Thursday, October 1, 2020
About 20 years ago, two up-and-coming salespeople from competing lifting equipment companies bumped into each other at an aerospace manufacturer. (Where they both worked is irrelevant; neither was employed at RSS.) The pair were on separate tours as part of tendering processes. They looked at each other across the floor and there was an awkward silence. Pleasantries were eventually exchanged, reluctantly, and even a handshake took place (those were the days!). But there was a frost in the air until they went off in different directions. There was an entirely avoidable awkwardness between the two people, simply because they worked at rival firms. Worse, is that the rivalry endured and intensified until one of them eventually went to work overseas.
These conflicts are not helpful. In the room at the time of the above meeting were a number of influential people from the end user, including the person who signed off on tenders. Think about the impression this rift gave to them. They would have concluded that the two people weren’t on great terms with each other because they’d overplayed their importance as representatives of businesses, or that there was a more serious issue. Either way, it didn’t show them in a favourable light and might even have planted a seed or two of doubt in the purchasing decision makers’ minds. That’s aside from the negative energy that filled the room, which everyone felt. Further, the friction would have prevented the two talented salespeople from collaborating or working together one day in the future. As far as I understand it, that never happened.
Rarely is a dispute or quarrel worth the hassle, as demonstrated again on a social media platform only this week. (This time, it did involve an employee at my company). The member of staff felt compelled to respond to some unfair and untrue allegations about their working practices. The response led to a number of people also commenting about how the person’s integrity is never doubted and how nobody who knows them would ever believe otherwise. ‘If you’ve got ‘em rattled, you must be doing your job right,’ was the gist of another post. The instigator may or may not have read the thread and, regardless, it blew over.
Who won? Nobody, really. And that’s the point. In business, it’s almost impossible to emerge from any squabble victorious. This isn’t hand-to-hand combat. Nobody comes along to raise one’s arm aloft. There are no championship belts, rematches or mandatory challengers. I don’t condemn my colleague for defending themselves—I’m an advocate for personal brands and believe people should be individuals first and company representatives second—but as a general rule we should all think carefully before responding to negative publicity. In many cases, barbs are thrown with the intention of provoking a response. Some people (the kind you don’t want at your company) spend their days stirring up trouble.
It is especially important not to throw mud around (or back) in a small, niche industry, like the lifting sector, where many people find themselves working for the duration of an entire career. Someone recently knocked on my door looking for a new opportunity and, pleasant though they have always been to me, their negative reputation precedes them. Word gets around and it always seems to get around faster when someone is doing something wrong versus right. Work diligently and successfully for a year and nobody will notice outside your own company, but mess up once and cause someone to storm out of a boardroom, and the story will be spread around an industry (and embellished) in hours.
There are various versions of the adage, ’It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.’
Honestly, I like it when I hear people speaking untruths or spreading rumours about the way we do business. A competitor wouldn’t share such nonsense if they weren’t threatened by us or didn’t think we could harm their success. And I like it even more when their rage levels go up a notch when we don’t let it dissuade us and we keep doing more of what irritated them in the first place. When someone hears a tall tale about a person or business they trust, it simply raises a red flag about the messenger’s integrity.
Say, you’ve worked with a company for years and they’ve always delivered great service and great value, on time, every time. If a competitor phones you up and says that firm scores low on service, charges too much, is always late and hasn’t made a customer happy yet, what would you think? ‘Hang on a minute, that’s not the service provider I know,’ would be the answer. You might also wonder what the other company’s motive is for saying this. I’m always suspicious of a sales pitch that centres on what is wrong with something else instead of what is right with the product being sold.
Go back to the story at the beginning of this article. The only reason the two salespeople really didn’t like each other was because they were worried their counterpart could damage their career. Instead of thinking, ‘I’m going to get this order on merit,’ or, ‘I believe in the theory of abundance; there’s plenty of work out there for all of us,’ they instead felt, ‘What if he gets the project instead of me?’ And, ‘I might lose my job if this person takes all the business.’ By that negativity was half a career (two half careers, in fact) overshadowed. It probably cost them both more business than if they’d have been civil and friendly to each other.
I’ll add two things: first, I’m not trivialising harassment. If anyone is on the receiving end of harmful comments or abuse (online or in person), they shouldn’t ignore it. Such incidents should be brought to the attention of a supervisor or manager and dealt with. Nobody should be the victim of workplace or industry bullying, especially if the only reason for it is the company that pays their wages.
Second, there’s nothing wrong with healthy rivalry or competition, provided it is beneficial to all parties, including customers. I heard a story once about two reporters on rival local newspapers. They competed ferociously on getting the best story for their weekly editions and worked their areas, building up contacts, with pace and passion. Guess what? They both got great stories and their editors and readerships were happy. Importantly, they met regularly for coffee, knew the names of the other reporter’s children, and even compared notes to ensure their copy always came from a slightly different angle.
Stop press: we should all collaborate more.
Back to school
As children and students went back to their schools, colleges and universities this month, it was good timing for the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) to launch the Think Lifting School Lesson, in association with Lift & Hoist International (LHI) magazine, during its first ever digital annual general meeting. The school engagement programme aims to highlight career and training opportunities within the lifting industry to secondary school children aged 11-13 years by linking them directly to local businesses in the sector. I support the endeavour.
I’m equally enthused by the progress made by LEEA’s trailblazer group that is driving the Lifting Equipment Technician apprenticeship. The association has recently been appointed as an End Point Assessor (EPA) for the Level 3 standard apprenticeship, which is now close to being ready for delivery. Remember, an apprenticeship standard is only available for delivery when both the standard and assessment plan is approved and a funding band (core government contribution) has been assigned to the standard. The final element is sourcing training providers who are able to deliver apprenticeships in England. If you are interested, get in touch with LEEA.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd