Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How I Stopped Being a Horse’s A##

Random Thoughts

2010.09.01_HorsesAss What’s better when there’s a difference of opinion in a business setting: to dig your heels in and insist on your point, or understand  the other perspective and accommodate?

I had to make a business decision recently that reminded me of these questions.  It involved a failed creative project.  I’d contracted with a company to develop a logo and website design for iEngineer.  Our original estimates told us we would need six to eight weeks to complete the project.  I figured I’d add another two weeks buffer for decision delay, and accounted for eight to ten weeks of work. 

Unfortunately, nothing worked as planned.  My directions weren’t clear enough, I’d asked the company to do something that was outside of their core , and we encountered other delays external to the project that affected our timeline drastically.

What was the end result: we stopped the project about 2/3 of the way through and decided it wasn’t worth completing.  In the end, we had no final logos or design, but had paid in full for the project and expended resources for three months.

At that stage, I could’ve put up a fight and asked for a part of the fees back.  I could’ve made it very difficult for our vendor by getting our attorney involved. 

I could’ve been a horse’s a##. 

Instead, it made more sense to take a less resentful, healthy and humane approach.  I assumed we’d “invested” the money in a course and learned some very valuable business lessons about projects and vendor engagement:

  1. Define Your Objectives:
    Define what you wish to get out of a project and commit it to paper before starting a contract.  You can continue to refine it, but at least you have something more than just a verbal conversation to rely on when you need to convey your thoughts.
  2. Find Like Minds:
    Find a vendor that has the same core values you do, both in business and personal life.  If nothing else, this makes for easier conversations and removes the limits of talking only about business.  More likely, you’ll be able to use your common values and language to convey exactly what you want.
  3. Withhold Final Payment:
    …that is, until you see the final product.  You don’t want to hold the final payment hostage to your whims. If the vendor has delivered on what they were supposed to, pay them.  Otherwise, you have an easier path of cutting your losses early, if you need to.
  4. Build Trust:
    Trusted relationships aren’t born, but built.  So, make sure everyone knows that you’re in the process of “building” a relationship in every step through your communication, promises made and kept, and your cordial sensibilities.  Remember, every business interaction isn’t just about that interaction, but all other future activities too.  So, know that your success on your first project will likely lead to more direct and indirect work in the future.
  5. Speak Your Mind:
    Don’t be afraid to talk about your concerns.  You’re doing everyone a disservice by withholding them and hoping they would go away or get “ironed out.”  As soon as you have a concern, speak about it.  Mind you, I’m not advocating harassing or attacking a vendor or business associate.  However, I recommend stating your concerns and asking how you can address them together.
  6. Make Amends:
    If you’re at fault, apologize and find ways of rectifying what’s in your control.  Realize that in every scenario, you are at least partially responsible for the good or bad outcome.  No exceptions.
  7. Be the Big Brother:
    If you skipped all the other steps or if for any other reason the relationship doesn’t work, act as the big brother.  Keep the relationship healthy by providing insight on what you could’ve done better and what you think the vendor or business associate could’ve done better.  Remember that if you both succeed in the future, it’s better for everyone around, including the society at large.

2010.09.01_HorsesFace So, what did we do in our circumstance?  We decided to take step seven above.  We looked at what we, at iEngineer, did wrong.  What could we have done better?  What part of our responsibility didn’t we carry out?  We listed all of these and thoughts on what to do differently above.  Luckily, they’re also documented in this post!  We did the same for what we thought were the vendor’s responsibilities.

Then we had a difficult, though frank and friendly discussion with the vendor and explained that although we were ending the engagement, we wanted them to succeed.  So, we explained what we thought we could’ve done differently, asked for their thoughts about the same, and offered improvement suggestions to them for any future engagements, hoping that someday we could work again together. 

As it so happened, the vendor took our input, spoke with their internal staff and decided to refund more than 25% of their fees! I was very pleasantly surprised.  This was very gracious of them and we told them so. 

The crux of this post is simple: I suggest you do something new today and treat your fellow man or woman with respect and love.  Make that choice and see how much more humane your business relationships become.  You never know, you just may be surprised by how well you are treated in turn!

What Do You Think?

How do you feel about conflict management?  Have I missed any steps above.  Feel free to comment below.

Photo Credits

jenny downing
padam2