At a time when we’re more disconnected than ever, let’s start treating each other with kindness and empathy.
by Jack Stack
Emotions are running hot these days. People are on edge. Patience and empathy for others might be at all-time lows. Maybe we should start calling what we’re going through the Great Disconnect. And you know what’s causing it? Shortages.
This hit home recently after a bad, bad morning of listening to shortages: labor, parts, trucks, and containers. The list goes on.
Afterward, as a way to cool down, I went with some coworkers to grab a quick bite at a Panera Bread just down the street from our offices. My go-to order is the cream chicken and wild rice soup in a bread bowl. It’s my favorite — especially when I’ve skipped breakfast and I’m really hungry like I was this day. I could already taste it as soon as I turned the key in the ignition of my car to start the 10-minute drive over there.
When I placed my order, the woman behind the register shook her head politely. “Sorry,” she said. “We’re out of bread bowls.”
Out of bread bowls? My stomach growled in anger, and my head began to explode. I tried to laugh it off. “You’re kidding, right?” I asked with a smile. She wasn’t kidding.
“I’m sorry, sir,” she said. “We’re not sure when we’ll have them back in stock.”
I was ready to lie down on the counter and cry. I was just so done hearing about shortages. Sure, I could have still ordered the soup. But without the bread bowl it wasn’t the same thing. It was just, well, soup. My stomach was outraged!
But you know what I didn’t do? I didn’t get rude or outwardly upset. I didn’t yell at this woman or ask her to get her manager so I could complain. I did my best to act like a mature adult and thanked her for letting me know. At the same time, I recognized that supply chain shortages had just become personal; very, very personal.
The downside of next-day delivery
As a society, we’ve become trained — maybe even a little addicted — to thinking that we can get what we want, when we want it. Companies like Amazon have spoiled us to the notion that we get something hand-delivered to us within a day, or even a few hours, of pressing a button. Thousands of warehouses have popped up across the country to help ensure we get our stuff as fast as possible. When the pandemic hit in 2020, we all had to adjust as items like toilet paper and ketchup went missing as people began to hoard key supplies. But the Amazon trucks kept rolling through our neighborhoods.
While demand for pandemic-fueled products like hand sanitizer and bleach wipes has ebbed — remember when you couldn’t get any of those? — we’ve moved into a new stage of shortages. The pandemic still plays a role in that, as China continues to battle shutdowns seemingly daily. But we’re also now dealing with a war in Europe that’s dramatically impacting supply lines, especially in critical areas like oil, grain, and precious metals.
Let’s also not forget the mother of all shortages: People. I’m not sure there’s a business in America that doesn’t have multiple open positions it’s struggling to fill.
When you add the inflationary pressure of businesses handing out wage increases to try and keep the people they already have into the mix, it’s no surprise everything costs more — if you can get it.
That’s why we need patience, empathy, and some honesty more than ever to get through this difficult period. It’s time to embrace the Golden Rule of treating others like you’d like to be treated.
It’s not rocket science
This isn’t my first rodeo dealing with supply chain shortages in my career. When I was working my way up inside International Harvester during the 1970s, the shortages were epic — as were interest rates and fuel prices. If you think people are stressed now, well.…
At the time, I was an expediter. That meant my job was to work with our suppliers to get the parts we needed to make tractors. Because of the shortages, nobody wanted that job. I was young and naive enough to take it.
After a while, people started noticing that I kept filling whatever orders they sent my way. So, they sent more. And more. And I kept filling them. Then they came asking questions. How the heck was I able to get the parts when nobody else could?
It wasn’t rocket science. I hadn’t come up with some fancy computer algorithm or gimmick. I also didn’t place double or triple orders hoping one of them would come through before canceling the others.
The simple answer was that I was honest with our suppliers. I didn’t order more than I needed like everyone else was doing. I built relationships — even friendships — with the people I spoke with on the phone. I was also patient and showed empathy for their position. I didn’t berate and belittle them and act like I was the only person in the world who needed a specific part from their warehouse. Rather, I thanked them for whatever they could do to help me. I told them I understood how tough it was for them.
And you know what reactions I would get? I could hear them let out a deep breath as if they had been steeling themselves to get yelled at. I could hear relief. Then, they would say something like: “Thank you. I appreciate your understanding.”
The Golden Rule in action
I realize this all sounds comic book simple. But it really works. And it’s something we’re trying to live every day inside our company. Despite all the stress we’re feeling, it’s time to start reconnecting and treating each other as human beings again. We need to be kinder, more patient, and more understanding. If we can do that, we can get through these tough times — together.
- Jack Stack is President and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation, which remanufactures gasoline and diesel engines for the automotive and off-highway markets, distributes engine kits, manufactures power units and remanufactures electrical components, and conducts seminars and training programs specializing in all aspects of teaching people how to implement open-book management. He is also the author of three books, “The Great Game of Business,” “A Stake in the Outcome,” and “Change The Game: Saving The American Dream By Closing The Gap Between The Haves And The Have-Nots.”
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