Don't Ask The Question Unless .....
Saturday, June 09, 2012
Trying to please one of my wonderful blog followers, I’ve put this tiny portion of my life together as a short story.
Many years ago, I was working as a management recruiter and trainer for fast food chain Jack-in-the-Box. In order for me to be a successful recruiter, we had a contract with a national known company (which will remain nameless). The efforts of the creative team that had our account didn’t produce the results we wanted, so I requested to be assigned a different team. We were assigned a team of two young women who actually came to our place of business instead of requiring us to make the trek downtown to meet at their workplace.
They interviewed me and asked what an ideal manager would be like. They wanted to know the characteristics that were seen in our best managers – how they looked, what was their work ethic, how aggressive or passive they were, essentially everything I was as a restaurant manager (that was very close to true – I had started with a nearly new unit that after two managers was still in the low volume range and for three years I lead it to double digit percentage increases over the same week of the prior year. I had turned it into a high volume restaurant from sales of $416,000 per annum to $2.6 million per annum). The two ladies then interviewed our HR V.P. to confirm or modify what I wanted to see and our V.P. changed nothing.
Within a week they had worked up a campaign that my V.P. and I thought was really hot. We started with their advertising campaign and not only did we have a bigger response, the quality of the candidates went up. They routinely refreshed the wording and style of the advertisement and we had acquaintances in other fast food chains tell us our ads Always stood out in the newspaper (the Houston Chronicle).
These two ladies left the national firm and opened up their own small firm and, of course, we were assigned a new team. Back to the past, we had to go to them. I guess they were so busy they didn’t have time to waste on customer service.
As soon as their advertising campaign hit, we saw a drop in both the number and quality of applicants.
We requested a change in the campaign, and to their credit, they did change it. However, the results didn’t change.
We asked for a third change, with the change of account managers, and received that change along with a call from their Regional V.P. complaining we were too “picky” and insinuating they would rather drop us then have to undergo all the "nit-picking" to which we were subjecting them. You can probably guess how that went over with me.
We were within three months of a contract renewal, so I tracked down the small firm Sally and Janice had started and asked them to propose a new campaign for us. They explained that they had signed a 3 year no-compete clause where they would not solicit former customers. I said that was fine because they hadn’t solicited us, we had tracked them down and gone to them.
As before, they came up with a unique campaign even better than what they had before, and we informed the national agency we were not going to renew our contract and signed a contract with Janice and Sally's agency.
Approximately six months later, Sally and Janice came to us and said they were being sued for breaching their contract with the national company, and they, regrettably, could no longer run our campaign.
That made me furious and I went to my V.P. with a rant about how this national company was trying to force us to run Our business to Their advantage. After speaking with our legal team, she spoke with our Regional Exec, and he agreed to continue to use Sally and Janice. He also wanted to re-write our contract with them for us to include “bonuses” for going above certain fairly easily achieved objectives – and so we did. He had decided we were going to support what we considered a part of Our team over the big, impersonal, national agency.
As expected, I was called as a witness for both the plaintiffs and the defendants.
When it came time for me to testify for the plaintiffs, the lawyer obviously had a script designed to convince the judge that his company had been injured by the tiny, two-woman advertising company. His questions were designed to solicit only a “Yes” or “No” answer.
When he asked, “Wouldn’t you say that a national company would be more likely to meet your companies needs and that the defendants, violating our contract with them, did not have the facilities to provide you with the service your company needed”?
Recognizing a loaded question (which started to fire up my steam engine), I started to explain about the creativity and the results when he interrupted, “Yes or no”, and repeated the question. For the second time, I tried to tell him I couldn’t answer the question with a simple “Yes” or “No”, when I was again interrupted with the demand I answer his question, and only his question. I started to get hot.
When he asked the question the third time and I still couldn’t answer to his satisfaction, he asked that in light of the fact I had been called by both parties and “would not” answer his question that the judge designate me a “hostile witness” and he could try to intimidate me in some other sort of unnamed style of questioning.
Before the Judge answered him, I turned and asked for permission to talk to the judge before he made his decision and explained to him that the “loaded” question was the equivalent of asking me “When did you quit beating your wife”.
The judge thought for a moment, then told the attorney for the plaintiff that he would withhold judgment on his request and told me to answer the question how I felt I should.
I proceeded to explain, “While it might be true that in many cases a small agency could not provide the services for a specific company, for us it was a question of creativity, results and customer service. With the small agency, with whom we had worked while they were still employed at the large agency, we got what we wanted. I told the attorney our experiences both before and after Janice and Sally left and what we had tried to accomplish with the large agency, but had not received.
I told him that neither Janice nor Sally had approached us in any way and that WE had tracked them down and solicited them to work for us. They had brought up the possibility of them being in violation of their contract. I explained that since they didn’t solicit us but we had solicited them and that our lawyers didn’t believe they could be accountable for something We did, in a completely legal manner.
The attorney’s face had started to redden, and he popped up with an “Objection”. The judge said “Denied”, then turned to me and said to me, “Please continue your testimony, but wind it up please”.
I paused a moment, then said, “In this instance, it all boils down to who wins and who loses. I’m the manager of a pretty good Pony League baseball team, the Pirates, and for the past two years we have been successively second, then first in our league and have gone on to contribute the most players to our league All-Stars. On the other hand, we have the Houston Astros (at the time they were worse than the Chicago Cubs and “wait for next year” was more “wait for the new decade”). They are a large, national organization. If my kids played the Astros, 100 times out of 100 the Astros would beat my Pirates. In our situation, the results are completely reversed. It would be the equivalent of my Pirates beating the Astros 90% of the time. The national agency is the loser and the smaller local organization are the winners. Naturally, our company wants to go with a proven winner who pays attention to us as opposed to the large, very impersonal company that looks at us as a small time, “You’re too much to bother with client.”
“And that’s what we know, judge.”
The plaintiff’s attorney and the company representatives were shell-shocked. After a minute of silence, their attorney said, “No more questions, your Honor”, and I was excused.
Later, called for the defendants, I was asked to compare month by month results from the time Sally and Janice worked with us at the large agency through our experiences with the large agency and back to working with Sally and Janice. The figures showed a glaring difference between what Sally and Janice produced and what the national company produced without them.
Released, I sat in the hall and awaited the results. I knew what the results were when the plaintiffs came out with blanched, blank faces, and when Sally and Janice popped out of the chambers with really huge smiles, grabbed me and danced in the hallway. Not only had the Judge ruled in their favor, but he ordered the national company (he called them bullies) to pay their attorney’s fees and all court costs.
And that's why I've always tried not to ask a question when I wasn't pretty sure of the answer.