Case of the $15,000 Pizza

Feb 05, 2021


How did 25 really smart people pay $15,000 for a pizza? By losing sight of corporate mission, values, and goals-- along with a few other things!

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to observe a surprising interaction between a team of leaders. Each leader had invested heart, soul, and a lot of money into a wildly successful endeavor. With the group’s quarterly meeting approaching, each individual would recommit to the same mission, values, and business goals they followed for years. No less than twenty-five leaders (new and old) were reminded of the meeting’s logistics via email which included a small, yet explosive detail regarding lunch.

According to an unknown corporate policy change, the organizer was no longer obligated to pick up the tab, forcing the group itself to pay for lunch. This tiny revelation released a huge flurry of angry emails putting the leader on the spot and airing concerns very publicly. As the events unfolded, I was reminded of the following:

  • Set a Good Example: Set a good example all the time, not just when staff members are watching or listening. When we think our employees are unaware of our words and actions, we can be tempted away from our best behavior. But, in this case, the very values the leaders agreed to uphold (and insisted their employees uphold) were ignored.
  • Consider First Impressions: Several attendees were new to the entire venture and would be attending their first quarterly meeting. These leaders were still evaluating their investment. Was this a good idea? Are we under good management? Do the investors work as a team? In this case, the first impression of the leadership team was tarnished.
  • Address Policy Changes Early: When a policy change affects the bottom line, it’s best to explain it early and thoroughly, even if it seems insignificant. Leaders build trust when they boldly address policy changes with a vetted and phased communication plan. In this case, the policy was being publicly challenged through poorly managed communiqués.
  • Utilize eMail Etiquette: Concerns resulting from a group email must be discussed directly with the sender. In this case, the organizer could have requested sensitive conversation be held privately via phone or Zoom, gathered responses into one message for clarification, or addressed those familiar with the old policy separately.
  • Remember the Big Picture: Focusing on smaller, short-term issues obscures larger, long-term issues from view. In this case, the organizer’s reputation of being someone who generously shows appreciation for investors was lost. In addition, the team’s reputation was damaged because they appeared petty and unrelenting. 

At the quarterly meeting, all 25 people ate about $95 worth of pizza. But, the cost of lunch was much more than that. If you add up the hours spent composing, reading, discussing, and replying to all emails multiplied by 25 people (assuming each was making only $50K/yr) – you get almost $15,000. And that doesn’t count damages to the leader’s perceived character and the team’s spirit. Policy changes, regardless of initial and apparent impact, must be addressed quickly and completely through thoughtful and respectful communication. In addition to investing heart and soul in this venture, perhaps the additional investment of $95 would have been warranted.

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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