When not to listen

Author Keith Jennings
April 30, 2018 - 03:30pm

All shops love repeat work. Sometimes too much, and therein lies a problem.

Many shop managers ask, “Why spend  development hours  on new projects when the gravy stuff continues to come in?” Answer: Because diversification of a shop’s customer base is essential to growth. Complacency and comfort can be dangerous to any business if allowed to permeate.

I’ve certainly read my share of stories about U.S. companies that were bought out, relocated or merged. Then the new owner took the company’s expertise and improvements and passed them on to a new supplier in Asia.

As a result of these new realities, it’s essential that you pursue new accounts so your customer base becomes as diversified as possible. 

On the other hand, what happens if your lead engineer or shop manager says “no” to some of that diversification? What if he or she doesn’t recommend taking a job that you’ve evaluated and determined may be worthwhile? After all, it’s a given that the engineer’s or manager’s input is valuable and carries a lot of weight.

There are times, however, when your instincts tell you to ignore feedback and take a different path. Sometimes it’s necessary to take some risk—to “go it alone”—whether it’s about recruiting new business or some other aspect of running your shop. 

Making the wrong decision now and then is inevitable and may lead you to question your judgment. Don’t. Even if a situation doesn’t work out, it’s not indicative of failure on your part. It’s a sign of leadership. Consistent failure isn’t leadership, but deciding to go against the advice of others can pay off.

That doesn’t mean you should consistently ignore employees’ advice either. The assessment of your shop’s key personnel deserves consideration. But one day, you’ll have a gut feeling, an unusual confidence in your own assessment that should be followed. 

I have many personal examples of when this has paid off.

I recall a time when my dad decided to hold his own against a large account. Dad and I met with the account’s representatives: a senior executive and a group of buyers. They gave us a pricing ultimatum and said they would take some work away if we didn’t comply with their demands. Dad didn’t flinch, even though the rest of the shop’s managers had recommended complying with the customer’s request to maintain the account but lower the profit we made on the work.

Ultimately, the customer not only stayed with us but accepted a price increase and remained in our top tier. 

“Wow!” I thought. “Dad went into their corporate offices and politely told them we weren’t changing any pricing and that if they couldn’t accept that, thanks for the business, but get a new supplier.”

This certainly wasn’t the conservative approach I thought we should take, but it paid off. He followed his instincts, and I learned from that experience.


Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.