When being polite can damage your business…

Posted: August 31, 2010 in Agency life

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]We’re not a huge corporate outfit, we are a modestly sized, (highly ambitious) agency. It’s been a tough old slog to get this far and the difficult past year has proven to be a real b**ch on our plans for growth. We have though come a long way and have only recruited throughout the recession, so we must be doing something right – but what interests me, are the things which we’re not!

With the difficult economic landscape in the past year or two, we’ve looked much closer at how we do things (I’m sure we’re not alone). And for us, that’s not terribly difficult to do – in many ways, the recession makes mistakes glare that much more obviously. When times are good, mistakes are easily masked. When revenue and profits are strong, lost opportunities and poor management can get hidden in successes.

For me, one of the thing that stands as being ‘masked’ at our company is – honesty (or the lack thereof).

I’m talking about colleagues not being (constructively) critical of what they expect of each other. In a company of our size, you often find yourself making a client commitment and depend on someone else to help deliver it. When this breaks down and we fail on a commitments, you’ll often hear polite dialogues along the lines of:

Will you be able to get this to the client today, as promised?

Not sure mate, I’m so stacked up with X and Y and Z – I’ll do my best, but it might spill over to tomorrow … is that all-right?
(cue – sympathetic looks!)

Hmmm, not great but OK … I’ll get in touch with the client and let them know we’ve encountered an issue (cue – inner thoughts along the lines of ‘Hmmm, I explained this was urgent yesterday!’)

STOP!!! This is exactly where honesty would have served us all a lot better. It’s not “OK”, it should be:

We committed and
I don’t want to reverse this with the client. Tell me, how can we deliver this today??.

It’s not about being a pain, unfairly demanding or unrealistic. It’s about colleagues feeling free to be openly vocal about their expectations for what they need from each other, to allow them to their jobs effectively. It’s about colleagues helping each other to do better, by demanding more of each other. There is nothing wrong to openly expect (demand) accountability.

Honesty (if presented in the right way) may sting in the short term, but will surely result in clearer expectations all round. And (as a whole) should allow everyone to grow and improve at their game.

Instead of creating a new ‘Director of Honesty’ position  I think I’ll simply start asking people to stop and ask themselves…  “Have you been honest with your fellow colleague today?”.

  1. Sarah says:

    LOL, so true! Worrying thing is I’m not sure what role I take in the example above. Ahem!!

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