Category Archives: business

Moral Dilemma Stories and 3 questions to help you find a solution

I have had several moral dilemmas posed to me in the past few months – an unusually high number that I believe is related to the difficult economic times that we have faced in recent years.  Each situation was very different, but the approach to resolving each situation has the same pattern.  Here are a couple stories to illustrate:

Dilemma #1 –  A friend’s startup company “ABC Co” just climbed out of significant debt in the past 18 months and has been profitable for 3 months.   ABC Co’s largest customer, comprising 25% of revenue, goes out for bid on the services provided by ABC Co.  The Customer’s senior manager over supplier accounts asks for a confidential meeting with ABC Co and essentially states that he would guarantee that ABC Co wins the bid if ABC Co hires this manager away into a current job opening with ABC Co.

My friend replies that he wants to win the bid and keep the Customer’s business based on ABC Co’s merits, and that ABC Co’s hiring would go through proper protocols, not be circumvented by side deals.  The manager becomes angry and strongly influences the bid against ABC Co.   My friend loses a large customer and the winning solution is actually marginally workable because the manager who controlled the bidding was unfamiliar with some complexities of the services required.

The dilemma?  Should my friend approach the President of the Customer company (who is a colleague in other matters) and disclose the manager’s unethical proposal, or should he honor the manager’s request for a confidential discussion?

1)  Has ABC Co done anything illegal, immoral or unethical to date?  No.  First rule is always stay within the law.  

2)  Has ABC Co kept its promises?   Yes, it agreed to treat the manager’s conversation as confidential, although perhaps in hindsight this promise was a mistake.  Second rule, always keep your word, unless keeping your promise will put you in jeopardy of Rule #1 above. 

3)  Will either alternative (keeping ABC Co’s promise of confidentiality, or breaching ABC Co’s promise) destroy someone else [the Customer]?  No, the results of a marginal winning bidder might “hurt” the Customer business a bit, but won’t bring the Customer’s enterprise to its knees.  Rule #3: only consider other alternatives if keeping Rules 1 and 2 will destroy someone or something unfairly.

The Solution:  My friend decided not to disclose the manager’s unethical proposal, since it might only come across as sour grapes, and because there was a possibility ABC Co fairly lost the bid based on other unknown facts.  He gracefully acknowledged losing the Customer’s business to the President, then asked the President to provide candid feedback to him so ABC Co could learn from its mistakes and do better next time.   The hope?   To learn a lesson from this process and make an unbeatable proposal next time to win the business back.    If  the manager’s decisions were so hugely detrimental  that they would destroy the Customer’s business, then my friend would have changed his mind and a) disclosed to the manager his intention and then b) enlightened the President regarding the manager’s unethical proposal.  

Side note:  In my own workplace, I have seen customers return to our business 2 or 3 years later after we took the high road and lost a deal.  They end up being the most loyal of customers in the long term, because we kept the relationship paramount, more important than a single deal. 

Dilemma #2:   A client I work with came across a purchasing opportunity that was a once-in-a-lifetime find.  This item was extremely rare, offered at an unheard of low price.  However, the seller was managing a competing business under receivership and would only sell the item for cash: no receipt, no bill of sale and no paper trail.

The Dilemma?  Should my client buy the item, which is likely “hot” and without legitimate title attached, or turn the deal down?

1)  Has the client done anything illegal, immoral or unethical to date?  No.

2)  Is taking this opportunity illegal?  Yes.  You’ve got your answer already.  Think about the risk of buying a hot item and tarnishing the client’s reputation as a purveyor of stolen or illegally obtained items.

3)  Will doing either alternative bring someone or the business to its knees?  Yes.  an illegal act could trigger reputational risk that is irretrievable.  If the message sent to other employees is that illegal acts are condoned, this sets the stage for other, highly risky transactions that could also harm the business.

The Solution:  The client has to weigh the benefit of gaining a steal of a deal item, against the risk and magnitude of negative consequences, either legal, financial or reputational.

Side note:  I have seen situations like these go both ways — sometimes clients take the amazing deal and sometimes they turn it down.  However, I have seen more than one business lose long term relationships and future deals as customers and suppliers eventually figure out the “value system” of a business and decide to terminate dealings. 

Bottom line:  Choose your options wisely, consider the long-term implications of your choices, and protect your own reputation.

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12 Questions to Inspire your Business

Think of the best place you’ve ever worked in your career, or the most highly reputable business with whom you have been involved — what was the magic formula that made the workplace so special?

One of my favorite business books,  First Break All the Rules, offers the closest formula of 12 business attributes that have been distilled from thousands of interviews with the world’s most successful managers and organizations.  The book frames business wisdom in the form of 12 questions that are easily asked by any manager in any organization.  If your business answers these 12 questions with a strong positive correlation, you likely run a top notch group or organization that is inspired, motivated and achieving consistent business results.

Without giving away all of the secrets of this book, the 12 questions provide common sense clues to building an inspired team or organization.

For example, rank your department between 1 and 5 (1=never, 5=always):

“I have clear expectations of my job”

“I have all the resources I need to do my job”

“I have been given feedback (positive or constructive) within the last 7 days by my supervisor”  …..and so on

Those questions where your team answers in the lower quartile?   you probably need some work in that area.  I have used this 12 question template several times to create a baseline of morale and capability when joining a new department.  It’s a great tool to define opportunities for business change, inspire new business capability and build improved results within a team.

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3 Reasons Why You Need a “Black Cloud” in Your Business

My unofficial middle name is “The Black Cloud”.  There’s a funny story behind how I got this name…

Several years ago, my husband was golfing in a charity tournament with 3 new acquaintances.  As is customary in golf, the foursome members shook hands, introduced themselves and shared where they worked.  One of the gentlemen was a Vice President at the company where I was employed.  Over the course of the next few holes, the golfers exchanged pleasantries, and chatted about those people they might know in common.

My husband said, “Do you know Meryle Corbett?”  The vice president replied, “Yeah – we call her The Black Cloud!  You should see how she comes around to our department trying to clamp down on our spending.  If there’s a new rule out there to batten down and take control, she’ll find it and enforce it.”

A few holes later, the vice president finally asked, “How do you know Meryle, anyway?”  My husband replied, “I sleep with her!”     The vice president’s jaw dropped, he turned beet red and back-pedalled big time.  My husband, a prankster, enjoyed the awkward moment and then smoothed over the incident.  I do remain pretty good friends with that vice president to this day, even though I now work elsewhere.

So… Why do you need a Black Cloud in your business?

1)  Black Clouds will identify business risks that you may never think of.  There is a natural tension between the accounting, risk, legal departments versus sales, marketing, customer service departments.  Black clouds will flag the risky possibilities in a business, so your management team can plan to mitigate the worst case scenarios.  Walking into a new opportunity with only half the picture can be fatal.  Black clouds will protect you.

2)  Black Clouds will introduce and maintain discipline and best practices in your business.  Marching down to ask a senior manager not to charge hotel porn movies on his travel expense account may not be my favorite job, but someone’s gotta keep the top of the spenders’ bell curve in line.    Black clouds will help keep all employees disciplined with the right procedures and practices to support the business and protect it from out-of-control costs or problem audit findings.

3)  Black Clouds will always tell you the truth.  When you are a senior manager, some employees suck up and tell you only the good news.  Others will try to snow you with gobbledygook information, or will hide the bad news from you.  CEOs and senior managers need the brutal truth in business if they are going to find the issues, manage them and fix them.  Your Black Cloud is usually the kind of person that will not lie, and who likely won’t sleep very well at night if they think you need to know certain information.  Black Clouds can be depended on to provide an honest viewpoint –  their job depends on the truth.

Still not convinced?  My friends joke about the Black Cloud story, and I often tell new groups how I got my middle name. There is a fun laugh behind this article, but I hope you seriously consider that the CFO or controller or accounting manager in your life, while appearing negative sometimes, is actually your best friend — we are here to help you, protect you and work with you to solve your business problems.   Make sure you have a little bit of Black Cloud in your own business!

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7 signs you might be laid off – and 7 ways to protect yourself

A friend of mine was recently laid off, which came as a huge relief after months of toxic interaction at his company.  We had chatted a few weeks earlier about his suspicions that “something was up in the office”.  No surprise, then, when a termination letter and severance package were handed to him one Monday morning.  The signals?

1)  Budget cuts – Management formally decreased their budgets, and increased the frequency of “we need cost cutting” and “we’re losing money” conversations

2) New, impossible-to-achieve performance targets – the boss required a doubling of sales targets (higher than ever before) with less resources

3) Management insisted that employees formally sign-off on impossible performance targets

4) Computer security changes –  an unusual amount of time was spent by IT technicians updating certain PCs and changing passwords

5) rewrite of the current job position – management removed 30% of the existing job and transferred those responsibilities to another position.  The decreased role also took a corresponding pay cut.

6) Other employees were asked to train and learn existing positions for future “backup”

7) Frequent closed door meetings –  By themselves, a series of closed door meetings may be unrelated to layoffs (an acquisition, someone’s medical issues, a new strategy).  But coupled with the above signs, the odds of a staff reduction in the office may increase.

What can you do about the situation?

1) Stick to factors within your control.  Outside circumstances such as the recession or economy may be driving factors of your company’s business problems; a layoff is not necessarily “personally” directed against you.  Don’t mistake hard-edged but difficult business choices as personal vendettas.  There is no point worrying about what is outside your control.

2) Consider what you can do to help the situation as an employee:  suggest areas for cost reductions, business efficiencies and improvements, etc.   Stay calm, courteous and professional even if the office politics become heated.  Overreacting at any level will put your behavior in the limelight and could contribute to management’s choices on the layoff list.

3) Continue to seek clarity of expectations in your job.  Ask for clarification if you are not sure what is expected of you during changing budgets, job descriptions and work situations.  Always be respectful in your communications to upper management.

4) Keep your health maintenance up to date, in case a layoff is imminent.  Get dental work done, renew the eyeglass prescription.  Keep up a healthy lifestyle (exercise, eat properly) to reduce your stress level.

5) Cut back on personal financial spending where you can.  Stick to “needs” and ignore the “wants” to keep debt levels down.

6) Develop a vision of the better job that you can move to.  A wise mentor once told me, “Don’t run FROM a lousy job, run TO a perfect job!”  Refocus your mind on positive career opportunities.

7) Start taking small steps toward the better job (i.e. take a night course, develop contacts, join a networking group, etc).  Whether you remain in your current position or move elsewhere, shifting your mind onto positive forward thinking options will dilute the toxic emotions that may be swirling around you in your work environment.  Remember:

Luck is opportunity meeting preparedness.  

Good Luck!

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