There’s No Button For Tomatoes

When you’re running a business many times you need to add staff that might not be the most optimal of prospects you would prefer. There are times you have to “go with the flow” because one estimates – there is no other option. The problem is: Just how long will one allow the possible damage to either customer relationships or business production that may ensue in hiring the wrong person?

Weighing the difference between service and no service, or, production vs none by employing someone who nine times out of ten is prone to deliver bad decision-making skills; is an equation that leads to out of business sooner – than later.

One of the clearest warning signs to any entrepreneur/manager/CEO et al that there may (or more often than not will) be trouble down the road is when trying to fill positions the overriding premise or instruction needed to be adhered to gravitates toward the implied or mandated: Adhere strictly to the rules. Don’t think. i.e., If it’s not on a list, menu, manual, et al or directly approved by the owner/manager – it must not be done. Period. Or else!

The problem with this type of thinking and/or implementation is that it might work for a time, however, the time that it doesn’t work will more often than not be at precisely the worst of times. The term “work for a time” is an important descriptor for the simple reason; there will be a time where the most obvious of decisions, and simplest of fixes to address an issue will not be done for fear of reprimand. i.e., A product line grinds to a halt during the middle of the night that was only implemented out of the need to catch up on back-orders to complaining end users. The reason? Maybe as simple as a blown circuit breaker that only needs to be reset. Yet, the line shut down and stayed down where workers left early because they were told “What ever you do, never touch anything in that electrical box!” So nobody dared, resulting in being even further behind. Or worse.

As ridiculous as the above may sound it’s far more common than most think. It sounds so obvious where most will react in a near knee jerk action and deride “I would never let such a thing happen in my business!” Yet, as I stated “it’s far more common” than one may think.

One obvious reaction to this is “Well I would have had them call me first before leaving at least! That’s a ridiculous example.”

Sure it is, until one thinks of other such demands placed unsuspectingly by many a manager/boss/CEO/entrepreneur such as “And what ever you do, don’t call me in the middle of the night unless this place is burning down!” Ever heard of that one? You’d be surprised how closely that rule would be followed if people that night would rather get out early – than work. Don’t let that point be lost on you when trying to envision what may happen at your business.

Let me give you an example that many small business owners find themselves in that I had the pleasure of interacting with one night which supplied me with the title of this article…

One night I decided to try out a different pizza restaurant. I asked the clerk for a large pizza with fresh tomatoes as an added topping. He viewed the cash register then subsequently replied ‘Sorry, no tomatoes.” At first I thought fine. Then I noticed sitting there, right behind him, was a container full of sliced tomatoes in his sandwich making section (for they made subs also). Again, there in obvious view.

I asked him “I thought you said ‘no tomatoes?’ There are tomatoes right there.” He replied “Yeah, we have tomatoes for subs, just not for pizza.” I said “You mean to tell me I can’t have tomatoes on my pizza? What is that, some type of code violation down here or something?” (I was in KY where I’m originally from Boston) He stated nonchalantly the reason why he couldn’t was “There was no button on the cash register as to charge me extra for them.”

There was an extra pepperoni button, sausage button, onion button, etc., etc., but he didn’t have one for tomatoes. Therefor; I couldn’t have them.

As crazy as that sounds, he stuck to his guns. It was easy to dissect as the argument went further that this individual was told “If there isn’t a button, then we don’t do it.” And he was doing what he was told, and was not going to do anything other.

It was obvious this person was in place because the owner probably decided (and was the only person they could acquire) it was better to “be open” late in the evening even with questionable labor, and not lose out on any possible business. Rather, than possibly adjusting the hours to suit doing “good business.” (just because the norm is 24/7/365 doesn’t mean you need to do that also if doing so requires hiring the wrong people just to be “open.”)

The resulting exchange ended with me getting – “No tomatoes.” As for the business? I did keep an eye on it as I drove past it near daily and would occasionally recall the adventure shaking my head. Then, about 3 months or so later the inevitable happened.

They went out of business. Who’d a thunk it?

© 2015 Mark St.Cyr