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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE "CAN DO" MENTALITY

What ever happened to the "Can Do" mentality of the United States? Let me give you an example; 1982 was a particularly profitable year for our company. We were flush with cash and like a lot of other companies in such a situation, wanted to spend it before the end of the year as opposed to letting the government tax us for it. At the time, we were in need of a new computer. PC's were not in vogue yet, and mainframes were cost prohibitive. Instead, we were interested in a midrange computer that could suit both our development and administrative needs. After considerable investigation, we settled on a DEC VAX (an 11/750 with VMS) from Digital Equipment Company in Massachusetts, a fine machine with a good reputation for reliability and service. Keep in mind, such computers back then were high ticket items costing thousands of dollars.
There was just one problem with the computer; we couldn't buy it. True, we had plenty of money, but we had difficulty finding a salesman to take our order. The last week of the year is always bad in terms of people taking time off between Christmas and New Year's Eve, but a big company like DEC should have someone around, right? Wrong. We ended up speaking to a salesman who was more interested in the holiday break than in selling us a computer. When we realized he was incompetent, we asked for another salesman. The second rep said he could take the order and would begin the paperwork in terms of setting us up as a customer and performing a credit check on us, which would take several weeks to complete. This was unacceptable, so we had to make additional calls to find the right person, a sales manager.
We explained to the manager we had spoken to his underlings who didn't seem to comprehend our situation. We said, "Look, it's simple, you've got a computer on your docks which we want to purchase; we'll send you a certified check by overnight mail, if you can process the contract and ship the product within 24 hours." The salesman sensed the urgency of the matter and understood the necessity for acting promptly (as he didn't want to lose the sale). "Can do, Sir," was his response. We processed the check accordingly and promptly received the computer from DEC. All of the bureaucratic problems as described by the DEC underlings never materialized and everybody was happy with the transaction, all because the DEC sales manager knew how to take some initiative and conquered all of the obstacles in his way.
Three years later, in 1985, we were planning on moving our offices from Cincinnati, Ohio to our present location in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Again, keep in mind, we were not dealing with PC's that could be easily packed up and shipped accordingly. Instead, we would need a team of technicians from DEC to break the computer down and another team to set it up on the other end in Florida. Many people warned us it would take weeks to make the migration; "It can't be done in a weekend," we were told.
Fortunately, we had established a good relationship with DEC's Customer Service group and knew some key managers who had a "Can Do" attitude. We met with them and explained our move and asked for their assistance. On the day of the move, on a Friday, we backed up the computer one last time before powering it down. The DEC team then came in and took it apart and packed it for shipping. The last thing loaded in the moving van was the computer with its many terminals and other peripherals. The time - 5:00pm.
Our company then moved by convoy down I-75 until we arrived at our new offices in Florida. At 8:00am on Monday, the DEC technicians arrived and helped us unload the computer and move it into its new room. By 9:00am, Monday morning, the computer was powered up with everything connected and our developers began to work. In other words, we didn't miss a beat, all because of a little planning and a "Can Do" mentality.
You don't see too much of "Can Do" anymore in business, it's more of a "Can't Do" attitude instead. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps because we tend to overly micromanage people and, consequently, they no longer feel empowered to take action, waiting instead for authority to do so. Perhaps people are not properly motivated either. Regardless, I see this "Can't Do" attitude permeating our society. It is very negative and to my way of thinking counterproductive.
I'm not going to be one of those old fuddy-duddies who says this is how we did something years ago, but there is definitely something to be said about someone with a "Can Do" mentality. It's always a pleasure to work with anyone, regardless of their occupation, who knows what they are doing, and does it well. Some call it "confidence," some call it "empowerment." I call it, "Can Do!"
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com
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