Tag Archives: Business

Poison on the Team

As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (NIV)

There is a client of mine who had a team that had been struggling for some time. While other teams around them were making great strides in their service performance, this one particular team languished in mediocrity. My quarterly training sessions with this team were sometimes painful. Silence. Arms crossed. No eye contact. No participation.

There was one member of this team who was, by far, the worst performer of the group. His performance on the phone calls we regularly assessed were so bad, that one almost had to willfully try to be that consistently awful to their customers. Over several years, the management team tried just about everything to motivate a change in this person. They tried offering cash bonuses for better performance, they provided remedial coaching (I had the joy of conducting many of the coaching sessions…ugh, also painful), they wrote him up on multiple Performance Improvement Plans with HR, and they made threats to fire him. Nothing worked. The longer this went on, I believe the more convinced he was that he didn’t really have to change and the more stubborn he became.

Coincidentally, I was asked at one point to mentor this team’s new supervisor. The newbie had been a member of the team for a long time and was promoted to his first managerial position. I watched him go through all of the same efforts as his predecessor trying to motivate behavior change in the team’s entrenched curmudgeon.

“What am I going to do with him?” the supervisor eventually asked me directly.

“Fire him,” I responded just as directly.

The supervisor seemed shocked by response. I explained.

Look,” I said, “Your management team has wasted their efforts for years trying to get this person to perform. There is a well-documented track record of a bad attitude, poor performance, and an unwillingness to do any more than the very least that is required to avoid getting fired. His attitude has poisoned the entire team and your team will never be healthy until you get rid of the problem at the source.

I had made this same suggestion multiple times to the supervisor’s predecessor and managers, but they could never take the final step of terminating his employment. I actually expected nothing different from the new supervisor, because he was new and firing a team member went against this client’s corporate culture.

I was, therefore, surprised to learn that my managerial protégé took my advice and fired the team member a short time later. Wouldn’t you know it? That year the team that had been mired in mediocrity reached their service quality performance goal for the very first time. I handed out more year-end performance awards to members of that team than ever. The team that had been so painful to train for so many years was laughing, cheering, clapping, and celebrating.

In today’s chapter, Solomon wisely says that a quarrelsome and contentious person is like adding wood to a fire. It spreads. My client’s entire team was stuck in their contentious mediocrity and poor performance because of one team member’s poisonous attitude. I wish I could say that this is the only example I’ve seen in my years of helping my clients improve the quality of their customer service, but it’s not. It’s actually fairly common. What isn’t common is a client’s willingness to do the right thing for everyone (especially their customers) and decisively extract the poison from the system whether it is firing the person or moving them to a different job with a different team that might be a better fit.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about other poisonous team members I’ve encountered in my vocational journey and the reticence, even in my own company, of confronting it. What I’ve observed over time is that these individuals really don’t want to be in their positions. Sometimes getting rid of a poisonous team member actually frees that person to find something better for themselves. I have followed the careers of a few fired team members on social media and it appears that they are much happier after finding a job that better suits their talents, desires, and personalities. And, some appear to be tragically angry and contentious people in any role no matter where they work.

At least a company can fire such a person. When the contentious and quarrelsome individual is part of a family system, it’s a far more difficult situation. Solomon had another proverb for such tragic circumstances:

To have a fool for a child brings grief;
    there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Because I can, Doesn’t Mean I should

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
    note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to gluttony.

Proverbs 23:1-2 (NIV)

When I was starting out in my career, we had miser in charge of our company’s travel expenses. It was dictated that we would stay in the cheapest places, rent the cheapest cars, and keep our meals to a minimum. In many cases, the cheapest alternatives were zealously investigated and it was required that we use them.

I still have memories of the hole-in-the-wall car rental place that this person found. It was a true “rent-a-dent” with a small fleet of small, two-door Grand Prix Pontiacs. They were almost all red and they had been purchased from other car rental places on the cheap because they had high-mileage, lots of wear, ran rough, and every single one of them had been the used by their previous owners as the cars designated for smokers. Even the $17 a day we paid was overpriced for these barely roadworthy pieces of junk. I now look back and laugh at those days like a veteran road warrior swapping battle stories, but it really was extreme.

I’m happy to say that after a few years the travel restrictions were eased. We were allowed to stay in mid-tier hotels and negotiated an account with one of the major car rental companies. Our per diem for meals was eased to a reasonable limit. Nevertheless, the standard had been set. We watch what we spend, what gets charged to the client, and always keep it reasonable.

A few years later, I was having lunch with the CEO of a large client we were privileged to serve for many years.

“You know why I love you and your company? Why I respect you and keep doing business with you?” he asked me unexpectedly in his thick New York Jewish accent.

I was honestly curious to know.

“It’s your expense reports,” he quickly said in response to his own question without waiting for me to answer, “You don’t try and gouge me. You wouldn’t believe what most vendors try and get away with. They expect me to pay for the magazines they buy to read on the plane and $200 bottles of wine at lunch. It’s ridiculous. Your team always just charges me for the basics, and it’s always reasonable. That tells me a lot about your company.”

I thought about that lunch, and that CEO, as I read this morning’s chapter and the sage saying of ancient Jewish wisdom at the top of this post. That lunch was an important waypoint in my career as I began to see myself through the eyes of the decision makers who hire our company. While the miser I first experienced as a corporate rookie took things to an unnecessary extreme, I came to understand the wisdom that motivated their frugality. Clients pay attention to what we charge them, and they make judgements about our integrity, our character, and our relationship because of it.

In the quiet this morning, I’m smiling and whispering a prayer of gratitude for the person who made me endure long road trips in a stale, smoke-smelling rust-buckets. It wasn’t fun at the time, but it taught me an important lesson. And, it became a really good story for those days when I find myself comparing battle scars with fellow road warriors at the airport.

Now that I find myself at the top of the company’s org chart, I know that there are clients who assume that I will expect a higher level of travel experience when I’m on business with their company. I’ve even had a few clients encourage me to stay in nicer places and/or enjoy a higher-ticket meal or two than what they see I charged on my expense report. I thank them, and then I purposefully and silently refuse to do so. When it comes to next year’s contract, I never want to give the client any reason, even a small reason, to suspend or end our relationship.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Footnote to a Proverb

Plans fail for lack of counsel,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

One of the things about my job is that I am sometimes placed in the position of being the bearer of difficult news. Sometimes the data from a survey, or a team’s service quality assessment, is not what my client wants to hear. Over the years, I’ve had to learn how to communicate undesirable truths in a way that they can be received and turned into tactical options for turning things around. Sometimes, that’s impossible.

One of the things I’ve observed in my career journey is that the crucial variable in these types of situations is the wisdom, maturity, and attitude of the leader who is hearing the news I have to bring. There are times when it didn’t matter how I approached the situation. I, the messenger, would be shot.

I was once asked to sit in on a CEO’s advisory team as he launched a new initiative. I was impressed with the team that had been assembled and was actually excited to participate as an “outsider.” What became clear, however, was that the CEO wanted team members who only provided advice deemed positive and encouraging to the ego. I’ve seen this before. A client asks us to create a quality assessment scorecard that ensures every employee will get nothing but perfect marks all the time. The motivation for this request is the mistaken notion that everyone will “feel like a winner” (the customers are the losers who are still getting a poor service experience from the company’s representatives, while those representatives are continually rewarded for their mediocrity). I didn’t last long on that advisory team. I was good with that.

In today’s chapter, wise King Solomon shares that success comes with “many advisors,” and I believe that to be true. However, I found myself wanting to add a footnote to the proverb. The heart of both the leader and the advisors are crucial. The advisors have to be willing to say what the leader needs to hear, and the leader must be willing to hear whatever wisdom the advisors feel necessary to share (even if it’s not what the leader wants to hear).

As I was mulling these things over I found myself reminded of a recent Board meeting of our company in which one of our Directors really challenged a decision. Even though it didn’t ultimately sway a change in the decision, we needed that challenge. We needed to discuss a different point-of-view. It helped bring clarity to the issue and forced me, the leader, to consider the wisdom of other options. I want my Board members to be honest, and I want to be wise enough to heed their counsel even when it goes against my personal feelings, thoughts, and opinions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reflecting on several experiences as both leader and advisor along my life journey. I’ve learned that I can’t really change others. I can only be responsible for myself in the role of both leader (accepting wise counsel) and advisor. My time is most wisely spent with those who really want my honest input, whether they ultimately heed it or not. Those who don’t really want to hear what I actually think and believe are better off finding another advisor.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Media and Personalities

“If you rebuke a mocker, you will only get a smart retort; yes, he will snarl at you. So don’t bother with him….”
Proverbs 9:7 (TLB)

I grew up with radio, and I loved it. Before the internet, and before television, radio changed the world. As a child, I wandered into the kitchen each morning to the news and commentary that my dad had playing on the kitchen radio. When I drove home from college in my Volkswagen Beetle, the AM radio was often my only companion. In college, my friend Craig and I did a morning show on the college radio station called The Shower Hour, and I briefly had pipe dreams of making my fortunes as a radio personality. In the early days of my actual career, I spent many hours in the car, and I spent those hours listening mostly to talk radio and sports radio.

Before social media, talk radio was one of the few public, social forums. Sports radio was a natural for the forum as there’s nothing that gets more people both distracted and excited as sports. I spent many hours listening to people spouting off over the radio.

But, here’s the thing I observed over time: Media is a system. Media is a business that is driven by advertising which depends on the number of listeners (or watchers, viewers, or clickers). To get those listeners, watchers, or clickers Media typically finds big, boisterous, lightning rod individuals (a.k.a. the aforementioned “personalities”) who will create a public buzz that will, in turn, attract more listeners, watchers, viewers, or clickers. In talk radio, and sports radio, the Media then feed everyday people and their “takes” to the personality who will then stir argument which the personality can mock or cut-short in order to spout their own buzz-creating opinions.

Somewhere along the line, I stopped listening, watching, and clicking.

I walked away from the game.

In today’s chapter, Wisdom speaks of the “mocker” who doesn’t really care what I think, and I couldn’t help but think of Media and their Personalities. They don’t really care what I think as long as I listen, watch, and click. And, if I make the mistake of letting the buzz stir me up so much that I enter the arena to disagree, then I will be mocked and snarled at and used to create more buzz which will stir more people to listen, or watch, or click.

I learned along the way that I prefer to listen quietly to worthwhile sources speaking knowledgeably about meaningful things, to contemplate what they say, and to then have a meaningful discussion about what is said with individuals I care about and who care about me, even if we respectfully disagree about the meaningful things.

My life is more peaceful.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

A Common Complaint

Go to the ant, you sluggard;
    consider its ways and be wise!
It has no commander,
    no overseer or ruler,
yet it stores its provisions in summer
    and gathers its food at harvest
.
Proverbs 6:6-8 (NIV)

I am on the road again this week working with a client. One of my roles with this client is to mentor some of their young professionals. Most are in their first managerial role. Over the years, I have learned that there is a pattern to the challenges with which they struggle. Just yesterday, I heard one of the most common struggles: “What do I do with the poor worker?”

These are the frustrations and common complaints I hear from managers and supervisors regarding poor workers:

The poor worker is never on time whether it is first thing in the morning or returning to work from break. The only thing to which the poor worker seems to apply themselves is how to appear to be working while doing as little as possible. The poor worker takes thirty-minute bathroom breaks. Poor workers like to smoke because the fifteen-minute smoke break (immediately upon arrival, mid-morning, post-lunch, mid-afternoon) is treated as a smoker’s right on top of the normal breaks. When the manager returns to the floor from a meeting the poor worker can be seen scrambling to look productive. The poor worker encourages a general lack of productivity across their team so that the standard expectation of productivity will be generally lower.

I thought of the poor worker as I read this morning’s chapter and Solomon’s admonition to consider the ways of the hard working, diligent little ant.

At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, I admit that I look back on my life journey and observe a stark difference in the average experience of a young person in today’s culture. The economy of my childhood afforded opportunities and expectations for learning a work ethic. When I was seven and eight years old I was shadowing my brothers on their paper routes. At ten, I was substituting as a newsie for my friend, hawking papers twice-a-day in the wards of the local VA hospital. At eleven I had my own route in which I not only delivered papers, but also collected money from customers, learned basic accounting, kept a ledger, and was held accountable for the quality of my work and the accuracy of my figures. By thirteen I was working in a restaurant bussing tables. At fifteen I was working a cornfield. At Sixteen I working retail evenings and weekends. During college, I often worked three jobs while taking a full load.

I contrast this to the “poor workers” with whom my young protègès struggle. I also observe what appears to me to be a great number of young people who are employed for the very first time in their lives post-high-school or college.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the simple virtue of hard work which was instilled in my early, formative years. I confess, like all young people, I had to be prompted, required, reminded, and scolded as I learned the lessons of said virtue. Some of those lessons are burned into my conscience. And, for that I am grateful.

Speaking of which, I have a full-day of training, coaching, and reporting ahead of me today with a client. My day begins early and ends late.

Time for me to get to work, my friend. Thanks for reading.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Observations of a Mentor

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
Luke 16:10 (NIV)

I have been on the road this week working with a client. As part of my duties for this particular client, I have been mentoring a number of their front-line supervisors. Most of these supervisors are in their first managerial position, and I have an opportunity to help them learn some of the basic managerial and interpersonal skills they will need in order to succeed.

Over the years, I have observed that I can usually tell in my first few sessions when one of my protégés is going to be successful. Those who are self-aware of their own struggles and shortcomings and are willing to be open and honest about them tend to make quick progress. I have enjoyed watching these individuals listen to wise counsel, work hard to develop themselves, and rise quickly within the organization.

I have also had the experience of mentoring individuals who are dishonest with me about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and what is really happening within the team in their charge. Some have been so good at spinning their reality that when I give my report to their senior manager, their manager thought I must be talking about a different person. I’m sorry to say that I’ve watched certain individuals in my charge fail because they lacked the simple ability to be honest with themselves and others.

In today’s chapter, Luke shares a series of parables that Jesus told His followers. In the midst of the parables, Jesus makes a very simple observation that those who can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much, and that the opposite is equally true. I suddenly saw the faces of individuals I’ve mentored who have given me living proof of Jesus’ words.

I’m back in my home office this morning, and in the quiet I find myself looking back at my own life and career. I have been blessed to have had good mentors and wise counselors in my life, and I hope that I’m doing a good job of paying it forward with the dividends of their investment in me. So much of what I’ve learned boils down to things that are very simple.

Be honest, trustworthy, capable, and content with the smallest of the responsibilities you’re given. In due time, you’ll find yourself with greater responsibilities.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Acute Worry-Warts

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?
Luke 12:25 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I’ve taken over the leadership of the company I’ve worked for the past 25 years. As a market research and consulting firm, we tend to work on annual, recurring contracts. We’ve been blessed to enjoy client relationships that have lasted decades, but the beginning of the year is always an interesting time for us. There are no sure things. There are no long-term contracts. The workload ebbs and flows, and there are no guarantees. Working here has always required hard work, good work, and a generous dose of faith.

It’s been an interesting transition for me stepping into the leadership role. There has always been someone else a rung or two higher on the corporate ladder, and I’m glad to say that those individuals have been people I have respected and trusted, even when we had differences or disagreements. Looking back, I realize that I learned early on how to find a certain level of contentment placing my faith in both God and my colleagues who bore a greater responsibility for the company than I did. Now there are no human beings a rung or two above me.

I’ve been surprised at the challenge this change it has been for me. I confess the weight of responsibility feels heavier and the anxiety comes must faster and with greater emotional velocity. All of a sudden I’ve got acute and constant breakout of worry-warts.

That’s where God met me in this morning’s chapter. Dr. Luke begins this chapter by recording that Jesus’ miraculous mystery tour was now creating such tremendous crowds that people were crushing and trampling one another. Jesus’ teaching is gathering more and more followers. It’s no longer just his rag-tag entourage of former fishermen talking to the locals in the town synagogue. Jesus is speaking to stadium-worthy crowds. Jesus is leading a ministry organization that has experienced rapid change, explosive growth, rising expectations, growing opposition, and all the pressures that come with leadership in such situations.

In the midst of that reality he asks a simple question:

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?

In the quiet this morning, as the calendar turns over and I feel the weight of leadership moving into another year of business, I needed Jesus to remind me of this rhetorical question. The reality is that things are no different than they’ve ever been. It’s been a faith journey all along. Nothing has really changed except the pressure and expectations I’m placing on my self. This means my mental and emotional focus is on my shortcomings (both real and imagined) rather than on the sufficiency of the One who has faithfully provided and led me to this place over 25 years.

Me of little faith.

After challenging His followers not to worry, Jesus adds this:

“What I’m trying to do here is get you to relax, not be so preoccupied with getting so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep yourself in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Don’t be afraid of missing out. You’re my dearest friends! The Father wants to give you the very kingdom itself.

Luke 12:29-32 (MSG)

Not a bad reminder to start my day. I hope it encourages you as well, my friend. Thanks for reading.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!