Different Experiences in the Public and Private Sectors

Over the course of the last few months, I’ve had three organizations/businesses bother me in connection with one product sold by one company that we’ll call Round Pals. I found their intersection to be particularly interesting.

Private Company 1

The first organization was a competitor that we’ll call Big Guys. Big Guys wrote a cease and desist letter to Round Pals for using an image online that legally belonged to Big Guys. The cease and desist letter was very well-worded, firm but polite and said, “We would never intentionally infringe on the copyrighted materials of other companies and we believe that Round Pals wouldn’t either, which is why we know that, having brought this infringement to your attention, you will stop using our intellectual property.”

Round Pals immediately stopped using the material and wrote to tell Big Guys exactly that. All was professional and cordial. No harm. No foul.

Private Company 2

The second company was the manufacturer of a major product sold by Round Pals; we’ll call this manufacturer Safe Co. In trying to negotiate for a better price on Safe Co.’s product, based on purchases of the exact same Safe Co.-manufactured product elsewhere, Safe Co. became concerned.

As it turned out, Safe Co. was not selling the product for what Round Pals was getting it for elsewhere, and Safe Co. wasn’t sure how Round Pals was finding the product for so little. However, Safe Co. handled its concern and correspondence in a professional way, despite believing that this, being a safety product, was a major issue. We all really appreciated the way that Safe Co. (so far – the issue remains unresolved) has handled this issue.

Government Agency

And then there was the government agency. Boy was the government agency and its representatives horrible.

They threatened, they intimidated, they bullied, they badgered.

They were rude. They were manipulative. They were unkind. They were unprofessional.

I’d say I’ve never seen anything like it, but as a turnaround professional, I see this all the time.

It was terrible dealing with this government agency because they didn’t care about time or money wasted – they just cared about ticking things off their check lists and moving on. But only moving on between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. In the intervening hours they couldn’t care less.

We repeatedly asked this government agency for documented proof of our errors and supposed wrong-doing. We asked to see the regulations. But they had none. Indeed, they misquoted their own documents and regulations, and sent us a 160+ page document about something other than what we were talking about and doing when we asked for clarification on our alleged error.

It was borderline pathetic.

The Moral of the Story

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again. We have got to run government more like a business.

There are plenty of problems with the private sector, yes, but when I have private sector problems, I mostly find myself working in professional environments with mutual respect for time, money and energy. We also usually come to fair and amicable solutions to our problems. Not everyone ends up happy all the time or with what they want (often times this isn’t the case), but it’s amazing how different the approach and attitudes can be. Not always, but frequently enough that I found these three instances all revolving around one product a particularly illustrative case.

Do you have any examples that run notably in favor of or counter to my point?

Quick Lessons from Unfortunate Signs


Today’s quick lesson comes to you from the sign you see above, which I spotted on a recent weekend get-away. I’m sure it didn’t take you long to spot the mistake, did it?

That’s right. It’s not a “collard shirt” like collard greens, the delicious veggie dish enjoyed in many a southern restaurant. It’s collared shirt, as in, my shirt has a collar so I look more professional.

This sign, on the other hand, does not look professional.

Everybody makes typos (myself included), but my hunch is that this isn’t a meer typo. If it were a typo, my presumption is that it would have been fixed by now since this sign was just printed on a piece of regular paper and hasn’t been laminated or anything.

So there are a few lessons to be derived from this sign, the most basic among them being, edit your work and get someone else to edit your work, too.

On a larger business scale, don’t do things poorly or half way. You don’t look professional and people don’t want to do business with you. Perhaps you recall my white board story about the company that wanted to move across the country and be operational again in a weekend. When someone isn’t “editing” your work, you end up with sloppy results, like error-filled signs and factories that don’t run properly. Neither gives other people the confidence to do business with you.

A shoddy sign implies shoddy workmanship for your products which implies shoddy management. That may not be the reality – you might be a great manager – but that doesn’t keep the public from feeling that way about you when you put things into the public sphere that are riddled with errors.

Don’t do half-baked work. It undermines your credibility and public perception.

Have you ever gone half-in and looked unprofessional? What would you have done differently?