

Now here’s the most instructive part of this episode. Once the husband was gone the café patrons were abuzz and angry. People couldn’t believe the husband had treated his wife this way. As she cleared the table, the server exclaimed, “He just sat there. I can’t believe he didn’t get up to help her!” I heard references to “jerk,” and “a**hole,” just to name a few.

This man was being judged by a jury of his peers and he was found guilty. He left a lasting impression on everyone in that restaurant and it was 100% negative. Just a single action. For all we know, this man might be one of the finest, most generous and thoughtful human beings on the planet. He might have just donated $100 million to build a new wing on the local hospital, and named it in honor of his wife. But at that moment in time, and without any other context, he was an ogre to his jury and will forever remain frozen in that image.

Most of us care about how others see us. We want to be viewed in a favorable light or at worst, in a neutral manner. The husband in this story obviously had enough self-awareness to realize he was wrong as evidenced by his statement that, “You made me look bad.” Unfortunately that comment probably sealed his fate for the onlookers. He chose to blame my friend for how others saw him rather than taking responsibility for his own poor behavior. I’d bet that if he apologized to his wife in the restaurant and admitted that he had a momentary lapse in judgment, the impression he left would have been different.

We all have momentary lapses in our behavior. But it’s important to take corrective action to repair the damage as quickly as possible. Failure to do so may result in an extremely harsh and lasting judgment by a jury of our peers.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

5.0.2

Misplaced

Think about how much loyalty is a part of your life. How loyal are you to others? And how loyal are they to you? Do you have loyal customers; loyal partners; loyal employees, loyal friends and loyal family members? Loyalty is a strong and positive quality. It’s a key element in building and maintaining relationships. So everything must be peaches and cream, right? Ah, but there’s a bit of a dark side to loyalty.

You probably have heard the term, “loyal to a fault.” This is when we may be too loyal to someone else and that loyalty clouds our judgment and may even be damaging to our business. Whether or not we’re being too loyal can be a tough call. It requires us to be very objective about a particular person and their performance. This can be exceptionally difficult for anyone and nearly impossible for someone who places a very high value on the loyalty trait.

Here’s a scenario that may be familiar. Perhaps it’s even happened in your own organization. A high-level executive has been with a firm for 30-years and reports to the founder and CEO. This executive is part of the CEO’s inner circle and his advice and counsel is often sought by the CEO. Unfortunately this executive is also a flaming jerk. He’s very nice and thoughtful to other senior level executives, but when it comes to those who don’t have as prominent a position in the organization, he can be unreasonably demanding and thoughtless. Because of his tenure with the CEO, his behavior is tolerated. The employees of the firm have learned to steer clear of him and know that he is “protected” by the CEO. Complaints were lodged about him in years past but it’s well-known by everyone working for this company that he will always get away with whatever he wants.

If asked about this high-level executive, the CEO would undoubtedly say, “I know that he can sometimes be a bit abrasive, but overall he’s done a great job for this company.” The CEO might also say something like this, “He and I were fraternity brothers and he’s always had my back.” Sound like something you might have heard before? In this situation, many of the employees of this company have lost respect for the CEO because he won’t fix the problem. If this was a family business, it could very well be that the CEO and high-level executive are related – brothers perhaps. The bottom line is that the organization cannot function effectively because the CEO has misplaced loyalty to a problem individual.

As entrepreneurs we must learn how to maintain our objectivity, especially when it comes to employees and team members who are key to us. We have to be able to separate our feelings of loyalty from what is best for our organization. Loyalty can easily become a blind spot for us unless we have a method to deal with it. In a larger organization this can be done through a human resources department. The HR director must be given permission by the CEO to lay the facts on the table about each and every employee. In a smaller firm, it may be helpful to hire a consultant who can facilitate the performance of a 360-degree review of senior executives or even all members of the firm. In both cases, the HR director or the consultant should provide an honest perspective to the CEO that one of his or her reports needs to be coached, disciplined or even dismissed.

Loyalty is generally a good thing. But when there’s loyalty to a fault, we need to be willing to listen to someone tell us when we have a problem. And then we must deal with it accordingly.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Loyalty