Sometimes All It Takes To Succeed Is to Just Hang On

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I’ve heard a lot of comparisons lately between our current economic times and other times in American history. The two most common comparisons are to the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939 and to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

As old as my son might think I am, I don’t have any first hand knowledge of the Great Depression, but I do remember older family relatives who had gone through that time. Most of the family seemed to come through it pretty unscathed. They were mainly farmers in the Dakotas, who mostly lived off their land, or business owners in Northern Ireland, who were more concerned with the fighting that was going on there at the time. I had one relative, my great-great aunt Bessie, who had suffered a lot during the Depression. I wish now that I knew more about her story. I just remember her as this old, very scared woman who hid money everywhere. Her little house was near a big factory and, after her death, the property was sold to the factory for expansion. They were just planning on knocking the house down.

I was with my dad on the final walk through of the house to make sure we’d gotten everything out when he noticed that there was a hidden latch on the top of one of the stairs. It was a lid that opened to reveal a secret compartment with a handful of twenty dollar bills inside. I was with my dad (and soon my mom too) as they went through the house looking for hiding spots. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would hide money. But, that’s what happens to some people who go through shocking times. There are scars that last the rest of their lives, and maybe through the lives of their children and children’s children. That’s a strong impetus for me to not panic during these times. I want to set an example for my son – I want to be the adult I want him to become. (That’s a tough standard.) This has been a strong lesson I’ve carried with me: Be careful of the lessons you choose to take from events. They can impact you for decades, and even impact your children and your children’s children.

What lessons are you taking from the current economic times?

The other comparison is to 9/11. Obviously the fact are completely different. But the shock and reaction seems to be similar. I’ve been in business for 20+ years now. And in that time I’ve had lots and lots of employees. In all that time, I’ve had 3 people just walk off the job – no notice, no ease of transition, no professionalism, nothing, nada. I’m also astounded when that happens because I’d never even think to do that to an employer. And, I’d never do that to an employee.

One time it was on April 17th. This is back in the days when I had a large CPA practice that wasn’t virtual. We all worked in the office together. The firm had a bookkeeper who handled client’s work. We had an exceptionally busy tax season and the CPAs were working long hours, and a bit cranky at times. We all were. She had never worked in a CPA firm before. The long hours didn’t impact her. She still worked regular hours. But, she had heard that CPA firms got the day after 4/15 off (true) and there were bonuses involved (true – for the guys working their hearts out). And so, even though her work hadn’t changed at all during the tax season, she was looking forward to a day off and a bonus.

4/15 was brutal. When we finished up at about 6 pm, the staff went home and then we all met up for a dinner together (with spouses and kids) at a local Reno Italian restaurant. We were all laughing and carrying. This employee came and just seemed puzzled the whole time. To be honest, worrying about her was not my highest concern, so I didn’t even notice it until I thought about it later.

4/16 was a day off. On 4/17, she came into the office early and walked up to me and another one of the professionals. She started rambling on and really didn’t make sense. After about 5 minutes, I asked her if she was quitting. She said “yes.” I asked her how much notice and she said, “I’m leaving now.” She turned and left. I was stunned. In fact, I wasn’t even sure if had just quit or was upset about something. So I walked over to her cubicle on the other side of the office and it was cleaned out. She was gone.

I didn’t find out why she really quit until she filed an unemployment claim a week later. Her reason was that she hadn’t gotten her promised bonus. I guess she thought that bonuses were going to be handed out that last day of tax season – 4/15. Generally bonuses come a week later in the CPA world, simply because everybody is too busy during tax season to even get around that. Of course, one of the things I did when I realized she had quit without notice was tear up her bonus check. You have to show up to get paid. That’s another one of those lessons that has stuck with me.

You have to show up to get paid. Quitting now won’t get you a thing. Never quit. Never quit. NEVER QUIT.

There were two other times that people quit without notice. Once was right after 9/11. One of my CPAs was profoundly impacted by the attack and I think he needed time to reflect and re-examine his life. Now, looking back, I can understand where he was coming from. Of course, I wish he’d given me notice. He never went back to accounting. He became an elementary school teacher.

But I heard recently that he’s still not doing well. His family is struggling, emotionally. I know this guy, or did. He reacted that day he quit out of complete panic. There wasn’t even any event or incident, he just said “I can’t do this anymore.” and walked out. I think that he’s never forgiven himself for doing that. Lesson here.

The way you do anything, is the way you do everything. If you always act in integrity, even in little things or when it just doesn’t seem fair, people will notice. I promise.

And, this week, another employee quit without notice. In her case, she just sent an email – didn’t even bother to make a phone call!

The part that really upsets me, though, is that she had told me she was struggling financially. She BEGGED for an advance and then wanted 4 months to pay it back. I told her 3 months and she was one month into that (October) when she suddenly quit without notice. At the time that I gave her advance, I told her that I wanted her word of honor that she would stay through the end of the year. The fact that I even had to say that, should have been a sign to myself that I suspected she wouldn’t, even if it was just subconscious.

The fact is that her job was phasing out. Technology was replacing her. In the long run, she saved me money, because I know I would have kept her too long and paid a severance, and she saved me time, because I would have also tried to find her a job.

I think the reason she quit was the same reason that the CPA had quit after 9/11. In crisis, people will react in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it’s awfully compelling to just stay in bed and pull the covers over your head.

This is the time of leaders. Hang in there with your business. If you can only make it one more day, then make it one more day. And then figure out how you can make it one more hour. Change your business. Adapt. Grow it. Shrink it. Put it on the Internet. But whatever you do, keep moving forward. Huge opportunity is coming and for many of you, already here. You just need to be there when it comes.

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