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I had just returned to my hotel room after announcing the plant closure. People, some of whom had worked at the plant for more than 30 years, were out of a job. These folks had worked hard. Invested themselves in their work. Produced great results. Shown loyalty….
The decision to close this plant in the Pacific Northwest had been made by the executive committee with approval from the Board of Directors. I had fought for over two years to keep the plant open. It was making money (though NOT much). Safety, quality, and customer service performance were “world class.” Really. Not just a cliché. This was a great plant from the perspective of a manufacturing executive.
In the end, I “lost.” The executive committee decided to shut down the plant and send a “message” to Wall Street. Show ’em how tough and cost-focused we were. My boss had “something” come up at the last minute and wasn’t able to fly out with me to make the announcement. During the day, I had made the announcement and met individually with each employee. It was important to me that these employees (fathers, mothers, grandparents, sister, sons) be treated with respect/dignity. I had done so. But I was tired. I was still fighting strong emotions. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger. Disbelief. Exhaustion. It was a TRYING time to say the least. On top of that, I’d learned late in the afternoon (between individual employee meetings) that there was a 90% chance I’d have to close another facility within the fiscal year. Ughhh!!! Really?!!! It was like a punch in the stomach.
I turned on the lights in my hotel room and was starting to take off my coat when my cell phone rang. My boss. Ok. At least he was calling to see how things had gone. To see how I was holding up. To see if there were anything he could do to show support for me or the folks in the plant. … I AM an idealist by nature. … “Robert, why is overtime in our Canadian plant 1% higher than forecast?” … Deep breath. Patience. Breathe. Pray. Inhale. Exhale. Pray.
The monthly data were still preliminary. It would take another day before all the monthly financial and plant operating metrics “settled” and could be trusted. You see, there’s a 2-day window each month when our metrics go through various accounting adjustments. It turned out the Canadian plant was actually UNDER the overtime forecast by almost 2% when adjusted for foreign exchange rates. The wise leader waits until the dust settles before jumping to conclusions. See my post on Data Based Decisions.
What mattered in this case was the timing. The TIMING! Even IF the Canadian plant had been slightly over its overtime forecast, why would he ask me right as I was returning from closing a plant? The timing was HORRIBLE. Actually, it was WORSE than that. No words can adequately describe what went through my heart and mind at that moment. I truly felt like I’d been sucker-punched.
Do numbers matter? Yes. Do dollars matter? Yes. … So do people. People matter. That’s why timing is important. It’s why my wife doesn’t drop the “honey-do” list on me the moment I walk in the door. It’s why you don’t tell jokes to someone who has just experienced a tragedy in their lives.
Timing in leadership is important. Timing in sales is important. Timing in relationships is important. … In fact, Timing is Everything. The right words at the wrong time – failure. The right price at the wrong time – failure. The right gesture at the wrong time – failure. Part of being empathetic, showing great Emotional Intelligence, and having good people skills is timing.
Can you think of a time someone chose the right time (or the wrong time) to give advice, ask a question, or give you a new task? How’d it go?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. The floor is ALWAYS open.