Wednesday, 15 September 2010 15:48

Management Training Series: When Expressions Come True

Written by Larry Williams
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I write this story as an example of what not to do. I also write this story as a fable, to protect the indignant. Therefore, it starts like this:

Once upon a time, in a far off land, there was a kingdom which had existed for two generations. The business of this kingdom had grown over the years, and the castle was now far too small to fulfill all of the kingdom’s needs. The present king needed to expand his castle. He called in all types of workmen, and they labored together for many weeks in order to enlarge the castle. In the course of their various labors, they attempted to communicate and coordinate with each other. Most of the time things went well, but occasionally there were breakdowns. This is the story of the result of one of those communication errors.
Long, long ago, the king’s father had decided to install over his ground floor office, a small apartment with a bath, a bed, and a private stairwell. The present king used it primarily for storage, but valued the privacy of his own bathroom. He was a quiet man, happy at his desk, and few of his subjects cared to disturb him. During the expansion of his castle, there were of course, necessary changes made to the existing infrastructure. Intermittently, the subjects would lose their water, power, and other services, but most of the time there was warning of these events, and they were dealt with as almost routine.

This particular day, however, was not routine. Unknown to anyone except for two of the workers, it became necessary to reroute the plumbing from the old apartment area. These pipes were located in the area between the first and second floors of the castle. Here is where the communication breakdown occurred. The workers assumed that the old pipes were seldom used, and that there would be no need to climb down and find the overseer; post notices, etc. They thought that their repairs would be completed quickly and that no one would notice or even care about their work. They were sadly mistaken.

They had completed half of their work, and clean, fresh water was again available to the old apartment. Now it was lunch time. Both men took a well deserved break, as working in the crawl space between floors was extremely difficult. They relaxed and talked to each other, listening to the sounds of the other subjects working below. Those subjects had no idea of their existence, and took no notice of them, even though the work was directly over their heads.

Now it came to the king the urge to use his apartment’s facilities. He saw no need, nor had he been informed of any need, to change his normal habits. He climbed the stairs, and sat upon his throne. For many moments there was nothing unusual, and all went well. The king finished his duties, and performed the final gesture, disposing of the evidence. At this point, my story brings fantasy to life.

Several gallons of the king’s bounty went down the pipe as usual, until it came to the severed end of the pipe, between the floors. It missed the two men eating their lunch and all would have been well, except for two things. The men naturally shouted in alarm, but their noises did not have the desired effect. Instead of dispersing the subjects below, their shouts drew the attention of all in the vicinity, gathering them to the source of the shouting. The second problem was the force of gravity. This force pulled everything down from the crawl space, through the false ceiling panels, and onto the heads, bodies, and workspace of the subjects below… yes, at that moment every crude joke, tagline, and job description came true.
You can understand, no further work was accomplished that day.

Every fable needs to teach a lesson. You might assume this lesson to be one about communication, planning, or other such items; it is not.

The lesson from this fable comes after the event. The king, who must have been informed of the results of his actions, never said a word to his subjects. Without any word from the king, the subjects were free to think the worst. They waited in vain for any sign of his distress, embarrassment or concern. Understand that it was never his intention to initiate this event, it was an accident. But the result of his silence was even worse than the event itself. He was perceived as uncaring and cold. He lost the respect of his entire kingdom. Even the relatives of the subjects working in that department were offended. Construction slowed, permits were delayed, sales slowed; subjects left for better lands.

The moral is clear. If you are a manager, at any level, and an employee suffers due to your actions, apologize.
An apology costs the giver nothing, and gives the receiver everything. Admitting responsibility for your actions —even accidental ones—is a sign of moral character. Your employees will know that you care, and will return your consideration with their loyalty.
You have the power. Your decision in a crisis can change an event from a catastrophe into a shared joke, or just as easily destroy or enhance your reputation.


Larry Williams is an innovative parts manager with national awards and over 30 years of experience in creating and managing profitable departments. He can be reached for consultation at ljoew2@gmail.com.

Last modified on Monday, 17 October 2016 19:24