Delta had hit the big time. After months of negotiating, he was finally getting the big promotion. He was ecstatic. He was now “in the club”. Granted, he wasn’t in charge. He still had to report to Bravo. But, he got the title and the big office. He knew he was considered to be a “high potential” employee. He embraced the change. He welcomed the increased responsibility and attention.Negotiating, however, probably isn’t the best term to describe what had occurred. Negotiating would imply there had been a back and forth and offers exchanged. Instead, Delta had been involved in what would be better described as a realignment.

He had done his time and performed well in his previous job. And, the time had come for him to get something new. To move up though, would have meant others would have had to move (out of the way) as well. Since that wasn’t happening (those above him were comfortably set in their positions…and, no one was moving), Delta had worked to force a different kind of change. In a fairly impressive coup, Delta had convinced Alpha & Bravo to create a new position for Charlie. Charlie was given new and more important responsibilities. He was given a larger territory. But, none of the other managers and directors gave anything up. In other words, everybody won. And, Delta was then able to backfill Charlie. Other than the time it took to get the new structure approved, everything had worked to Delta’s plan…without anyone ever realizing it had been Delta’s plan.

So, now, Delta was directly responsible for the clients. He was director of the office. And, in one move, he had assumed supervision of 10 employees. He didn’t get a raise, but he hadn’t expected one. The day the change was announced, several of his new direct-reports were visibly stunned. They’d obviously never considered the possibility of having Delta as a boss. But, before too long would pass they would quickly come to realize how the situation was better and they became huge fans of Delta’s management style. He was fair. He spent time training and teaching them. He allowed them the opportunity to grow and develop, without stifling them.

The business climate for the clients was one area where all wasn’t rosy, though. Times were tough. The pressure was on. And, every sale was a struggle. Delta thrived in this kind of atmosphere, though. And, throughout his career the clients had continually stated they appreciated his effort. He delivered on his promises. He took care of their needs. He made a difference. And, clients don’t usually expect that from their agency reps. Despite the situational adversity, Delta performed well in this new situation right from the start.

A couple of months after taking over the account, Delta got a call from Florida, the Controller for the group. Not one for idle chit chat, she immediately got to the point of her call.

Florida: “Delta, have you been receiving the reports I have been sending?”
Delta: “I assume you mean the billing reports? Yes, I’ve been getting them.”
Florida: “Yes, the billing reports. What do you propose as a solution to the problem?”
Delta: “Well, frankly, I’m confused by what the reports are showing. I find it a little bit amazing. And, I thought there might be a mistake.”
Florida: “There is no mistake. This is a big problem.”
Delta: “But, some of those things go back four years. I don’t understand why they are still outstanding.”
Florida: “They are outstanding because no one has done anything about them.”
Delta: “Well, I’ve been meaning to talk to Charlie and the team about them and ask for the background, but I haven’t had time yet because of the transition.”
Florida: “The transition is over. The accountants are all over us to get these items cleared up. Sarbanes-Oxley requires us to report things differently now.”
Delta: “Sarbanes-Oxley? I’m not really very clear on what that means for me.”
Florida: “After Enron, the accounting rules were changed. We can’t keep carrying outstanding items on the books. We need to get these things cleaned up. Does that make sense?”
Delta: “Sure, I guess. And, I’m not trying to double talk you. I just have not been able to get my arms around this situation. I guess I need to talk to Charlie.”
Florida: “I’ve talked to Charlie several times. He has done nothing about it, despite my threats. And, now you know why I was happy to hear you were now going to be the point person. This has got to be fixed.”
Delta: “Well, sure, I understand. I will definitely work on it. What do you suggest I do then?”
Florida: “There are only two things to do. Either the client pays it, or we write it off. I told this to Charlie as well. He chose to do nothing, it seems.”
Delta: “Alright, so what happens if the client won’t pay?”
Florida: “The work was done for them. They should pay.”
Delta: “But, I know these guys. The stuff that’s four years old will be a problem.”
Florida: “I understand. And, I expect that’s why Charlie didn’t do anything about it. But, it can’t be put off any longer. There’s an audit next month. They have already commented on these items.”
Delta: “Alright, then what does it take to write something off?”
Florida: “An act of congress. You can forget that option. We won’t be able to do it.”
Delta: “OK. I understand. But, for my education, what does that process entail?”
Florida: “Alpha would have to make the decision…but the holding company ultimately decides. And, they will say no. And people will get fired. So, forget that as an option. We won’t be writing off half a million dollars.”
Delta: “OK. I understand. Thanks for taking the time to explain it to me. I will get to work on this right away.”
Florida: “I want daily updates, please.”
Delta: “OK…not a problem…
Florida: “Don’t let me down, Delta.”

So, Delta started studying the reports. And, he became progressively more confused and upset by what he learned. There didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to the situation. It was as if things were just willy-nilly applied to the accounts. And, there appeared to be a pattern of neglect to the billing. This activity took him a couple of days, during which Florida only barely maintained her patience. But, he was able to assure her he was involved with the project. After deciding he’d figured out as much as he was able, he starting asking questions of those who had been involved. First up was Charlie.

Charlie and Delta were friends. They knew each others strengths and weaknesses. In fact, they complemented each other really well. Charlie was the visionary, big thinker type. Delta was the detail oriented get it done type. During their careers they had helped each other many times. They respected each other.

Charlie immediately apologized. He explained to Delta that he’d always intended to get the situation fixed before their jobs changed, but had failed to do it. He promised to help. He offered to explain how it had happened. He even offered to be the fall guy. He was just glad that Delta was there to help.

He admitted he was responsible in that he had been unable to keep it from happening…and, then unable to fix it. The situation had grown out of hand. Clients had requested changes, but there’d been no mechanism to keep track of the charges. Lethargy and inertia in the system had caused delays in reporting. Neither Charlie nor his employees had been adequately empowered. And, most importantly, he’d gotten no help when he’d asked for it. The people responsible for the mistakes had ignored him…the people to whom he’d asked for assistance had ignored him.

In Charlie’s defense, Delta knew all of the explanation was true. Charlie had done it alone…at least in practice…for too long. And, his talents and abilities were never suited for this type of management. Delta knew Charlie wasn’t to blame.

So, Delta decided to talk with Bravo and ask for advice.

At first, Bravo claimed ignorance of the situation. Then he feigned anger and indignation. He threatened to ‘have a talk with Charlie’. Then, Bravo said he was going to talk with Alpha (his favorite device for ending a conversation) and come up with a solution. Essentially, Bravo provided no help.

After a week…and after hearing Florida chuckle when she was told what Bravo had said about talking with Alpha…Delta confronted Bravo and asked for direction.

Delta: “What do you suggest we do, sir?”
Bravo: “Well…uh…well…er…ah…well…I had a talk with Alpha about the…ahh…situation.”
Delta: “Great. What did he suggest we do?”
Bravo: “Well… uh…well…er…ah…well…I think we should just talk to the clients and get them to…uhhh…pay it.”
Delta: “They won’t like it.”
Bravo: “Why not?”
Delta: “They don’t have the money.”
Bravo: “Oh.”
Delta: “And, some of those charges are four years old. You know how Lion is about numbers.”
Bravo: “True. He won’t like it.”
Delta: “Not one bit.”
Bravo: “Well… uh…well…er…ah…well…maybe I should just…uhhh…take him to dinner and…uhhh…buy him a couple of bottles of nice wine.”
Delta: “This will have to be approved in a meeting and included in the minutes. It’ll require the full group of clients for approval.”
Bravo: “Oh.”
Delta: “Here’s what I propose. I will talk to several of the key guys before the next meeting and prepare them. Then, I will request their approval for payment at the meeting. I’m pretty sure I can get it done.”
Bravo: “Well… uhh…well…er…ah…well…are you sure?
Delta: “Positive.”
Bravo: “Well…uh…I could make the presentation.”
Delta: “Thank you for the offer, sir. But, I have a plan.”
Bravo: “That settles it then. I will let Alpha know.”

So, Delta carefully broached the topic with a few of the key decision makers. The response was exactly as he’d expected. One client, whom Delta had never known to curse, told him the situation was “Bullshit”. Another asked him, “How could this have happened?” Still a third said, “Delta, this stuff happened before you took over. Why are you the one taking care of it?” To each, Delta offered his most honest and sincere explanation…and promised it wouldn’t happen again.

The day of the meeting was a hard one for Delta. He knew the account was in jeopardy, if he didn’t handle the topic exactly right. He was prepared, though. He knew he could handle it.

Delta had to make the presentation to two separate client groups. The group to have the first meeting had the larger share of the “problem”, about 70%. Delta stood in front of them for 6 hours. He didn’t sit. He didn’t take a lunch. He didn’t fade. They grilled him. They questioned every aspect of the explanation he provided. They were angry. They were disappointed. After sending Delta and his coworkers out of the room, they debated for another hour. It was one of the hardest hours of Delta’s life. When they were invited back into the room, Delta was sure he’d failed.

Lion spoke for the group.

Lion: “Delta, on behalf of the group, I want to thank you for bringing this item to our attention. We appreciate your explanation and attention to this matter. And, while we realize you were not responsible, we commend you for tackling it and implementing the necessary controls. We have decided to pay the charge. We have unanimously agreed to pay the money. We respect the partnership we have with your agency and are allowing this one incident.”

And, then he turned to Bravo.

Lion: “Bravo, this had better not happen again. Meeting adjourned.”

The next day, Delta had to make the pitch again. This time the amount was smaller.

This second client group was less generous than the first, though. Their spokesperson suggested Delta have a seat after only an hour’s worth of explanation. And, they weren’t asked to leave the room during the discussion. A quick vote was called and the Motion failed. The spokesperson for the group thanked Delta, stated the same thing as the first group by saying they knew he wasn’t responsible, and then told Bravo to get some ketchup…he was going to have to eat it.

Plus, they said that it better not happen again.

Later, Delta was distraught. He’d decided he’d failed. Charlie thanked him for trying. And, several of the clients had informed him after the meeting they thought he was a stand-up guy. But, still, Delta had not gotten it completely fixed.

So, he called Alpha. He assumed he’d be in trouble. He figured the only thing left to do was write it off.

Alpha: “Bravo already told me.”
Delta: “I am very disappointed, sir. I thought I had it.”
Alpha: “Those fuckers. The charges were legitimate. They should have paid.”
Delta: “Well, it is the principle of the thing for them, I think.”
Alpha: “Principle my ass. They are just trying to be dicks. Fucking Charlie. I knew he couldn’t handle this stuff.”
Bravo: “Well, what would you like me to do now?”
Alpha: “Fuck ‘em. We ain’t writing anything off. Just bury it.”
Delta: “I’m sorry, sir. What did you say?”
Alpha: “Just bury it, I said. That’ll teach ‘em. I’ll buy you some time with Florida. Just make it go away. Bury it.”

And, Delta did exactly as he was told. Being a member of the club required it.