Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
The early morning bad news call
Experienced managers can instantly sense the Bad News Call when it comes in. You can tell just from the way the caller breathes before they even say “Hi”.
Here we go, you think. You know there’s badness afoot. The only question is what kind and how much.
I had that call from our Hobart sales manager Adam early last Tuesday morning. “I need some advice about a situation that’s come up this morning.”
I’d been working on something till 2am, so the call woke me up. It’s fun to go from coma to crisis management in a heartbeat. What was going on? It was too early for a staff resignation, losing a major client or an ATO raid on our office.
I figured it must have been a breakfast event disaster. In events there’s always scope for after-hours chaos. Like when a protester sneaked into a private event for a large corporation, climbed ten metres into the ceiling and chained himself to our lighting grid. Not the greatest protest method for visibility. It’s like when you go to the zoo and spend ten minutes peering up a tree trying to spot the slow loris.
I’m an experienced bad news receiver. So many possibilities churned through my mind in a microsecond.
Turns out we’d taken a last-minute booking to do a sound system for an outdoor event. A “women’s rally”, they said.
Adam realised early Tuesday morning it was the Hobart rally of an anti-transgender tour. The one that featured black-clad Nazis doing Nazi salutes in Melbourne two days previous. He wasn’t comfortable with us being involved and was calling to check which way we should go.
A good, simple rule for business decision-making
We’re just the behind-the-scenes technical people, not the speech content police. Where do you draw the line? I’m good with whatever gender identity makes you happy. On the flip side, I don’t love it when people expressing anything other than total, unquestioning agreement on any topic get told they are Hitler. Also I’m bugged by calls for specific laws to ban one thing that got people riled that day. There are already plenty of laws, and bringing the cops down on words and actions gives them more appeal than ignoring them.
But here’s a good place to draw the line: Nazis.
It’s hard to write this without looking like we want a pat on the back for taking a moral stand or whatever. It’s not that. I’m only writing about it because I love the mad unpredictability of business. Of all the possibilities that morning, gotta say Nazis had not crossed my mind.
But Adam made the right call here, like the competent, moral person he is.
It reminded me of a point a recent commenter on my blog made – apologies I can’t remember who. There are lots of grids, algorithms and spreadsheets to help you make a decision. So you can avoid making a personal stand by pointing to data. But a good, simple way to make any business decision is: what’s the right thing to do?
What’s the right thing to do?
Deep down you know. It saves a lot of agonising over which way to go. Indecision creates expensive and demoralising delays. If your job is to lead, people want to see you make clear, consistent choices that help guide their own decisions in future.
Obviously “the right thing” is a pretty subjective call. Right can mean anything, and we’ve all worked with psychopaths who bring total certainty that they’re right. And I’m not holding myself up as any kind of model of rightness. You can calibrate your own compass.
Your own definition of right covers how you treat staff and suppliers. How much you trust others. What you’re prepared to pay for anything. How you talk about people who aren’t in the room. How much you want to pull out of your business versus how much to reinvest for the future. And obviously, what sort of customers you’d say no to.
My business partners don’t always agree 100% on everything. That would be boring. But the fact that our moral values are all pretty similar really helps our business grow, and makes the whole journey a lot more enjoyable. There’s a point to it apart from just money.
Though it also helps you make a lot more money. because you can make quick decisions and move on. Rather than employing a raft of middle-managers who can string out a decision twelve months or more, because it makes their job look necessary.
Clear leadership beats process every time
That’s the main challenge of business: finding people who’ll make the right call when they’re not being supervised. Maybe not exactly the call you’d make, but close enough. Those people aren’t easy to find, but once you find a few, they attract others.
It feels like I’m arguing against diversity of thought here, but it’s not that. You can have a bunch of different skills and backgrounds, and still have them roughly on the same moral map.
It’s a much better way to run things than to rely on documented process. Process relies on responses to things you can predict. But, as Churchill probably said, who can predict Nazis on a Tuesday morning?
I don’t think we need to rewrite our employee manual with specific responses to Nazi situations. The right thing to do will do.
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