You never know…

It was Ed’s turn to lean forward in his chair, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Well, Fitz, people do business with people, not some balance sheet or projection or metric.  I’ve heard it said someone has to like you first before they’ll do business with you and I believe it.  We all know relationships are not linear things that can be put on a graph.”

“Yes, but if you could….”  Benjamin couldn’t help himself.  Out of Fitz’s field of view but in plain sight to Ed, he’d been squirming like a three year old trying not to wet his pants.  Fitz didn’t turn to look at him.

“Ed, what do you say you and me go into my office where we can talk in private?”

“Sure, Fitz.”

Benjamin watched the men walk away as if he were witnessing the splitting of the atom and just couldn’t wrap his head around it.  The two older men were barely out of the room before Benjamin exploded in a whispered whine at Alex.

“Did you see that?  Did you see that?  He’s talking in platitudes, not real, hard data!  “‘Relationships aren’t linear’” he mimicked in a weird voice.  ‘”People have to like you.’  For god’s sake Alex, the old man is going to chew us both out for bringing in this kook, right after he cans his ass!  Hunnicutt never saw a spreadsheet he didn’t love.”

“Take a breath, Benjamin before you stroke out on me right here and now.  I get you.  I hear you but I’m more worried about you and me than I am about Ed.”

“Well, of course!!  I don’t give a rat’s ass about Ed!  He’s toast.  The old man will never let him get by with all that sales/relationship mumbo jumbo.”

“I hope he doesn’t give him the axe, for your sake and mine, Ben.  Frankly, I’m a little worried that you and I aren’t in more jeopardy than Ed is.”


“You saw the way Hunnicutt listened to the little that Ed had to say.  There wasn’t a metric in all of it and he loved it.  I’m worried this might be like some sort of breath of fresh air to him.”

“What?  No, couldn’t be!”

“I don’t know.  You never know about these old guys…”

Benjamin was quiet save for the sound of his own breathing slowly calming while his mind began to race like a locomotive out of control in the other direction wondering what was going on behind the highly polished, wood door.

“Okay, Ed, let’s get to brass tacks.  Where are your sales in relation to last year?”

“Year-to-date we’re down 4.63%.”

“If your trend continues, where does that put you at calendar year-end?”

“Down 9.71%”

“Mmm, and the additional effort your guys are doing to cultivate new leads.  How many new prospects are they visiting on a monthly basis?”

“Across the board, we’re averaging three cold calls per week, with 8.5 follow-ups each week.”

“What’s your closing percentage?”

“Not good as you might expect.  Sometimes the worst time to approach someone about making a change is when things are tight.  However, we’ve managed to secure an order on 3.2% of our new calls.”

Fitzgerald leaned back in the leather chair and studied the coffee table in front of him.

“That’s not great but it’s not terrible.  We’ve been in this down cycle going on 17 months now.  As far as approaching someone in a bad economy I’ve seen it both ways, like I’m sure you have.  For one guy he pulls back, takes no chances, afraid that a change will throw him farther down the shitter while the next guy says, ‘I have to make some kind of change to improve or set myself apart to keep and perhaps even strengthen myself in the market.’  It can go either way.”

“It sure can, Fitz.”

“You know your territory Ed.  I appreciate that.  You know the hard and the soft of it.  Let’s change our focus here.  Any idea why you’re here talking to me?”

“Absolutely, Fitz.  Ben’s upset with my approach and reporting in meetings and he thinks you’ll probably fire me because I don’t know the numbers.  I think Alex knows I’m not ignorant but Benjamin, he’s staring down a tunnel.”

“Yes, Ben’s frustrated.  He loves digits.  Hell, I do too, but he doesn’t have the experience to appreciate nor allow any variability.  Frankly, he hasn’t been around long enough to have weathered a few of these storms where things go to shit for a while.  He’s not a bad kid, he’s just a kid.”

“I understand, Fitz but if I may I have some input on our monthly meetings and those reports.”

“Fire away, Ed.”

“Well, the numbers are what they are and honestly they’re out there if anyone wants to go look at what’s happening in my territory just like they are for everyone else.  In my opinion, we don’t need to sit around the conference room table and regurgitate percentages for an hour.  Other than a 10,000 foot view numbers-wise I think our time would be better spent discussing what we’re seeing in our sales cycle, our customers, our prospecting and how we’re perceived in the market.  Especially in this rough patch we’re in, the more we pass on that kind of information, the faster we’re going to win new customers in every territory.”

“You make a good point, Ed.  But we still need the numbers to back things up.  How do you propose we handle that?”

“You said it yourself, Fitz.  Ben loves numbers.  Let him compile his top six or eight metrics for each office and have that in front of us.  Then, let the managers explain those numbers.  Not with more numbers but how they’re trying to improve them and why they’re lagging if they are.”

“I like that idea, Ed.  Yes, I like that a lot.  It might also make those meetings a lot more efficient.  Anything else?”

“Well, there is just one more thing, Fitz but it’s a philosophy sort of thing.”

“Go ahead, Ed, lay it on me.  This old hippy used to be into that kind of thing up to my eyeballs.”

Fitzgerald couldn’t help but smile when he said it.  Ed grinned back.  They had both lived through that time.

“Well, Fitz, I promised myself when my wife died that I would change my focus, sort of the way I lived my life.  I used to be like Ben, just like him.  I lived and died by the numbers and a spreadsheet full of analysis was a beautiful, beautiful thing.  But then Alice died and I realized, in that empty house, that the numbers and graphs and all of it; they just didn’t comfort me, they didn’t make the life I wanted or needed.  I felt a lot of regret that while she was with me I didn’t take more time for her or the kids and I resolved to turn my focus on the people at work and not so much the numbers, not to micromanage them mind you, but to respect them and not just for how they could bring the numbers in the door so to speak.”

He took a deep breath, “Do you know what I mean?”

Fitzgerald had leaned back once again into the soft leather of his chair.

“100% Ed.  That’s quite a mouthful and you didn’t need a spreadsheet or a folder to deliver it.”

The two men smiled at each other.

“You know as well as I do, Fitz, the best and easiest message to deliver is one you believe in right here” and he tapped his chest.

“Absolutely, Ed and food for thought.  Well, I imagine we’ve let those young guys squirm long enough out there, haven’t we?”

“Yeah, I suppose.  About those guys, Fitz.  They’re young.  I see myself in them an awful lot.  They’re still learning and with some “seasoning” I think they’ll get there but in a way I feel like it’s sort of my responsibility to help them trust the process, trust the motion of things, not get so hung up on managing everything, especially the things you can’t control.  And if I can help them value and enjoy the people in their life, sort of give them the benefit of my experience, maybe they’ll be better for it, happier for it even.”

“Maybe, Ed, maybe, but that would make them a lot smarter than I was at their age.”

Rising from their chairs the two men smiled again as they made their way back to the conference room to burst some bubbles.

The art of backing off is elusive to say the least.  Sometimes we just can’t see how focusing on what’s not measurable can actually yield measurable and better results.  And sometimes, often, it takes time and experience, if we have the patience for it.

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