When things go wrong, look in the mirror

When I first joined the company, I wasn’t sure what to make of what I saw. There was a guy, sitting at a desk, surrounded by nothing but hundreds of square feet of carpet, no one near him, working away, quietly, each day.

He was nicely dressed, showed up on time, was pleasant to everyone, but did not engage in chit-chat. I assumed he was a hard working guy on a project requiring focus on what he was trying to accomplish.

I was wrong. The guy was sitting in the modern office version of what we call Siberia. Or, solitary confinement. Take your pick.

How did he get there, confined to a small desk in an ocean of carpet?

Fast growing, entrepreneurial companies are experiments for the owner to try new things to see if they can strike gold faster.

I have discovered that these owners do not lack for ideas. They are similar to President Franklin Roosevelt, who said in the midst of the Great Depression, “It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

In the quest for growth, the owner of this particular company hired several people to be support for more senior sales people. The responsibility of the new hires was followthrough and implementation of what had been sold to customers.

On the surface it seemed like a good idea, essentially releasing the tried and true rainmakers to do what they do best and removing the obstacle of delay standing in the way of more revenue.

It was a doomed effort from the start.

The senior sales people did not want to spend the time explaining the A to Z steps for implementation of client programs for two reasons. The first was that what they sold was created on the spot, with no written documentation of promises or commitments made.

The second was while they were solid sales people they had no actual idea how things worked in the back office of their own company bureaucracy.

The senior sales people immediately looked at the new hires as their potential lower cost replacements. There was a natural tendency to withhold information and take steps to keep support people away from customers instead of putting them in front of customers.

Finally, the support team was new to the company and had never been educated as to how to get things accomplished internally.

The results were lacking and so the junior people were soon dismissed, except for the individual riding that lonely desk. For several years he bounced around at various positions, all at which he performed miserably.

When I joined the company, he was sitting at the lone desk, within sight of the owner who had hired him. It drove the owner nuts that he was being forced to confront one of his failed ideas on a daily basis. He was terminated about six months after I joined the company.

What went wrong?

The program was never fully thought through, even though it appeared to be an idea with potential. A great idea without strong execution will fail everytime.

The senior sales people impacted were never consulted; they were handed support people without any input into job requirements, responsibilities, interviewing, training required and the investment needed to bring the new hires to where they could make a contribution.

Once hired, there was no investment in the new people. It was assumed they knew what to do. They didn’t.

This turned out to be another of the many experiments conducted by the owner to gain more revenue, quickly.

Most of his ideas failed because he failed as a leader. His immaturity would not allow him to think his ideas were not good ones; he always blamed others for their failure to execute. This owner never felt comfortable looking at himself in the mirror, as I recall. It was always someone else’s fault.

As he failed to plan, he essentially planned to fail.