Even when you don’t necessarily agree with all that a co-worker, boss, or subordinate thinks or does, you can still learn lessons from them. This was true many times over during my career, including a bit of advice one of my bosses passed along to me several years ago:
“The way it starts is usually the way it ends.”
The tenet refers to relationships, specifically business relationships. A relationship that begins respectfully with consideration given and received on all sides will usually continue on that path. When things begin contentiously, or are filled with strife and metaphorical sharp elbows, I can almost guarantee you there will be more of the same. It’s Newton’s First Law (a body in motion tends to remain in motion…) applied to the business environment.
Although I heard this advice repeated several times, I still had learn the lesson by attending the school of hard knocks.
A Cultural Divide.
Early in my career, I had the opportunity to work on an engineering design team that included both German and Korean companies and their respective engineers. From day one, the relationship between these two parties was rocky. The Korean engineer was unwilling to comply with demands made by the German team member, but rather than sort out their disagreements, the Korean engineer simply agreed to everything and then when home and did what he wanted.
It took the German team member about two cycles of this to recognize what was going on. He became exceptionally frustrated, but nothing he could say or do would persuade the Korean team member to change his ways.
The way it started was the way it ended. The project became a minor disaster, and once the product was launched, there were many problems, including an early recall.
Partners at Odds
I advocated and eventually closed a joint venture that was, for me, the penultimate proof of this little piece of wisdom. During negotiations over establishment of the JV, there were extended disagreements over salaries for the two partners. The arguments, which relied on facts and data on my side,and emotion and a single errant example on the other, became progressively more contentious and heated. No matter how much I discussed, reasoned, and compromised, it was clear the pair felt entitled to the stratospheric salaries they were demanding.
Eventually, I compromised, and while they didn’t get everything they wanted, the compensation was far above market levels, and far above what I thought was warranted.
I should have killed the deal.
The battle was a harbinger of what was to come. Many, if not most, of our future interactions involved emotional battles that logic and reason simply couldn’t break through. I watched as one of the pair lied to a supplier in order to win a sizable product defect settlement, an observation that shed a spotlight on how our relationship was also “managed” from their side.
Things ended badly with a firing, a resignation, a lawsuit, and both partners ultimately competing against us.
An inherited staff member showed me his true colors early in our relationship – I watched as he launched into an emotional tirade during a meeting, savaging pretty much anyone within range.
I knew by then that this type of behavior was unlikely to change, particularly if he was willing to display it so early in our working relationship. I was in favor of firing him, but was overruled by my boss.
In this case, however, I had him pegged. I saw the same pattern repeated over and over during the course of the next year. The guy was a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at the most unlikely of remarks or circumstances. It was a characteristic he had demonstrated from early days.
Eventually, I was able to transfer him to a small acquisition where he would be responsible for his own success or failure – no blaming others for his problems.
He lasted about 6 months.
Behaviors displayed early in a relationship, particularly when they are odd, contentious, or exaggerated, should never be ignored. What you see at “the start” is likely to be repeated with great frequency and intensity as the relationship progresses.
While I don’t subscribe to the notion that people “don’t change,” I will concede that they don’t do so easily or often. What you see at the beginning of the relationship is usually what you’ll see plenty more of as time goes on.
Keep your eyes open, and react accordingly.
Other Recent Posts:
- When to Walk Away from a Deal
- How many Execs does it take to Screw Up a Deal?
- Redialing the Deal
- Buy Low
- Businesses Always Look Simpler from the Outside
- The Consequences of Being Fired
- The Rich Really are Different
If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing. Novels: LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, DELIVERABLES and HEIR APPARENT. Coming soon -- PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES
Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS
This is the cover of the Audiobook version of LEVERAGE, which I narrated. The story revolves around an offbeat engineer working for Global Guidance Corporation who shows up one night at Mark Carson's house shot and bleeding out. Mark decides to investigate the crime himself, and plenty of complications ensue as he uncovers a wild conspiracy.
My novels are based on extensions of my 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations. Most were inspired by real events.