Everyone gets a trophy and the customer is always right

These concepts might seem light-years apart, but it occurred to me the other day that they actually came from the same thought process.

And while that thought process had some good intentions, it’s the execution that muddled things up.

“The customer is always right”, I believe, was intended to communicate how important it is to take care of a customer’s needs, not that they could never be wrong.  The execution, though, in many places is that the customer never IS wrong, creating an environment where the customer is coddled and catered to no matter how they act or how wrong they are.

To me, that’s wrong.  It teaches (and has taught) many people to take advantage of service providers, to scream and yell to try to get what they want, to belittle and insult those who don’t give in to their demands.

For many years I have subscribed to a different point of view: The customer may not always be right, but they DO need to be treated with respect.

This way, we take care of the customer without tipping the scales of decency, right/wrong and consistency.  It’s such a slippery slope when we bend over backwards to appease one when the only reason we are doing so is because they made lots of noise.

Now let’s look it’s not-so-distant-cousin: Everyone gets a trophy.

Again, the impetus of this was to be sure people understood how their efforts contributed to the teams’ success.  The problem, again, is in the execution.

Instead of saying to an individual, this is what you did and how it impacted others, we blindly blanket the accomplishment so everyone gets the same thing.  I’ve written before about how treating everyone the same is NOT ACTUALLY FAIR, and this is a perfect example.  We’ve over-elevated the weaker players and diminished the “outstandingness” of the great players all at the same time.  Not so well played.

So how are these two related, you ask?  Because they are blanket concepts that do not allow for individual thought or expression.  “The customer is always right” doesn’t allow us the latitude to surmise that maybe they aren’t right, and “everyone gets a trophy” prevents us from providing individual recognition to those who need it, in a way that is meaningful to them.

And the more that I think about these two concepts, the more I am convinced that they are two of the worst things to happen to modern leadership.  But the thing to keep in mind was that they started out as ideas with some merit, but wound up producing results that were less than favorable.

My question to you is… what processes or policies have YOU implemented that didn’t turn out the way you planned?  Next question… what could have done differently to ensure a better outcome?

Last question: did you recognize things were going south and have the intestinal fortitude to stop it before it became a massive quagmire?

Quagmires are hard to reverse.  Best to catch these things early.

Thanks for reading.


 About the author: When Matt was growing up, he LOVED playing football. The muddier the field, the better. One season, his team didn’t win a game.  Not one game. They tried and they practiced and they came close a couple of times, but in the end they came up short in every game. They didn’t get a trophy for showing up, they got speeches about trying harder and working hard for success. Trophies collect dust. Inspiration creates champions, even if the scoreboard doesn’t agree.











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