Remember when you were a kid playing games? Sometimes your turn didn’t go so well. You immediately begged for a do over. If your friends were nice they let you go again. Here’s one instance where a business professional wished there were do overs in business.
A vice president had a senior professional leading a team working on a major project. There were people from different departments on the team. The way the team was getting funded was that all of the participants would bill for their time on the project. The senior professional was serving as project manager. It was an internal team so it wasn’t like money was actually changing hands, but it did impact individual budgets.
One of the participants had billed the senior professional for $100,000. The amount was expected, appropriate and deserved. This participant got an email from her boss asking why she had billed the project manager for a million dollars. This participant was shocked. She hadn’t billed for one million dollars. She had billed for $100,000. How could $100,000 be confused with one million dollars? She asked her boss, “Are you sure it’s not a typo?” It wasn’t.
This was an organization, like most organizations, where attention to maintaining one’s budgets was very important. She was now being questioned about this over billing which she did not do. What had happened?
Someone had gone to the vice president without speaking to the project manager and reported this over billing. The vice president never questioned the hearsay. The project manager knew nothing about the claim. Now the participant was angry and did her best to repair the damage to her reputation. She was being accused of billing for time she didn’t work.
She immediately replied to her boss and gave him the actual number. She then called the project manager and asked what he knew about the invoice. He told her that he didn’t know what was going on and had never reported getting a million dollar invoice from her. She believed him. The person reporting it was making a false claim. By then, the vice president realized what really had happened and had to repair several damaged relationships with his subordinates. But, it was too late for a do over.
Can you imagine listening to third hand information about egregious behavior and acting on it in business today? I was shocked to hear that someone so senior wouldn’t have the sense to directly question the person involved when the issue is so important. He never called the project manager to ask about the invoice. That was a huge mistake. I’m sure the vice president won’t make this mistake again.
Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt once told a reporter, “Academic politics is much more vicious than real politics. We think it’s because the stakes are so small.” Business politics can be vicious, too. In business though, the stakes are not small. After all, your reputation and your job is at stake.