When I searched online for content on business proverb lies and mistruths I was amazed by the digital library’s breadth and depth. The myths apply to business in general, as well as specific industries, start-ups and the new economy. And while proverbs come and go, some are perennials – the most recurring being those that have been around for so long they’re engrained as truth – no one thinks to question them. Who in their right mind would argue the importance of customers, shareholders and strategic based decision-making? Certainly not me. But I’ll gladly tell you that the following proverbs need challenging:
1. The Customer is Always Right. To this, I say, “BS.” Depending on the circumstance, you either keep quiet when the customer is wrong or you diplomatically make a correction (with rational reasons). Ultimately, customers will respect you for your honesty and your service ethic; if they don’t . . . well, what can I say other than you can sleep well at night knowing you gave them what they needed, which was a helluva lot better than what they wanted. You might even lose that customer. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea. Surely it is time companies and sales executives transformed this myth into improved customer service mantras such as service wins the game or there are no traffic jams along the extra mile of customer care. Never in the history of business has attention to customer-service been more critical.
2. The CEO’s First Responsibility is to the Shareholders. This is also crap. No question, business can’t exist without shareholders and yes, increasing shareholder value is one of the CEO’s most important responsibilities. But the shareholder does not always come first. Employees come first, customers second and shareholders third. The notion is based on the premise that happy employees create happy customers and happy customers create happy shareholders. This moving wheel of satisfaction is a marvelous way of pacifying the shareholder who raises an eye at the thought of not being #1. In my experience, the CEOs who put their employees first were the most successful at building businesses and the most fulfilled. I can vouch for that in the CEO afterlife; I remember people, not profits. But, by God I delivered the profit or I wouldn’t have been in the C-Suite long enough to provide a healthy environment for employees to reach their potential.
3. The Decision has been made for Strategic Reasons. Unfortunately, I can’t shout “BS” to this because bad decisions are made for strategic reasons. Here’s the problem: the strategy is bad. What makes my blood boil is the ongoing reliance upon the word “strategy” to justify stupidity from above. Because there isn’t a logical explanation for an ill-conceived move, messengers use “strategy” as a crutch. They say, “I don’t like it either, but from what I’m told, so-and-so made the call for strategic reasons.” Generally speaking, if the decision is dumb, then the strategy is dumb too.
So what do you do the next time you encounter one of these myths in a business conversation? If you are the boss, holler “BS” at the top of your lungs. On the other hand, if your boss is the one spewing the BS, then the most prudent career move is to grin and count to 10 under your breath.