Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What Mickey Drexler Could Have Taught General Lee

On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, after Confederate attacks on the two previous days had failed, General Lee ordered a strike at the center of the Union troops’ lines.  In order to make that strike, troops under the command of Major General George Pickett and two other commanders had to cross an open field at a quick walking pace for nearly one mile, all of it unprotected from enemy fire.  That march is now infamously known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The soldiers and their commanders knew from their first steps that they were likely going to their graves.

Pickett’s Charge is a good metaphor for what I recently heard from a friend about her workplace.  Her company had rushed a promising new product to market, but in the opening deliveries it became clear there were problems with the product’s performance.  The company dutifully promised to credit customers for any losses incurred, began addressing the manufacturing issues and continued to put pressure on the sales team to reach the quarterly sales objective.  The company succeeded in the first and third goals, but failed in the second.  So now they have a mess.

With thousands of defective widgets sold and delivered, the company will get to write lots and lots of credit memos, but some of the company’s managers will still collect their quarterly compensation because they made their revenue figures. 

What won’t show up on the income statement are the pieces of sales people’s back ends that have been chewed-off by unhappy customers. Or the sense of betrayal some sales reps feel, knowing none of the company’s senior managers actually visited customers during the crisis to see the situation for themselves.  Sales people will be well aware long into the future that they work for managers who will send them into certain doom when there is money to be made by their leaders.

A story like that one is completely unnecessary, because mistakes are going to be made.  Mistakes don’t have to lead to soul-killing work experiences.  They should lead to future success.

J Crew window at a store near my home.
The brand features great quality, modern versions of classic fashion in terrific colors.  

Drexler’s doing two things well: He’s willing to take a bullet himself for the bad decisions he or his company makes; and he makes mid-game corrections based on complaints he receives, turning them into success.

What’s the lesson here?  It’s okay to make mistakes, but when a big one occurs, be willing to take the heat yourself, learn on the fly and make corrections quickly.  

What's keeping you from running to the battle lines (and a potential success) right now?

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