Business Problems: The Pendulum Swings Wide

Oct 30, 2010, Written by Sue Miley

With almost any business problem I can think of it is unwise for leaders to let the pendulum swing wide.  You know, when your business or life decisions make you cringe when you think about them.  Those decisions, the cringing moments, are usually the types of things that cause us to overcorrect.

I will do almost anything to make sure I do not experience this pain, embarrassment, shame or some other seemingly negative emotion again.

To ensure a different result I might move so far in the other direction that the pendulum swings wide.

Business Problems: The Pendulum Swings Wide

Here is a practical example.  Suppose you hire an employee that you believe is a perfect fit for the job, your company and the company’s culture.  They start off with a bang and you give them more and more responsibility.  They have a key to the office.  They can sign checks.  They are so dedicated that they will even go out of their way at the end of the day to take the deposits to the bank.

One day the all star employee doesn’t show up for work.  This can’t be.  A couple of hours later the bank calls and tells you that you are overdrawn.  I can’t be overdrawn, we deposited $15,000.00 yesterday.  All of the blood drains from your face.  The panic sets in and you realize that their is a connection to the all star employee’s mysterious departure.

This experience is financially painful and embarrassing.  It also brings forth strong feelings of betrayal and mistrust.  You go ahead and hire a new employee.  You feel good that you did double and triple reference and credit checks.  It’s been 6 months and you are still handling all of the deposits and check signing yourself.  You asked everyone who had a key to the office to return them.  Even on your days off you must go in and open up and close.  You have become a prisoner of your own mistrust.  The pendulum has swung wide.

This is a dramatic scenario, but we have all heard worse in the news and experienced similar feelings on a smaller scale.

A more routine occurrence may be to reprimand an employee who takes it extremely poorly.  They become defensive, cry and blame you.  It was a difficult conversation to begin with, and in actuality, much worse than you even predicted.  You just wanted to give the employee feedback.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  Looking back over the past year since this occurrence you realize you haven’t provided performance feedback to this person or anyone else for that matter.  The negative experience was too painful.  You have overcorrected.  Again, the pendulum swings wide.

A Simple Process

Here is a simple process I go through to check myself and ensure an appropriate adjustment, rather than the sweeping pendulum swing:

  1. Review the business problem with objectivity – I try to go back and determine if my purpose was on course, my delivery and communication appropriate, and really try to assess the response or outcome.  In the example of the employee who stole funds, an honest assessment would reveal that there was not appropriate dual controls.  One employee should not have access to deposits, check signing, and free access to the building, checks, etc.
  2. Determine appropriate correction – changes may be needed, but allowing our anger or fear move the change needle 180 degrees can create another whole set of problems.  In the two cases above, minor changes may have made all of the difference necessary.  For example, with the emotional employee that did not receive feedback well, we know we need to continue giving feedback.  We may need to adjust our delivery.  It is better to give frequent feedback, good and bad, along the way rather than hold it all in until a performance problem occurs.  However, not providing feedback to that employee and any other employee creates a much bigger problem for the business and the employees.
  3. Get decision support and input from trusted sources – Since our objectivity is skewed with the pain of the outcome, we may need an objective person to help us assess the situation.  This may be a trusted source internally, or an outside Christian advisor or mentor.  Run the scenario by them.  Ask the advisor if your assessment makes sense and what changes they recommend.
  4. Write out a plan – Any time something blows up in our face it is difficult to be objective.  If we go through a logical assessment and are able to see appropriate changes we are starting out productively.  However, sometimes our emotions take over and we still act or do not act to the extreme.  I try to put the changes in writing in some format or another.  For example, with the employee feedback I might send out an email to all employees that I will begin conducting informal quarterly performance feedback sessions, or semi-annually if the company is big.  This commits the action to others and ensures an appropriate feedback program is in place.
  5. Pray about it – in the end I would pray about it.  I would ask God if there is something else you should see in the situation.  Is the assessment and response reasonable?  I would ask God to give me the self-discipline to carry out the changes in a reasonable manner and to fight against the pendulum swinging wide.

These Situations are Common

As leaders these situations are common place.  It’s part of life and the job.  When the pendulum swings wide, we swing with it.  Our employees, vendors and customers may also, depending on the situation.  The organization does not stabilize, it continues to swing out of control.

There is enough chaos and change without us creating our own.  Try this process to make 10 degree, 20 degree adjustments rather than sweeping 180 degree swings!

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.