Professional Jeweler Archive: Ignoring Troublemakers Can Lead to Trouble

December 2000


Ignoring Troublemakers Can Lead to Trouble

The problems that make people angry may limit your profits also

Because people – managers and the managed – enjoy a collegial, friendly working environment, they also dislike boat-rockers, critics and troublemakers. They don't listen and frequently look for ways to get rid of people who see what they don't.

At Kenner Toys, an African-American engineer badgered the company for years to make ethnic dolls whose features realistically reflect their race. As an experiment, he convinced the marketing department to mix about a thousand such dolls with others on store shelves, and they sold three times as fast as the rest.

Kenner still said "no" to a sustained effort. So the engineer, Jacob Miles, quit to form his own company, Cultural Toys, which sells ethnic dolls in Wal-Mart, Target and Toys 'R' Us and has strategic alliances with Hallmark.

Miles is part of a group of people who management consultant Wayne C. Burkan calls "the edge." They're frustrated employees, complaining customers or even competitors who have their own ideas about how things should be done. They may be wrong, but they also may see profitable opportunities where no one else does.

There are various tactics to tap the wisdom of these contrarians.

Learning from Mistakes

A paper manufacturer that was gearing up to go global assigned the company's most strident critic to the project task force. It made other team members groan – especially when, after 40 minutes into the first meeting, "Tony" broke his silence to accuse the company of not believing in globalization.

After the team leader jumped on him, Tony pointed out that employees were rewarded by how quickly and efficiently they resolved client problems. Such issues took longer to resolve with foreign clients, however, because of time differences, special requirements and red tape. However, the company made no allowances for these differences in its compensation program.

Separately, a construction supplies wholesaler finally succeeded in gathering five former customers for a gourmet lunch. In addition to the meal, attendees received $300 for attending and speaking bluntly about why they were angry with the company. "Where else do you get wined, dined and paid to tell me why I'm an ass?" read the invitation.

On the upside, the president learned about glaring problems he hadn't known existed. Turns out that if his warehouse didn't have an item in stock, it would deliberately ship the wrong one. This made the warehouse's turnaround time look good, but enraged the customer. Then if the customer tried to return the product, accounting would behave as though the problem were the customer's. It also would delay the customer's refund for months.

As a result, the wholesaler overhauled his business which, after 18 months, showed a substantial increase in revenue.

– Mark E. Dixon

Copyright © 2001 by Bond Communications