How to Say What You Don’t Want to Say

None of us like confrontations, least not business owners regardless of how ruff and gruff they appear. So how do you deliver a message that you really don’t want to deliver? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have one and here it is: write a script.

No, not a lengthy melodramatic script. Write a script like I had my friend in Connecticut write. Here’s the background.

Marty is a great guy. So great that some workers found it easy to get what they wanted. Don was such a guy. He was a CSR who worked from 5:00 am to 2:00 pm every day. That’s right, 5:00 am. Why? It wasn’t because Marty needed him to work those hours; rather it was an accommodation to Don. He was a single parent and his daughter got off from school at 3:00 and he didn’t have anyone to look after her. You’ve probably heard a similar story before.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not unsympathetic. It’s just that we have to organize around functions, not people. When is the shop open? In this case it was 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. What’s the job of the CSR? To work with customers. When does the customer expect to be able to work with the CSR? When the shop is open. Right! Anytime the shop is open, a customer expects to be able to walk in and have someone wait on them. What happens if the CSR isn’t there? In this case, as in most, the job falls to the owner. So Marty was stuck on the counter after 2:00 each day because of an accommodation to a worker.

It gets worse.

Don’s daughter no longer gets out of school at 3:00 each day since she’s graduated to high school, and there’s no longer a need for him to leave early. But he’s done so for so many years that Marty is afraid he will leave if he puts any pressure on him to work a full business day.

It gets even worse.

Marty can’t make any business appointments in the late afternoon because of Don leaving. But then he can’t make any appointments between 10:00 and 2:00 because his delivery guy has his vehicle out making deliveries. Who is the delivery guy? A college kid from the nearby campus. Why does he make deliveries between 10:00 and 2:00? The college kid wants to work those hours because he doesn’t like to get up early. Hmm.

It gets even worse.

Marty can’t really make any business appointments before 10:00 because he has some routine things he does such as pack the vehicle with the deliveries for the college kid. Why does he do this? Well, the college kid only has between 10:00 and 2:00 to make the deliveries and he’d never get them done if he had him pack the vehicle as well as make the deliveries.

Now the real problem with the business is that it had lost sales and Marty needed to get some new customers or his business would die. Even worse, did I tell you that Marty and his wife sold their house and are now living in an apartment? Why? He needed cash to put into the business so he could accommodate the CSR’s and the delivery guy’s hours.

Yes, some consulting assignments really are this easy.

Or are they?

I know you and I have the same solution. Tell the CSR to work a full day and tell the college kid to get outta bed and come to work at 8:00 am. That way, Marty could at least make business appointments in the morning or afternoon on a regular basis. And yes, I’m ignoring the issue that at least half of the deliveries he was making were not profitable—very small copy jobs, etc.

But this is the tricky part.

It’s not what needs to be done here that’s the issue. It’s the fact that Marty is not a confrontational guy at all. So how does he tell the CSR and the college kid to get their acts together?

I drew upon my limited knowledge of football. Most teams decide what the first series of plays are going to be before kickoff. Fact is, often the quarterback has the plays taped to his arm so he can just call them in order. These first plays are important, for that’s when the adrenaline is raging and mistakes are often made. It’s the same when confronting bad worker behavior.

So we approached it in two steps.

The first step was conditioning Marty. He needed to organize around functions, not people. The function of the CSR was to be there from 9:00 to 5:00. Marty also decided that he really needed the delivery guy to work in the afternoons, from noon to 5:00. Those two steps would serve the business best. Okay, are the current workers ones he would hire to do the job?

No.

Why?

They don’t appear to be able to work the hours that the business needs them.

The business needs the CSR to work from 9:00 to 5:00. Regardless of how brilliant a CSR is, if he is not there when the customer expects him to be, he is a zero. Same with the delivery guy.

Okay, once we agreed to these basics, the next step is how to tell them.

That’s where the script came into play.

We started by writing down what Marty was to say to CSR Don. That was the hard one. Of course, we ended up with a whole lot of verbiage so we worked it over several times and came down to a very simple statement.

“Don, beginning the first of the month, I need you to work from 9:00 to 5:00. Any questions?”

Yup. That was the whole thing.

What if he has questions? I call these the “yeah buts.” For instance, “Yeah, but I gotta be somewhere at 3:00.”

“Don, the job requires you to be here from 9:00 to 5:00. Are you telling me you can’t do the job?”

And it is as simple as that. Marty had to be willing to let Don go if he couldn’t do the job. He agreed that he was ready for that, especially since he had an application from an experienced CSR from a shop that had recently closed.

Okay, when?

Marty can’t ponder this for days because it would do nothing but worry him. I coached him until he had the script down cold. He then called Don into the office and said, “Don, beginning the first of the month, I need you to work from 9:00 to 5:00. Any questions?”

Don said, “No. Okay.”

And it was done.

I wasn’t there the next morning to help him with the delivery guy, but Marty said it went just as smoothly.

Organize around functions, not people. Write a script that isn’t more than a few words and prepare. Know your bottom line. And then don’t agonize over it, get it done now.

Marty did and magically had the time to deal with his main business issue, attracting new customers. Had he not done it, he would still be draining cash and living the life of martyr Marty. Sometimes this consulting work is fairly easy. Of course, other times it’s not.

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