Oswald Letter

Do Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures?

Is anyone else concerned about the decisions being made by companies during the current economic crisis?  Let me rephrase that. Is anyone else concerned about the decisions being made by the PEOPLE inside some companies during the economic crisis?

Let’s face it, people make decisions. The decisions may be made on behalf of an organization, but they’re still made by individuals acting alone or as a group.  And, frankly, I’ve got big questions about some of the decisions being made.

“Desperate times call for desperate measures” is a quote that is so old that no one is sure about it’s origins, but is it true?

I believe that these are desperate times for some companies and individuals. But desperate is a bad place to be when it comes to decisionmaking.  Here’s the definition of desperate:

  1. reckless or dangerous because of despair or urgency
  2. having an urgent need, desire, etc.
  3. leaving little or no hope; very serious or dangerous
  4. extremely bad; intolerable or shocking
  5. extreme or excessive
  6. making a final, ultimate effort; giving all
  7. actuated by a feeling of hopelessness
  8. having no hope; giving in to despair

Take any one of those definitions and apply it to the decisionmaking process, and the results are not likely to be good. The individuals who are in leadership positions within a company must make sure they are not acting out of desperation — and that employees are not as well.

Take for example a sales representative who is really struggling and posting the worst sales numbers of her career. She works largely on commission so her income has been hit hard. And with a husband and three kids who depend on her, she’s feeling the pressure. Do I dare say she’s beginning to feel a little desperate? So she makes a decision, out of desperation, to pad her sales numbers by submitting a falsified sales order. Her manager, so thrilled that his struggling rep has landed a big deal, pushes it through without question. Senior management is excited to have the business — it sure will help this quarter’s numbers.

But this type of activity catches up with everyone. When the customer refuses to accept the order they did not place, everything unravels. The rep must admit she falsified the sale.  It’s likely she will lose her job. The sales manager must admit he wasn’t diligent in reviewing the sales order and return the quarterly bonus he received largely due to this sale. And the company may even find it necessary to restate its quarterly results, tarnishing its image.

Desperate times? You bet. Desperate measures. Never. Actions taken out of desperation and hopelessness are unlikely to work. It’s that simple.

So what are the lessons about how management and employees must act during these difficult economic times? Here are a few:

Desperate times call for bold measures, but never desperate measures. Never act out of desperation, it’s a recipe for disaster. Decisions made out of hopelessness or despair are likely to turn out bad. Make sure that your ideas are properly vetted — especially by someone you respect from outside the organization who may not be feeling the same pressure you are.

Desperate times call for greater oversight. Managers must realize that people are feeling the pressure to perform, now more than ever, and that it could cloud their judgment. Managers must be diligent in making sure that employees don’t step over the line and compromise their own integrity and possibly hurt the organization’s reputation.

Desperate times call for better communication. In the current economic environment, good managers are openly sharing the organization’s situation and what needs to be done for the company to succeed. But a manager must also clearly communicate that employees must continue to act ethically and responsibly. You don’t ever want to send a message that “anything goes” in order to reach the stated goal. Right now, a “do whatever it takes” to make this month’s number can be a dangerous statement. Be careful and clear with your communications.

Many of us are in uncharted territory in our professional lives. We have not managed during an economic time like we are in now. How we act will demonstrate our true character. We all must make sure that we do not act out of desperation and take actions that will destroy our credibility or call our character into question.

I’ll leave you with this quote: “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.”