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TOUGH CALL: A Yard Divided

Intercompany conflicts at your yard are causing you to lose customers—and sales. What would you do? Vote now.

Who knew that your summer job at the local lumberyard would turn into a career? Not you. But after finishing college and earning your business degree, you considered your alternatives, and realized that you could do far worse trying to climb the ladder at some unknown company. Plus, you’d proven yourself a valuable member of the team—a team that you enjoyed and appreciated.

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So, 15 years ago, when the owner offered you a full-time, permanent position, you grabbed it. During that time, you’ve learned a tremendous amount, not just about selling materials, but also about building science, and how different materials can help your builder customers build smarter/better/faster/ less expensively.

You feel really good about how you’ve evolved professionally. By selling more, you’re earning more money. You believe strongly that you’re also a valuable asset for your builder customers, and you’re a loyal team player. Unfortunately, the company culture has devolved from a fun and effective company to a place rife with inter-company politics. While you understand that work isn’t always going to be fun, you should be able to count on cooperation from other departments. You can’t. That’s the problem.

Within your modest-sized company of about 40 people, there’s a distinct division with two different groups (in high school, they’re called “clicques”), and members of these groups do not play nicely with each other. You have no interest in choosing sides; you just want to do your work. But it’s not that simple.

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Last week, one of your customers placed a large order with you, and she made clear that the products had to be delivered on-time to the jobsite and had to be complete. On-time and in-full is something that your company used to tout as an advantage, and it helped you grab some business away from a competitor.

The materials arrived from your distributor in plenty of time, but a conflict between receiving and dispatch resulted in a mess. In short, the delivery was six hours late (which meant your builder paid her crew to sit and wait). And there were key items missing, which meant your builder lost a full day.

“I enjoy working with you, and believe you’re doing your best,” she said, “but this is completely unacceptable. Unless your company wants to pay my crew to sit and wait for a full day, then I’m going to have to move my business to your competition.”

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The general manager had been ignoring the growing discord within the company, apparently hoping that it would just go away. You hoped that this very blunt message, from one of your primary customers, would finally serve as a wake-up call. It didn’t. “Things happen,” he said. “We’re not perfect, and if she’s going to move her business because we messed up one order, then fine. She’ll be back.”

With the overall market bouncing back, your company’s sales have managed to stay flat this past year—despite losing some key customers. The owner isn’t involved in the day-to-day business, so has yet to notice the growing number of red flags. You feel a lot of loyalty to the company, but you believe it’s a sinking ship.

What would you do?

Move on: Time to find a new company that’s moving forward, not in decline.

Talk to owner: Let the owner know what’s going on, and share your concerns.

Stick it out: Trust that the GM and owner are working together to right the ship.

Work it out: Let the offending parties know that you’re losing business, and ask for them to help save your company and your jobs.

What would you do?

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