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We were IN the zone. Know what I mean? Draining ’em – eyes closed! Gimme the ball!!! … We were cranking it out. Graphs. Tables. Spreadsheets. 2x2s (you know, those little boxes consultants use for everything – made famous by the Boston Consulting Group). We’d been at it for hours. From early in the morning when we started with Starbucks espressos to late in the evening with Papa John’s pizza.
To be completely truthful, it was fun. It was fast-paced. Challenging. Rewarding. We were making substantial progress. We had intelligent people from the best universities in the world who had years of concrete, real-world experience from several highly regarded blue chip and high tech companies.
We were working on several special projects for a large customer. Projects that would result in additional business with them. More business = better. Right?
Everything was going great until John walked into our conference room that evening and asked what we were doing. He heard we’d spent several days working on a number of projects and was curious. Wanted to see our progress and know what we’d come up with. And for whom? You see, John was the VP of business development. Our team was made up of mostly junior “worker-bees” from manufacturing, supply chain, and sales. Our leader was the account rep for this large customer and he’d recruited us to develop ways to push more volume out the door (and to the customer) – since more = better.
Things were going fine until John showed up. Showed up with Perspective. He had data. Context. In fairness, we’d never asked for perspective. Hadn’t asked the right questions. No project charter. You know – “ready, fire, … aim.” Though this happened years ago, I’m still a bit embarrassed.
We almost died on the spot when John told us that we didn’t make any money on this large customer! What???!!! Our profit margins were thin. So thin, they were negative. We were losing money on this account. Implementing our brilliant ideas and increasing business (volume) with this customer would only mean we would lose more money. Yikes! I was upset. Embarrassed. Mad. Embarrassed. Tired. Really tired.
John brought Perspective. We had wasted our time. While there were many projects that could potentially improve our margin at this account (including better pricing strategies), our projects had been focused on debottlenecking the plant so we could provide them with more product. Our proposed unit cost was actually going to be a bit higher than the current cost (due to required capital expenditures). Ouch!
In the end, the sales organization took some pricing action that, coupled with cost and productivity improvements in the plant, resulted in healthy account margins, but it required a change of course. A new direction. It required a different priority. It required seeing the big picture. It required Perspective.
You’re undoubtedly smarter than we were. But then again, we KNEW we were smarter than anyone. … Know “why” you’re doing something before jumping in with both feet. Understand the big picture. The financials. The environment. The intangibles. The priorities. The return. The risk. … Great leaders realize and value the benefit of Perspective.
What examples do you have of people who jumped in too quickly? Who lost (or never had) perspective?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. The floor is ALWAYS open.