It was Tuesday, and Hope dragged herself into the office just like she had every day for the past year. She walked past security with her head down, stumbled into the elevator, and slapped her face a few times after the door closed. For some reason her morning pot of coffee wasn’t doing the usual trick. She was late, and thankfully this meant that everyone was already at work and the elevator was empty. She was suffering from another sleepless night, a swollen head, puffy eyes, and worst of all ... a broken heart.
She thought of the various routes she could take from the elevator to her office. If worse comes to worse, I’ll make a mad dash for it, she thought. She wasn’t ready to talk to anyone yet, and she certainly didn’t want anyone to see her until she could carry on a normal conversation without crying. Besides, she was Vice President of Human Resources for EZ Tech so it wouldn’t be long before they came in droves to her office anyway—to talk, to gripe, to dump their problems and issues on her. She was part manager, part psychologist, part peacemaker, and part garbage can. It came with the job, and she accepted all of it.
She really did like helping people; however, lately she had trouble listening to their problems. As they would talk, all Hope could think about were her own problems. She read their lips, but all she thought was, If they only knew what I was dealing with. If they only knew about my life. If they only knew ...
The elevator opened, and the loud noises startled Hope. People were running everywhere in all directions. Phones were ringing off the hook. The marketing and PR teams were running into each other in the halls. Everyone was screaming across the room. We are either under attack or the market has crashed, she thought. Not today. I don’t need this today, she cried to herself as she quickly walked with her head down toward her office. Before she could take another step, she looked up and Jim was running at her.
“Hope, Hope, Hope. Where have you been?” he shouted as he approached her face to face.
“I heard my name the first time,” she said, hoping he would back up a few feet, or a few miles for that matter. He had the worst coffee breath in the world, and her stomach was already feeling queasy.
“Yeah, well, maybe I’m just happy you’re here,” he countered. “Or maybe I’m just in complete shock that on one of the worst days in our company’s history you are nowhere to be found. Our boss is on national television having to explain why our computer batteries are catching on fire, and you’re strolling into the office an hour late looking like you’ve been hit by a bus.”
I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus, Hope thought.
Jim grabbed Hope’s arm as he rushed her into his office and pointed at a chair as he directed her to sit down.
“In all my years in charge of operations I’ve never seen the media descend on a company like they have with this story. They are like a bunch of attack dogs. The Business Television Network (BTN) just finished their interview with Dan, and the street is not acting kindly. Millions of people just watched our CEO take a verbal beating on air. Our stock is plunging, and we’ve got to figure this out.”
“We’ve had problems before with our hardware. We’ve had glitches. I don’t see what the big deal is this time,” Hope said, shaking her head.
“It’s more than that,” said Jim. “The battery issue is just the tip of the iceberg. Everyone’s saying that Dan has lost his way with the company. And would you believe the interviewer had the nerve to ask Dan what it was like to go from a rock star CEO to being called a has-been whose company stock is at an all-time low? BTN brought up the fact that we have bloggers within our company who are bad-mouthing management and even posting memos that we have shared with our employees. Can you believe it? Private memos being shared with the world? Now we look more like zookeepers than computer makers. Personally, I’d like to do a seek-and-destroy mission today and find out who those people are and escort them out of the building myself,” Jim said, gritting his teeth.
“We will. We will,” answered Hope, trying to calm Jim down, knowing his temper often got the best of him.
The irony was too perfect, Hope thought. Here she was feeling like she just wanted to scream at the top of her lungs about the unfairness of her life, and she was the one having to calm Jim down. All she wanted to do was get to her office, close her door, put her head in her hands, and fall apart, but as usual she had to help someone else keep it together.
She knew that when Jim was fired up, the best thing to do was to calm him down by agreeing with him and then share alternative ideas later. Thankfully, her caffeine boost was kicking in, and her adrenaline was flowing. She was starting to think more clearly. Jim was a hard charger, take-no-prisoner kind of manager who liked order and results. They certainly would have to find out who these bloggers were, but there was more to the story. She was the bridge between the executive team and thousands of employees, and she didn’t need anyone on national television to tell her that they had a morale problem on their hands. She had approached Jim and Dan several times about their issues and even offered suggestions to improve the culture, but as usual it was put aside as a “good idea” for the next meeting because there were more pressing issues to be discussed. Logistics, sales, call center problems, customer complaints, stock price, shareholder meetings—everything was always more urgent than their employees’ concerns, so negativity kept spreading and morale kept getting worse. After a while she grew tired of saying anything. Besides, she had enough problems of her own to deal with that she certainly wasn’t going to fight to solve her company’s problems if no one wanted to listen.
Sure, everyone would get excited after attending a leadership seminar and talk about being positive and building a positive company and they even sent out positive messages to the employees via e-mail for awhile, but by the time the next crisis hit, everything would go out the window. It was all about the stock price. She wished she had a dollar for every time Jim, Dan, or a member of the executive team had mentioned the words shareholder value, stock price, and market expectations . She had ideas and solutions, but Jim was the biggest obstacle to getting any of them implemented. Jim’s idea of building a positive culture was buying the employees pizza once a month. She tried to talk to Dan about making their culture a priority, and he would listen but nothing would get done. Why should they change anything? The stock price was at an all-time high. They enjoyed record profits the previous year, and everything was looking good. Real good. That is until today. Today, their dirty laundry was being shown to the world, and it didn’t look good at all. Maybe now they’ll finally realize that even though we make computers, we are not run by computers. It’s a people business, she thought. Hopefully, today they would see that.
The Phone Call
Wayne and Ken hurried into Jim’s office almost knocking each other over. They were as different as two people could be. Wayne was the VP of Marketing for EZ Tech. He was a fast-talking northeasterner with wavy dark brown hair that was slicked back to expose his good-looking face. He was as straightforward as they come and made it clearly known that he desired to be a CEO one day. He was quick to share his ideas and suggestions and even quicker to shoot down the stupid ideas of others. Ken, on the other hand, was a mild-mannered southerner who headed up Manufacturing for EZ Tech. He spoke slowly and methodically and listened more than he talked.
As different as they were, however, today they were both sweating and nervous. Hope knew that neither of them had ever been through something like this before. Their involvement would be critical in handling this crisis, and Hope was curious to see how they would respond. She observed people and learned a lot about them just by watching. As she expected, Wayne spoke first, “I just got off the phone with Dan, and he’ll be calling in about two minutes. I see everyone is here but Robert.” Just like Wayne, Hope thought. Always trying to get control of the room and situation by identifying who’s there and who’s not. A regular master of the obvious. Everyone knew Robert was overseas closing a big sale with a government client.
“Shall we all sit down?” Jim asked as he motioned for everyone to take a seat.
The phone rang, Jim pressed the conference button, and Dan greeted everyone with a calm welcome. He was a tall, thin, mild-mannered CEO whose focused, calm demeanor was shaped by his years coaching college basketball. He eventually left his job as a basketball coach to start EZ Tech with a college buddy, but as Dan told Hope many times before: “I didn’t leave coaching; I just chose a different arena to apply my principles.” And, ironically, his leadership, coaching skills, and ability to handle pressure were being put to the test like never before.
Dan continued, “So as everyone knows, it’s been a very challenging and interesting morning. I certainly haven’t enjoyed being ridiculed on national television in front of the business community and my peers. I don’t like that the credibility of this company and our great team is being questioned. We have certainly been knocked off our pedestal, and I am determined to do whatever it takes to solve our problems and regain the admiration and trust of our customers and the market. The world is watching, all eyes are on us, and how we respond will say everything about who we are and what we stand for. And so I ask you right now: Who is ready to take on this challenge with me?”
Everyone in the room responded in the affirmative.
“So let’s tackle the issues one by one. First and foremost we need to address our battery problem. Jim and Ken, what are your thoughts on this?”
“Obviously we need to find the flaw,” answered Jim.
“Great. And what else?”
“A recall?” Ken added, unconvincingly.
“No doubt about it,” responded Dan. “Let’s get on it immediately. Fix the problem and replace every battery with a new one. It will cost us now, but it will save our reputation and our future.”
As usual Wayne jumped into the conversation. “I was thinking that we should also put together a three-point plan to share with the media explaining how we will address the battery problems and the other issues brought up on BTN today.”
“I’m not surprised you had already thought of this, Wayne,” laughed Dan. “And you are 100 percent right. We’ll announce the recall immediately and then let the media know we are creating a three-point plan to address our challenges, and we will have it to them by Monday. And then we’ll create a more in-depth plan to share with our board of directors who are very concerned—as they should be. This brings us to the issue of the bloggers and all the negative things about our company that are being leaked to the media. We have to do something about that. Any ideas?”
“I plan on having Hope find out who those bloggers are ASAP,” Jim said with a raised, angry voice. Everyone stared at Hope, and she could feel them judging her. Her eyes were clearly still puffy and since it wasn’t allergy season, it was clear to all that she had been crying again.
“We need to find the bloggers and talk to them,” countered Dan. “But there’s a bigger problem here than just a few negative bloggers. You see, in all my years of coaching, whenever I had a problem on my team I didn’t blame the players, I blamed myself. And right now the media is right. I feel like we have lost our way, and I haven’t done a good job coaching. I’ve ignored the very principles I have used to create successful basketball teams and to build this company. Today hit me like a sledgehammer, but it woke me up. I know what our problems are, and today we begin the process of finding and implementing solutions.”
The Real Problem
“You see, team,” Dan said passionately, “our problem is negativity, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. I believe where there is a void, negativity will fill it. And, unfortunately, within every organization you get voids in communication between leaders and their employees and between different teams and team members. It happens everywhere: ...