Lazy. Greedy. Stupid.
This is a post which has its roots many, many years ago in an observation I made one day at work during a managers meeting in an anonymous retail establishment. We were discussing a series of problematic incidents which had all, inevitably ended up costing the company in some way. Money, time and effort had gone into sorting out a large pile of hassle, much of which should never have happened in the first place. As we chewed over each situation and how they developed it became clear that they all had the same common features. At each stage from genesis to worsening to end of line pile up someone had done, one, two or all of three things in order to create or worsen the situation.
These three basic ingredients for a shambolic screw up were simply listed as Lazy, Greedy and Stupid. It struck me at the time that “Lazy, Greedy ,Stupid” might well be the common thread of pretty much all disasters in life, work, business and indeed the universe.
I came to think of them less as the four horsemen of the Apocalypse and more as the three donkeys of irritation. We’ll take a closer look at how these donkeys manufacture hassle and cause small problems to become a major pain in the behind.
This is often the start of a relatively small, slow burn problem that can either be sorted quickly or with a degree of apathy and incompetence, can become a much larger problem. In my retail situation for instance;
A customer required an out of stock item and the staff member took the details, filed them away and then didn’t bother doing anything further about it. Later, when the customer enquired about the belated arrival of the ordered item, another staff member didn’t bother following up and checking with the supplier to see what the delay was. When the customer called a second time three weeks had elapsed without anyone starting the process, the item still wasn’t in stock and we had an irritated, impatient and borderline angry customer.
Other flavours of lazy are also available: Ordering the wrong thing as someone couldn’t be bothered checking product codes or getting the colour wrong through lack of diligent enquiry or slapdash form filling. Spend a very few moments thinking and you will come up with a whole pile of things that can go wrong just because someone, on the day couldn’t be bothered to do a job of acceptable quality.
I see Greedy as an identical twin to Selfish and in the context of this article the two terms are used interchangeably. In the same retail situation outlined above there are many opportunities for greed to distort and complicate a fairly simple process. The requested item may be available from more than one supplier, one charging less than the other but being much less reliable in terms of holding stock for immediate despatch. Logically it makes sense to get a specially ordered item from the more reliable supplier at the cost of losing some margin. The benefits are fast fulfilment and a happy customer. Choosing the better margin opens up the possibility that the customer will get fed up waiting and acquire the item elsewhere. This is a double blow because as well as losing the sale you have successfully trained your customer to look to your competitors and once this door is open it is always harder to win them back.
In a similar vein we had a situation where a customer was directed to a particular ski jacket by one of our floor staff because the manufacturer was running a competition for shop staff where the prize was a week’s winter holiday in the Alps. There were lots of alternatives in stock in the right size but this choice had to be ordered in specially and inevitably wasn’t immediately available. Some weeks later, after lots of anxious, then annoyed and then angry conversations we gave the customer a much better jacket at a much reduced price and lost financially on the deal as well as peeing off the customer. The competition was closed by then and the original staff member didn’t much care that putting their own benefit ahead of the customer’s had caused the company, the customer and some of their colleagues a considerable amount of unnecessary work and hassle.
The inability of a business operator to say no to difficult work or hard to supply orders is often caused by a fear of missing a sale even when the foreseeable outcome is going to be more trouble than the sale is worth. Likewise, over-promising on delivery or completion dates is a sign that someone finds it hard to be honest with customers for fear of losing the business. The problem here is that once you start making stuff up you enter a world of complication where you will inevitably end up tying yourself in knots as you try to remember what story you told to what person. As Mark Twain said “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything”.
This is the ingredient that can be guaranteed to transform any minor mess into a calamitous fiasco. No matter how annoying or difficult a situation you find yourself in there is nothing that can’t be made worse with a generous dash of stupidity. This is apparent if we go back to the original example of an unordered retail item and follow on from the original mess up. Lazily, someone didn’t bother to order the item in the first place and then didn’t bother to follow up with either the supplier or the customer. Greedily the item was ordered from a less reliable supplier for reasons of personal or corporate gain. Now that we have an annoyed customer who has been kept waiting too long and has been kept in the dark the conditions are perfect for someone to really screw up by doing something stupid.
This could be any one of a whole slew of things. Some common actions that I have witnessed include: continuing to do nothing and hiding away from the customer, presenting the wrong item and insisting that that is what the customer ordered in the first place (a popular option in some restaurants), claiming that the item is no longer made or has been discontinued despite evidence to the contrary and many others.
My all time favourite from a life in retail was when I became involved at the latter stages of an ordering disaster and, after taking a thorough shellacking from the customer endeavoured to source an item which the supplier had long been sold out of.
I called in every last favour I had with the distributor’s staff and sales reps. They hunted down all the stockists they had and enquired if they had any left. Eventually one of their reps managed to persuade a shop in Southern England to give up one of theirs and send it to me. I labelled the item, put it on the “Special orders” shelf and let the customer know. The next day I was called down to the floor as the customer was in and nobody could find the item in question. It transpired that one of the staff had taken the box from the “Special orders” shelf, removed the labels marking the box as a special order and sold it to someone else earlier that morning. We had had it on our premises for less than a day and now I really was stuffed. As well as getting yet another ear bashing from the customer I now knew that my options were exhausted and that there was no chance of getting another one until the next season which would mean a delay of about three more months. I haven’t worked there for some time but I doubt if that customer has ever been back since. It takes a lot to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this manner but by golly we managed it.
So there you have it; Lazy, Greedy and Stupid. A special triumvirate that leaves chaos, panic and unhappiness in its wake.
It is easy to see how it had an effect in the retail world that I inhabit but so many negative things in the life around us are, I would suggest, identifiable using the same analytical frame. From business to politics, relationships to teaching if you turn your attention to the analysis of what went wrong you will find lurking at the heart of disaster the same toxic trio of Lazy, Greedy and Stupid.
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