More Crazy Things That People Do!

Note:  As promised last week, here is another (true) case history from my work with clients in the last several years. Previous installments of my weekly blog can be found on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/

Doing the Thing Right vs. Doing the Right Thing

I just finished reading Bill O'Reilly's book, "Killing Patton"; the theory that General George Patton was assassinated (by the US) at the end of World War II because of his war-hawk attitude toward the Soviet Union at a time when the US was very tired of war and didn't want to risk provoking the Soviets into WWIII. It is interesting reading, but I am not sure we will ever know the truth on that theory.

One thing I do know about General Patton is that he had no trouble discerning the difference between doing the right thing vs. doing the thing right. For him, it was, "Attack, attack, attack!" And, for him, and his leadership style, it worked; so well, at times, that he would literally get too far ahead of his support columns carrying fuel and food as he pushed his Third Army ever forward toward the German border in the winter/spring of 1945.

In 2015, the difference between the two ways of doing things is not always as clear as it was in 1945. Take recently when I was working with a fast growing technology company that literally quintupled in size in 18 months. My task was to assist them in creating a strategic plan and to coach the leaders through the fast growth and change period. As the company had grown, management had kept the structure very lean and as the growth accelerated, the law of diminishing returns kicked in. Customer service declined rapidly and the need to hire a COO became evident. Candidates were screened and one was hired; (someone that was actually overqualified for the position) and he went to work at the beginning of 2014.

He hit the ground running and commenced to analyze every customer service protocol internally, including meeting with all staff (75 people), reviewing everyone's job description; listening in on random phone calls with customers, and reviewing the training process for new hires. He quickly became immersed in fixing a wealth of problems that never existed when there was only 10 people on staff but now had become very evident to all, including the Board, when they had grown to 75 staff. To his way of thinking, he was doing the thing right and doing the right thing.

As I observed his work from my vantage point as the consultant, one thing struck me as odd and so I asked him, "How much time have you put toward getting to know the customer base?"  He replied that he didn't have time to do that at the moment and would get to that later in the year! I was stunned and asked him how he could possibly hope to understand the complete picture of the customer service issues if he hadn't talked to any customers? His thought and approach was to fix the issues at hand first and then talk to the customers about how he had fixed things. To my mind this was more akin to doing the thing right vs. doing the right thing.

Still amazed by his one dimensional response, I brought it to the CEO's attention and asked him what he thought about this approach. He agreed with me and said he would inform the COO to start building relationships with the customers.

I got busy with the other tasks on my list and two months later, I was interviewing one of the Board members just prior to the strategic planning off site. He asked me if I had met the new COO and I said I had. His response floored me; "I wish he would call me; I have a long list of issues to discuss with him." (All the Board members were also clients of the company.)

As I called to interview other Board members, I heard the same thing over and over again, to the point, that I brought it to the CEO's attention again. He said he had met with the COO right after I had informed him of this matter two months before, and the COO had agreed that he would contact all of the clients as soon as possible.

More time passes and still no contact with customers (Board members were calling me), pushed me to ask the CEO if he had really had had the crucial conversation with the COO at all? His response, "No. We are so lucky to have him with his experience that I didn't want to make him angry and and have him quit."

An object lesson in leadership vs. management in the form of who is the dog and who is the tail had presented itself nicely for review with the CEO. We did work through it by helping the CEO learn how to have good conflict and the COO did start calling customers. The best part? Customer service improved!

Cheers! Do you have a story you want me to tell here about your own experience with workplace or leadership dysfunction?  Send it to me (redact names and places, please) and I will publish it.

Note: Next week - more crazy things that clients do.