Ralph’s Regret – Originally Published in Inside Logistics

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Ralph could feel the sweat beginning to form, his chest tightening as he sat outside the boss’s office waiting for the hastily called meeting. It was last night at 10:30 when he received the text: “7:30 tomorrow morning, my office.”

The boss was rarely so blunt in his communication. So here Ralph sat, his mind racing with the possibilities. The mind can be an interesting thing and Ralph’s mind was feeding him lots of options. Hey, maybe it’s a promotion. After all, the division numbers have never been better. Month after month of top-line and bottom-line improvement. But, there was also the more concerning thought that some of the things Ralph was keeping from the boss had finally come to light.

As he sat waiting for the clock to strike 7:30, Ralph began to think about the realities of the last year. Three key managers reported to him, and when the best one resigned, the pressure was on to find the right person. The usual interview process ensued and Ralph felt fortunate to have three strong contenders. With the panel interviews and behavioural testing complete, it looked like Mark was going to be the right call. Only the reference checks remained.

With demand from above to put a new manager in place ASAP, Ralph rushed to complete the telephone reference checks. Unfortunately, one of the references reported that Mark had never directly reported to him. Ralph called the second individual three times but was unable to connect. Then, the final reference check gave cause for concern. Ralph clearly heard the hesitancy and caution in the reference’s voice, but quite frankly everything else seemed to line up so well. His next call was to Mark: “Congrats, you have the job.”

The first sign of trouble arrived early, on day three of Mark’s employment. With only a thin wall separating their offices, Ralph overheard a raised voice and a couple of thumps on the desk. While he couldn’t make out the words, he knew that this kind of interaction was way outside of the company’s culture. Chalking it up to a one-off incident, Ralph decided to stay busy with the many other things on his plate.

Only three weeks after Mark’s hiring, Ralph received an unusual request: a text at home from one of Mark’s subordinates asking if they could have a confidential conversation. Ralph agreed and was unhappy to hear that Mark had been placing tremendous pressure on his team with unrealistic deadlines, accompanied by inappropriate outbursts of anger. Ralph listened and promised to look into the matter, but he never did, given his own significant workload and hopes that things would improve.

The all-important revenue and bottom-line numbers were improving. Over the first four months of Mark’s employment all the stats displayed the right trends. Mark was working admirably long hours and exceeding the targets that had been set. Hard numbers are easy to measure; morale is more subjective. Ralph decided that business as usual was in order.

By the end of the third quarter, it was clear that a record year for Ralph’s division was a distinct possibility. The only apparent downsides? Turnover amongst the team was an issue, and several exit interviews offered information about Mark that was concerning, if not alarming. Still, Ralph’s support remained in place.

Then Ralph made the biggest mistake in his career. He received a call from a long-time customer, also a business friend with whom Ralph had been connected for 15 years. The client was hesitant to make the call, but felt the relationship demanded it. He gave Ralph evidence that Mark had told a series of lies to cover up a significant mistake he had made. Mark didn’t think the customer would discover it, and he was unaware of the close relationship between Ralph and the client.

If Ralph acknowledged the client’s version of events, there would be no choice but to release Mark from employment. It would also mean a significant adjustment to the quarterly profit. If he disregarded the information, maybe there was a way through this mess?

The conversation that happened next was inevitable, given Mark’s behaviour and Ralph’s reaction to it:

At 7:29 the boss opened his door. “Ralph, take a seat. Some information has come to my attention that causes me great concern. I’m going to need your explanation and I suggest you think very carefully about the words you are about to say.”

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