Whatever Happened to 'A Deal is a Deal'? By Bill Catlette
November 2005

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In this issue...
  • Featured Article - Whatever Happened to 'A Deal is a Deal'?
  • Contented Cows Message Plays Well to SHRM Audiences
  • Buy the Book or CD at the Cow Store

  • Featured Article - Whatever Happened to 'A Deal is a Deal'?

    By Bill Catlette

    When I was about 15 years old, my family moved to a brand new house that my parents built. During the construction phase, it was necessary to use a substantial amount of fill dirt to bring the front and side yards up to grade. Instead of dirt, my dad took advantage of the fact that we had a number of neighboring factories and chemical plants whose smokestacks belched huge clouds of foul smelling stuff into the air, and left behind tons of fly-ash. Our home became the new home for a LOT of this fine, gray, gritty stuff. I remember it well because my dad needed a way to get the fly-ash distributed from the spot in the front yard where the giant trucks dumped their load, to where it was needed around the foundation of the house. That's where having two teenage kids can become an asset.

    Conscripted for the summer, my brother and I spent every day pushing wheelbarrow loads of this stuff to where it was needed and then dumping and distributing the load. Fly-ash is nasty. It gets on (and in) everything - your eyes, ears, underwear - you get the picture. It was hot, sweaty, dirty work, the upside of which was that my dad had committed to pay us for our efforts. Though I don't remember the exact amount, it wasn't a lot. As I recall, there wasn't exactly a surplus of household funds after dad got done paying the builder, and besides, my father takes pride in throwing nickels around as though they were manhole covers.

    Growing up in West Virginia, it didn't take my brother and me long to figure out that a well-timed, well- publicized work stoppage might help improve our economic lot. So one hot sunny Sunday afternoon, we brought out the picket signs we had spirited away in the basement, and went on strike. We chose Sunday because we figured we might get a sympathy vote from our minister, who lived just up the street. Moreover, since that was our only day off each week, we could get back to working (and earning) the next day if the strike thing blew up on us.

    Long story short, the strike ended after two days, chuckles from neighbors, and yes, a chat dad had with the preacher. My dad summoned my brother and me and asked us each if we hadn't agreed to work for the 50 cents an hour or whatever our wage was. "Uh... yes sir." Then came the hammer. "When someone, say one of your friends, makes a deal with you, and then breaks their word, how does it make you feel?" he asked. Gulp. And then came a valuable lesson, a gift from my father that has stood with me throughout my adult life. "A deal is a deal," he said.

    To dad's credit, a day or so later, he compassionately (and wisely) renegotiated 'the deal' from pay for time, to a more lucrative (for everyone) piecework rate.

    Owing to that childhood lesson, in business and in life, I've made it a point to surround myself with people who believe similarly that 'a deal is a deal.' Michael O'Donnell, world-class ice climber and mountaineer, is a good friend and occasional business partner. When he's at work, Michael reeks of professionalism, which, to me means that you never have to look over your shoulder to see if the guy is doing what he's supposed to. He would rather cut off his left arm than let someone down. Maybe in his case that comes from his climbing background, where climbers are taught from the start that uttering the words, "on belay" means that you've got someone's life in your hands - quite literally. I do know this - it's a lot more pleasurable (not to mention productive) working and just being with folks like him.

    The same can be said for my full time business partner, Richard, and my wife and life partner, Mary. Ditto for the folks at Voice One who answer our phones, and our other virtual partners. Their word is their bond.

    I was reminded of this 'a deal is a deal' thing yesterday. Having flown to Minneapolis to deliver a keynote speech for the state's SHRM conference in St. Cloud, I was perturbed (no, highly p. o'd.) when the airline refused to allow me to board the Minneapolis - Memphis flight that I held a paid, reserved seat on because I had not taken the preceding St. Cloud - Minneapolis flight. I won't name the airline, but let's just say that, owing to the location of their headquarters, they fly to Minneapolis a lot.

    Breaking promises seems to be the thing to do these days for a lot of folks in the airline business. The extra $700 I had to fork over to get home from Minneapolis (trust me, it was a different airline) was puny, compared to what United and USAirways (or whatever their name is this week) retirees are experiencing. Abrogating one's deal with customers, suppliers, and people still in the workplace is bad enough. Doing it with retirees who don't have a lot of options is reprehensible.

    Sadly, it's not just the airlines. Many professional athletes seem to feel that having one or two good seasons entitles them to demand that their contract be renegotiated. If it's not, some sulk like babies, get 'hurt,' or demand to be traded. A certain wide receiver who made Sharpie pens famous comes to mind.

    Though it's not yet at critical mass, I fear that we are dangerously close to the point where each new baby born in America will be issued from birth, their own personal weasel-word spouting lawyer who will protect them from a land of insincerity, and vice- versa.

    The good news? We still have a choice. Personally, I've made mine, and I'm not waiting for New Year's to make and implement a few resolutions. Henceforth, I'm going to:
    1. Make it a point to let those around me know that I appreciate their sincerity and being good to their word.
    2. Revisit my own Commitments (upper case 'C' intentional) to ensure that the risk of my letting others down is narrowed substantially.
    3. Stop doing business with folks who can't absolutely, positively be trusted.

    As for that unnamed airline? Maybe if and when they emerge from their self-induced bankruptcy, they'll still fly to Minneapolis a lot, and call it their home. I don't really care, because they won't need any seats for me.

    Contented Cows Message Plays Well to SHRM Audiences

    We speak at lots of conferences of professional associations - from the British Columbia Food and Beverage Conference, to the National Welding Supply Association, and everything in between.

    Over the last few years, we've been invited by more and more Human Resources Associations throughout North America to bring the message that Contented Cows Give Better Milk to their conferences. One or the other (or in some cases both) of us have spoken for the following HR groups, mostly at their annual conferences, or in some cases, a monthly meeting:
    *SHRM Minnesota State Conference
    *Ohio State HR Conference
    *Long Island SHRM
    *Northern California HR Association Annual Conference
    *Metro Phoenix HR Association
    *Wisconsin SHRM
    *Shenandoah Valley (Virginia) SHRM
    *Jamaica (West Indies) Assn for Training and Development
    *Dallas HR Association
    *Houston HR Association
    *Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky SHRM
    *HR Association of Central Ohio
    *HR Professionals Association of Ontario (Canada)
    *HR Tampa

    HR pro's seem to find our message helpful - and one that they can take back to their organizations to help make positive changes - to make their companies better, and more profitable, places to work.

    If you're a member of an HR Professionals association (or any association, for that matter), why not suggest to those who plan your annual state conference that they get in touch?

    To find out more about bringing in one or both of the authors to speak for your association conference, or corporate meeting, click on the "Find Out More" link below. OR, pick up the phone, and call our office at 800-940-7006 (that's 904-720-0870 from outside North America). Or, send us an email and let us know how we can be of service. We look forward to hearing from you.

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