Thursday, February 28, 2008

Owning Up

Sometimes we screw up. Even under the very best of intentions, things go wrong. But just like we learned back in grade school, owning up, taking responsibility, really is the best way to move through the problem, and then be able to move forward.

I wrote last year about how I was going to be working with a catalog company. I was excited by the possibility, but also a bit anxious about what that might entail as far as production, and would I be able to live up to my end of the bargain.

Doing the work to make sure that I would be able to meet the demand, helped me to look at my production process differently. I started to see that if I could make a dozen cranes at one time, all with the same pattern, it would actually be easier than trying to make a dozen different cranes. Thus began the idea of exclusive designs for each year.

As I began to prepare myself to fill orders for the catalog company, I anxiously awaited the initial order from them. The contract I signed stated I would need to ship cranes to them by early January. But it was mid-December before I got the order. The first order was for 54 cranes, and I began making them right away. I wanted to be sure I fulfilled my responsibility. The ship date had been moved to a later date, so I felt comfortable that I would be able to easily manage it and the orders I had at the time.

Less than two weeks before I was supposed to ship this first order, on a Friday afternoon, after 4 p.m. I got a call from the catalog company. They wanted to cancel the purchase order. No reason was given. No sense of whether or not there would be a future order. Just a call saying the purchase order was cancelled. By this time I had made and boxed up nearly 40 cranes. All done in a design that was exclusive to them. I was so surprised by this I had little to no response, and there were no real answers to the few questions I stammered out.

Now what?

Fortunately, I have a resident contracts expert in my husband. He helped me draft a letter requesting payment for the cranes I had made for them. According to contracts law, I was due compensation for the cranes I made for them, against their purchase order. He even went so far as to tell me that I should ship them out on the date they were originally scheduled to ship. This is where I took my own counsel and decided a crane in the hand is better than no cranes, and no check.

Today I spoke with the catalog company. The woman I had been working with owned up. She told me they were going through a difficult financial period. They had readjusted the products they were carrying. They were struggling to pay their existing vendors. (My instinct about holding onto those cranes was the right one!) They were not prepared to compensate me for the cranes I had already made for them.

It was easy for me to be gracious, and ask for a compromise in return. She had been honest with me, and so I knew where I stood. I asked that we cancel the contract, and that I be released from having the design held exclusively for them. It was as close to a win-win as we were going to get in the situation. She was happy to accomodate me, and there were no angry words or accusations.

It could have been nasty, and vindictive. I read about such exchanges from time to time on the discussion forums. I could have stood up for "my rights". But all that would have happened is that I would have spewed a lot of frustration and anger. I asked them to compensate me, and meet their obligations. She was honest, and told me where they stood. I had a fall back position, and I was happy to go there. I could easily do business with them again.....not sure if I want to!......but should she end up somewhere else down the round, I have not burned a bridge, and I know she is someone I can trust. And she knows that I can behave professionally.

We sometimes focus all our energy on our reputation for the quality of work we produce. But the reputation we develop as a business person is also important. How are you to work with? Do you meet your obligations? If you can't, do you own up, or leave people hanging? It is never easy to let people down. But to do it in a responsible way is always better than to quietly slink away hoping the problem will go away. It won't. And your reputation will suffer.

It really is as simple as the lessons we learn in grade school. Be honest. Don't make promises you can't keep. And if you do, own up.


Anonymous said...

To me, this is your most thought-provoking post yet! It's so easy to "not let them get away with it" or to say "it's the principle"....etc. I hope, in the future, I will refer back to this post before getting all riled up and saying or doing things I'll regret.

Tammy Vitale said...

What a great post! What a nice solution you worked out...mostly for yourself, really, because it didn't use up any energy getting stalled with that buyer. Good for you! You kept moving forward even tho I know it must have been really disappointing for you. Inspirational!

Kim Cavender said...

I'm sorry to hear that, Judy. It looks like practically everyone is feeling the economic pain. I'm glad you have some cranes on hand for the ACRE show now. I have no doubt that they'll be flying to new homes soon!