Accepting the Unacceptable in Business: How It Happens and What to Do about It

By Mark Inboden
President | CEO

Business leaders love when things run smoothly. Delivering products ahead of schedule, getting paid on time and having employees who love their jobs is an owner/manager’s dream. But what often gets in the way of achieving this dream?

Reflecting back on some situations I didn’t like over the years, I found a common theme: “Accepting the Unacceptable.” Let me give you an example. “Trevor” (not his real name) was one of our best craftsmen. He hardly made a mistake and the customers loved his work. Trevor spent a bit more time on projects than the others in the shop, but his re-work rate was minimal. Trevor also had some attendance issues, and showed an unwillingness to work with and teach others.

We talked to him several times about both issues, but he never seemed to take things seriously. We warned him that he could lose his job if he didn’t change his behavior. After several years of warnings, and no real consequences, he knew he wouldn’t be fired. We had “Accepted the Unacceptable.” If something is truly unacceptable for your organization and you do nothing about it, then it becomes acceptable behavior.

Upon further reflection, I saw that we did a great job in dealing with more “mechanical” issues such as vendor problems, account payables, deliveries, etc. What we put off was dealing with employee issues, and then we expected everyone to be professional in their behavior. Unfortunately, a great theory, but not realistic.

When “people” expectations were not being met, we “accepted” them because “we needed that extra person” to get the work done and it was something “we’ll take care of things once things slow down.” We essentially came up with the same excuses and behaviors we found unacceptable. We were reluctant to change, and knew we wouldn’t be fired! We compromised the “acceptable” behavior of the many, because it was perceived to be “hard” to deal with the few. I started to ask some questions such as “Why do we accept behavior that is detrimental to the company’s morale, and is not in our best interest?” “What is so special about Trevor that he is still here?”

Every day is a new day, and you can set a new course for your business. Trevor was relieved of his position, and everyone knew “things were different” at that moment. Leaders need to embrace and celebrate the acceptable and tackle the unacceptable as soon as it presents itself.