Are you a giver or a taker of energy in your organization? More than likely your answer to this question is a resounding, "Are you kidding me?!? I'm one of the most giving people I know. I go out of my way to make others successful and be helpful! If only more people were like me at my company, this would be a better world and certainly a better place to work."

But consider two job types that are takers of energy–we'll call them prisoners and vacationers–who have jobs, but never go out of their way to contribute to the success of an organization. The prisoner feels victimized on the job. The vacationer believes he is contributing, but rarely accepts responsibility for his actions. Neither thinks he is the one who is creating problems in the workplace. We all like to think that we are positive contributors to the work environment. But sooner or later some of us must recognize that we are sometimes "takers" of energy rather than "givers."

Illustration: Mick Wiggins/ Consider this complaint from an outside salesman who noted that he was frustrated by the "broken promises of his suppliers." Depending on whose perspective you view it from, it is indeed a legitimate complaint about "broken promises"–or, from the supplier's perspective, an "unreasonable request." You be the judge.

As he had probably done hundreds of times in his career, the salesman in this example, when asked what the lead time was for a window delivery, casually tossed out the answer "three to five weeks." As is the case for many builders, when the builder eventually got to the point of placing his order for the windows, he was already in a panic due to project delays and asked for some emergency assistance, which the salesman, seizing the opportunity to play the hero, was far too anxious to supply.

The outside salesman had choices in this transaction. First, he could have been more aware of the jobsite progress and expressed the urgency to place a window order in a timely fashion to avoid delays. Second, when the builder requested a reduced lead time, the outside salesman could have explained that it was unlikely and later verified what could actually be done. In other words, the salesman could have dealt in facts.

Instead, the outside salesman took the order to his inside support person and explained that the order needed to be "expedited." The inside support person said she "would see what could be done" and promptly called the manufacturer to let them know this was a "rush job." The supplier representative promised she would do her best and, after receiving the order, immediately placed it into the system. From the supplier's perspective, she had done a special favor by moving the order ahead of others in the stack, thus reducing delays in order entry by a day.

You already know the outcome of the story because it plays out daily in our industry. Three weeks later, when the builder was expecting the order, it of course was not delivered. He called his outside sales representative and irately demanded delivery. The sales representative, equally irate, was eager to deflect blame. He bluntly told the builder that he was "promised" the goods would arrive on time. (Actually, there was never a promise to deliver in three weeks, but only a promise to do the "best that could be done.")

Naturally the windows were delivered shortly thereafter and, when the dust had settled, the heroic sales representative explained the situation to the builder. He empathized eagerly with the builder's frustration and assured him it would never happen again. It never occurred to the sales representative to accept blame for failing to communicate the facts, nor did he consider more carefully explaining that scheduling conflicts can be avoided by placing orders within allotted lead times.

In this story, it is easy to see that the outside sales representative (and probably a few others in the supply chain) was a taker of energy. If he continues to behave in this way, the costs to his own employer will rise because of the extra time that others will have to spend on orders. He also will cost himself or his company future sales because of the dissatisfied clients he is creating. The LBM sales representative and his assistant felt like a "prisoner" in a hopeless sea of incompetence. In reality, the sales representative needs to accept full responsibility and discover more ways to contribute as a positive "giver" to his company and his clients.

To become a better contributor to your organization, start with the following tips:

1. Study the capabilities of your company and suppliers. Rather than expect your staff and vendors to adapt to the poor planning of your customers, help your customers work within the structure of the system. This means you must understand how the system operates. Clarify procedures in your mind so you can truly be a hero by avoiding and preventing mistakes and delays before they occur.

2. Accept responsibility for proper scheduling and stick to the facts. All too often, salespeople casually state vague lead time schedules to builders and hope that the builder will adequately plan deliveries. It is always easier for a local dealer to time a delivery of product than count on a manufacturer to produce and deliver materials from hundreds of miles away. Schedule orders so that a few days of scheduling and delivery time at your facility will eliminate any potential delays on the job.

Rick Davis As the construction market cools, competition will continue to increase. This is no time to be on vacation in the workplace. It is also no time to become a critic who feels victimized and imprisoned by the incompetence of others. Contribute to the success of your customers and your teammates by striving to schedule projects effectively and avoid being the weak link in the supply chain.

–Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders, Inc., a Chicago-based sales training organization. 773.769.4409. E-mail: [email protected]