“I must be crazy,” I thought, as I looked out across my backyard.
For whatever reason, it was only at that moment — after weeks of investigation and planning — that I realized it was foolish to make the sizeable investment required to grow a lawn without benefit of the in-ground sprinklers that would ensure its survival.
But I had been working toward my goal for so long, ever since we bought our house in the fall of 2010. With every free moment — and there aren’t many when you have two small children — I’d been cutting down trees, moving rocks, removing debris and tearing out bushes, all in a pioneer-like attempt to clear the land. After that phase, I’d had a company come in to grind up the 20 or so small stumps that were left behind. I’d tried seeding on my own but, lacking the necessary machinery to aerate the ground, and the manpower to bring in copious amounts of topsoil, my results were lackluster at best.
So it was time to bring in the big guns, the landscapers, to make my dream of a grass-covered backyard a reality. I got a recommendation from a friend and made the call. At once, we hit it off. The mild-mannered man who showed up (on time) was both the owner and operator, walked the yard with me, listened as I described the results I wanted, then conveyed both the job cost and how long it would take. We discussed the watering regimen I’d have to perform that would be critical to the project’s success.
“But I don’t have sprinklers back here,” I said. “Is that going to be a problem?”
I wanted to hear “No, not at all,” so badly that I didn’t really hear what was said. My best guess is it was something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not ideal, but if you’re willing to run four of five hoses out here and manually turn them on and off like a lunatic, sure, you can manage it, I guess. Of course, for the first month, you’ll be a veritable prisoner in your house, especially if it’s hot.”
So we planned to proceed without the benefit of in-ground sprinklers until my aforementioned “Yikes” moment struck.
“I must be crazy,” I said to my wife.
“I’ve been telling you that,” she deadpanned and walked into the other room.
I guess I hadn’t heard her either.
So the fact that my mental light bulb belatedly went on saved my bacon, you say? Not really. More than anyone, it saved my landscaper’s bacon, because an unreferenceable client — for any reason, no matter whose fault — is still an unreferenceable client. As I’ve said before, the best of the best do not allow such scenarios to materialize. The customer is not always right.
My father-in-law, who owned and ran pizza restaurants for most of his working life, tells a great story of a customer who wanted him to make a pie and place it in the box uncooked, so the man could cook it at home.
“I can’t do that,” he said, in a thick Italian accent. “You won’t be able to get it out of the box. I’ll cook it until the crust is firm, then you can finish it at home.”
“No. Just give it to me the way I want it!” the customer demanded.
Now, when you’re Sicilian and the owner/operator, you do what my father-in-law did — you tell the guy to get the hell out of your store.
The rest of us have to handle things a bit more delicately, but the outcome should be the same. If you, as a service provider, are being drawn down a project path to nowhere, don’t go. Tell the department in question that what they so desperately want must wait until other things are done first, or more capital is secured, or another method is embraced but, most critically, don’t adopt the approach that, “I’m just here to deliver what they’re asking for … I just work here.”
Success in any walk of life — be it CIO or business owner — is not about “getting orders” or even executing those orders to the specifications demanded; it’s about communicating with potential customers until a meeting of the minds occurs at which both buyer and seller envision the same outcome, understating what it will take from both parties to get there, then making a commitment to take the journey.
I didn’t want a bunch of topsoil spread across my yard, and I didn’t want seeds all over the place — I wanted grass. If my plans for getting it weren’t going to work, my landscaper should have been more forceful in telling me so, because his long-term success depends far more on my long-term satisfaction, than my one time check.