As a young manager 20 years ago, I ran the order-processing operations in a greeting-card company. One midnight, I received a call: The process that created the next day's packing slips had crashed. I had to get 1,000 packing slips ready for pulling and packing the next day, or hundreds of people in our distribution center would be idle. This was about three weeks before Christmas on a frozen night in Chicago.
I put on my arctic gear and headed for work —— and found the place in chaos. Even the overnight security guard was helping to prepare orders. I called a key team member, my data-entry supervisor. "I'm sorry to wake you up, but we need you in here," I said. "We'll never be ready for the courier at 6 a.m. without more help."
She said O.K., and then hung up. But she didn't show. That morning at 8, she came to work as usual and said: "I thought about your call. I realized that if the orders weren't ready at 6, the packers would have enough work to keep busy, and we can send another courier later in the day. So I went back to sleep."
TOTAL RESPONSIBILITY. That was a tough day for me as a beginning manager. What an ownership breakdown! I had no choice but to relieve the woman of her supervisory role. She was lucky not to be fired. It offered an excellent lesson.
Years later, as a human resources leader at a technology outfit, I received a call on a Sunday morning. There was a flood in the office. I ran over to find about a dozen executives bailing out the factory.
The word spread somehow. By midafternoon, more than 100 of us were at work armed with buckets and mops. Next, we organized a phone tree to notify 500 employees that they shouldn't come to work the next day. But half came in anyway to help clean up. That's the kind of ownership you want —— total responsibility.