Looking back at April 1st there were several occasions for someone reporting bad news to smile quietly and say "April Fools!".
Unfortunately, the one to legitimately play an April Fools joke on me was my eight year old son, who upon arriving at school said he forgot his backpack only to reveal he put it on under his coat. At least the spirit of the tradition was not lost on one person.
Upon arriving at work, I met with a business woman who, after two years in business, was struggling to gain a critical mass of clientele to keep her afloat. I could feel her anxiety as she answered my standard litany of questions. Everything I threw at her she had tried. She had implemented a textbook marketing plan including standard advertising campaigns, community promotion, customer referral systems, even some guerilla marketing techniques.
Despite these marketing efforts and running a tight ship controlling expenses, her clientel has hit a wall at just slightly over break even. And, to make matters worse she is coming up on her slow season. I was hoping for a quiet smile but it never came… How about a short-term working capital loan to stem the bleeding? Not the best strategy but with this person’s passion for their business surely they will pull through to profitability…right?
The conversation turned to the hypothetical; "What if I shutter the doors…what is my responsibility to my lease agreement?" A quick set of questions showed that she has three years left on a five year lease…which must be paid so long as she doesn’t have another person to occupy the space. So my recommendation was to keep in close contact with the landlord and their realtor to make sure the space is leased up as quickly as possible in the event she vacates. Luckily, the space is on a prime frontage road in the city, a small consolation for the possible failure of a labor of love.
Consulting sessions that end with "I am sorry…I wish I could help you more", bring me down.
Shortly after this meeting, my business partner in our restaurant called to explain that one of our employees is quitting because they were held accountable for their cash till coming up short several times over the last few weeks. While he waited for my reaction I waited for him to break the silence with "April Fools!".
When it didn’t come we discussed the situation. We had given them the benefit of the doubt on several occasions but after the total amount short bordered on $100.00 we started requiring them to make up the difference. Even with a $3000.00 point of sale system, individual employee "bank accounts" and controlled access from other employees we still had a problem. Theft? I wouldn’t like to think so…
They say that three things needs to be present for theft to occur: motivation (struggling financially - check), opportunity (access to the tills and petty cash - check) and lack of detection (why else would we invest in a $3000.00 POS System - no check mark here). Unfortunately, there are always ways to "game the system". There are also ways of making input errors that cause a till to look short…but, none of these were present.
In every other way this person was an ideal employee. Excellent work ethic, motivated full-time employee with superior customer service. I believe we all consider ourselves a good judge of character when hiring employees.
My mind tells me this employee leaving is the right thing to happen.
My heart tells me that I may in fact be the April Fool.