Can someone do a truly awful job by doing a good job?

It will probably take me many beers and many years to find an answer to the question that has been troubling me these past few weeks:

“Can someone do a truly awful job by doing a good job?”

Because the subject of my question is me and a team of people I’ve worked closely with, it’s led to many a sleepless night. Let me explain, and by all means if you can help me come to grips with this I’d really like to hear from you.

As you may or may not already know (and if you read my bio you will now), I work with and in businesses that have issues. In one particular case a naturally gifted entrepreneur quickly grew a privately-held company that set new records for having issues. Pick a discipline, function, legal, structural, financial, strategic or any tactical matter and you would have found severe issues in this company.

My role and mandate was and still is to engineer swift, significant and sustainable results and against this mountain of problems I (once again) had the benefit of working with a small team of highly focused and competent professionals that systematically resolved and reversed the bad trends plaguing this company. Because these matters needed to be dealt with urgently and expertly, recognizing company ownership would not be well-suited to actively participate as they were given status updates, progress reports, and ultimately the results everyone was looking for. By all accounts and measures, a good job by all!

However, rather than learning invaluable lessons that would serve the company and its stakeholders well into the future, and instead of recognizing the good fortune of a re-engineered healthy business where there had been dysfunction, a company ownership’s conclusion from the many corporate near-death experiences was sequentially: (a) the problems must not have been that bad because they were fixed quickly and apparently easily, (b) there would always be a capable clean-up crew available to instantly fix anything that might confront the company, (c) the company is simply blessed, (d) the company is better than and smarter than everyone else and is therefore invisible, indeed bullet-proof.

Consequently, ownership not only reverted to the business methodologies that got it into trouble in the first place they did so with an exaggerated vengeance. A truly horrible job, because what had been built proved not to be sustainable and in my world Harry Truman’s “the buck stops here” sign/slogan makes me fully accountable that we successfully climbed a huge mountain and then watched a corporate suicide leap.

Reflecting on it, had we failed along the way with one or a few of the initiatives and, had the company felt real pain at an interval or more, real lessons would have been learned and this would be a thriving company.

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