Making Change…A Life Lesson for the Business World

I recall a time, not too long ago, when my daughter was younger and my wife and I were still in the midst of teaching her about life’s basics — the fundamentals that one needs to flourish.

On this particular early spring day, we came upon an ice cream vendor at the local park and thought that this would be a terrific opportunity to build her confidence and teach her a lesson in self-reliance.

Clearly she wanted an ice cream cone. So, why not let her approach the vendor, give her order and take care of the payment all on her own? I gave her a $10 bill and sent her on her way, as my wife and I stood off by the swing set a dozen yards away.

She approached cautiously. But, she performed brilliantly and came skipping back to us with cone and change in tow. Unfortunately, she was still learning about money and making change. As she handed me the wad of crinkled bills that she had in her hand, it was clear that the vendor had mistakenly given her too much cash back. He must have given her change for a $20 bill, not the $10 bill that I had given her.

Taking the opportunity to teach my daughter another important lesson about honesty, fairness and integrity, we sent my daughter back with the vendor’s money instructing her to let him know that he had given her too much change back. She did so dutifully and all was well with the world.

My daughter built some self confidence and learned a lesson about the importance of always being honest and forthright in your dealings with people.

Sadly, this lesson is sometimes lost in the business world.

Recently, I have been witness to a similar situation at work. In this instance, my client had mistakenly underestimated by 15% the cost to deliver services to one of their customer’s. It was a glitch in my client’s pricing spreadsheet. But, my client caught the error on their own and corrected it.

Unfortunately, my client resubmitted the corrected estimates without a lot of explanation and their customer refused to accept the additional charges, arguing that they were already in the midst of making decisions on the original estimates.

Keep in mind, the customer had not signed-off on the estimates or agreed to go forward with any of the work in question. There was clearly time to correct the mistake, and, in essence, “return the change” as it were, to my client. One would figure that the long-term potential of the business relationship would compel the customer to do the “right” thing.

Instead, this customer decided to keep the change, insinuating that the long-term prospects of their relationship with my client would by threatened, if my client didn’t eat the 15% underestimation.

To close, when my daughter came back from the ice cream stand with more cash than she left with, the thought of keeping the change never entered my mind. What message would that send?

I wonder why some business leaders feel compelled to take the money and run whenever that get the chance hoping to take advantage of any mistake in their favor. Don’t they care about the message that they send?

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