When Money Becomes the Reason

I guess we’ll never learn . . .

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Toyota apparently felt they had done well by convincing the NTSA to limit the recall investigation. Oops. It’s backfired. Now the money they saved is going to be lost and more. The banking industry seems oblivious to the disdain of the consuming customers and is already finding “sneaky” ways to charge higher interest. They are also fighting Credit Union requests to allow the Credit Unions to lend a higher portion of their assets to small businesses. They never learn.

I’m not one of those who believes that the customer is “ALWAYS RIGHT,” meaning that the customer knows what’s best for YOUR business. I do believe that the customer is always right when it comes to what they want and you had better be listening. You also need to know what’s going on with how they perceive you as a vendor. A valuable vendor communicates with the customer, provides information about innovative solutions to challenges, stands behind their products and services, does what they can to help conserve their customer’s cash and isn’t always looking to make the maximum profit at the expense of the customer.

Before you get the impression that this post is going to be a “business bashing” tirade, I hasten to add that I feel the same way about employees and especially labor unions. Look at the recent discussion created by states cutting back on education expenses and using tenure or FIFO to layoff teachers. Parents and Administrators are now raising significant objections to losing promising young teachers simply because they were last into the workforce. We all know the concern about how to measure effectiveness of our educators, they are tired arguments and I believe them to be mostly discredited. Get over it. There is no compelling reason to keep a person in a particular paid position just because they’ve been there a long time (nor should they be let go because of that reason either). Labor unions would do well to listen to the paying public and figure out how to help the excellent teachers thrive, regardless of age or longevity in the workplace. That would make unions worthwhile.

For the individual employee, learn to find out how you are doing and be ruthless about it. Embrace 360 reviews and if you’re company isn’t doing them, find another way to determine how you’re viewed by supervisors, colleagues, subordinates and customers. Don’t kid yourself on this. Your career depends on it. Are you flexible in assignments (not your values and ethics, but simply learning new things and taking on new assignments)?

The same is true, perhaps even more important, for those of us who are consultants, mentors and/or self-employed service providers. We had better genuinely have our client’s best interest at heart and demonstrate that so there is no doubt. Find a way to help your customer reach their goals, and one will undoubtedly be saving cash (and it always has been a goal, just exaggerated in this economy). I recently heard on a WSJ podcast that one enterprising HR consultant is teaching her clients how to do what she does so that they can carry the ball in the future. She said, “Why fight the market? The market is to help my clients save money. So I help them learn how to do these things for themselves in the future.” Ecology of information – the hallmark of a good consultant.

The way I see it, we are all in this together. Whether we are small business owners, leaders in large organizations, individual contributors, government employees, union members, in transition, or service providers we had better stop focusing on ourselves and start looking to add value. That isn’t to say we should not be willing to consider our own interests, it just that our interests can’t come first or be foremost.

If the folks at Enron, WorldCom, AIG, Citi Group and all the other dysfunctional organizations had paid attention to their reputation and had goals other than their own enrichment in mind, they would not have become dysfunctional. If we as investors insisted on long term value instead of quarterly stock gains, we would not have pushed the companies into being so short sighted. If the folks in Congress really had the best interests of their constituents at heart instead of their own selfish gains and focus on keeping their jobs, then perhaps their ratings and esteem with the public wouldn’t be lower than whale dung on the ocean floor.

I know, and “if a frog had wings, he wouldn’t keep bumping his butt on the ground.” It seems as though this is all unachievable. Yet, I don’t know of any other way to fix the mess we’re in. I’m convinced that even though it’s a big simplification, “taking care of number 1,” and “wining at all costs” is what got us into this mess. Collectively changing that focus would seem the only way to get out of it. It starts with “the man in the mirror.” Are you willing to change your focus? What is your company doing to “get back to basics” and focus on the customer? Are you looking for ways to change your business model, like the HR Consultant mentioned above?