I am continually amazed at how fatally committed most people are to not taking responsibility for the things they actually do. I am working through an acute lesson in personal responsibility. I run a service contracting business. I depend on my workers to execute tasks in the field with varying levels of self direction and supervision. Sometimes they are tightly supervised. Sometimes they are operating purely on the honor system. Recently, we implemented a “Trust but Verify” experiment with GPS tracking in the vehicles. There handwritten logs remain the foundation of routing, tracking, invoicing, etc. however, we were spot checking the GPS reports. Some anomalies appeared.
One crew had been having a series of seemingly small, unrelated quality and consistency problems. Several revisits. Some minor customer complaints. Some morale issues. Here is where my responsibility enters. I had grown somewhat complacent on the routine work, and did not supervise tight enough. Also, when the morale issues cropped, I should have made some personnel changes right away–Once these things set in, they never improve. One day the end of day reports seemed strange, so I went through the GPS report. There was as significant deviation from the planned route. The handwritten report clearly stated that the crew had serviced a customer, with specific details, but the truck had gone in the complete opposite direction.
I went back a couple of days and found similar problems. There are several significant problems here. Largest of which is that we have contractual obligations to our customers, for which we charge them, and they pay, money. Not to mention missed service calls create real maintenance problems. Secondly is theft. These guys were expecting to be paid for time they spent driving around in company vehicles, burning company gas, and using company equipment to do who knows what. Third is the operational cost. Operationally, we now need to back track, spend valuable time to re-service those customers, address the growing problems, explain why they weren’t serviced properly the first time, assure them that the issues won’t continue.
A couple of conversations with the crew members verified they had in fact gone off route. Bottom line, I fired a belligerent crew leader, and put a junior guy on notice, who later ended up leaving of his own accord. One would think, that would be the end of it. I was extremely upset, an d spent two weeks going through the accounts and properties cleaning up the outright skipped calls, and addressing myriad issues with the work that was actually done. The truth is that I should not have been surprised. I had warning. Also, I had not dug deep enough into the work that was being executed.
The guy I fired has repeatedly made it clear over the ensuing weeks that he feels wronged. I am incredulous. He did what he did. He knows what he did. He knows the work he lied about, and he knows the standards they did not meet for the work the did do. I have not had a big discussion about it since then. I did not outline every single problem in detail. Perhaps that is what he requires–Some people will only admit to what you lay out the evidence for.
This was a failing on my part in many ways. I do not know that I could have headed the situation off entirely, however the extent of the damage could certainly have been mitigated. There has been a cost in terms of customer satisfaction. By acting, I have been able to get ahead of a good bit, though not all, of it. The one fellow would have likely had to go. And he would likely still feel that, though he did these things, by some calculus of entitlement, he was the wronged party. I find it amazing.
The real shame here is that this fellow won’t learn. Though financially I took a big hit, I have enough goodwill built up with our customers to recover. However this fellow has a wife and kid who depend on him, but he will absolutely, in so many areas of life, not accept responsibility. The same things keep happening to him, different people, different details, but it’s always their fault. How can he progress without ever addressing his role in his mess? How many of us go through the same cycles, in varying degrees? The same stuff keeps happening, yet we can never quite find the key to unlock the problem.
That does bring cause for self-reflection. He did what he did. But what is it that I actually did or failed to do? To what extent does this incident reflect my own dysfunctional cycles. Clearly I am flawed. My company isn’t the next Berkshire Hathaway. It’s not even the largest, most successful by any measure or scale. Nor is my personal life a flawless, shining example. My day-to-day is fraught with dysfunctional patterns and cycles. It does give me pause.
In the larger perspective, the past two years or so have been eye-opening to me in terms of just what a large segment of our population are not prepared to function in the world.