CLMs The Sequel


Homer Simpson Doh!

Homer Simpson may be immune from CLMs but you probably aren't.

CLMs, or Career Limiting Moves aka Career Limiting Mistakes, can happen no matter where you are in your career. My last entry highlighted a few of the more common CLMs that college students tend to make when transitioning into their first post-collegiate jobs.

Since that post I received quite a few emails from working professionals highlighting some classic bone-headed CLMs that they’ve seen or been aware of – but of course have never made themselves. What is scary is that all of these CLMs were made by experienced and fairly senior people already in the workforce who should have known better. Names, titles and companies have scrubbed to protect the culpable.

What was interesting in reading the emails everyone sent was that CLMs are made by every level of employee – from the lowliest hourly staffer to the toniest resident of mahogany row. The variety seemed endless and although most of these CLMs seemed intuitively obvious to the casual observer and therefore easy to avoid, many of these mistakes keep being made on a regular basis.

My favorite CLM example, that quite a few people sent me, is about a company that used one well-known shipping company to send out a Thank you gift to another well-known competing shipping company. This is the edited copy of an email from Company A about Shipping Company A’s response to receiving said gift in a competitors box.

Attention …When we send anything to any of our shipping accounts (UPS, FEDEX, DHL) we have to be 100% sure that we use that specific company to deliver whatever we want to send.  It is embarrassing and counter-productive to deliver a gift to someone at xxxxx  when its packaged in a competitor’s box, and delivered by a competitor’s delivery person…..  While seemingly insignificant, this is a big deal. Lesson learned and don’t let it happen again.

From:JohnDoe@Shipping Company A
To: JaneSmith@Company A
Subject: Your Shipping Company B Shipment

Thanks for the “thank you” gift, but… I think your shipping department may need some “training” about your choice of shipping providers. The boxes came via our competitor, which really generates some attention around here (and not in a good way)….. We’d appreciate (and expect) that future communications come using our shipping services, not a competitor’s.

Additional variations of this mistake are showing up for an interview at Adidas wearing Nike shoes.  Or using a Lenovo laptop when presenting to HP. Or ordering a Bud Light when meeting with executives from Miller. It’s hard to be taken seriously by the client when all they see is someone using their competitor’s product right in front of them. Similar examples abound in all industries, so pay attention to details like these.

Restaurants in particular seem to be a mine-field for professionals. Maybe it’s the novelty of conducting business outside of the office or maybe it’s over-imbibing on expense account booze – but whatever the reason a significant number of the CLM stories forwarded to me involved restaurants.

A common CLM seems to revolve around paying for meals. A significant milestone in a lot of careers is getting your first corporate Amex card – and most people don’t hesitate to whip it out and bask in the presumed prestige and adulation. Now don’t get me wrong a corporate Amex greatly simplifies submitting expenses reports and segregating personal expenses from business expenses, but an over-reliance on and an over-confidence in the power of the plastic can be very humbling. And if you’ve ever done business in NYC, you know that the Big Apple siphons cash from your wallet at a prodigious rate – which is why you quickly learn to rely on the green, gold or platinum friend in your wallet. But this sets up quite a few people for a CLM. 

Steak dinners can put a hurting on your expense account.

Entertaining clients is an important part of professional life, but you have to do your homework about when and where you take them. For some reason upscale Steak Houses are a magnet for business dinners – maybe its the opulence or the Paul Bunyan-sized portions – but whatever the reason taking clients out for a extravagant steak dinner seems to be almost de rigueur. But you need to find out ahead of time – whether or not the restaurant takes credit cards, and if so which ones. Also make sure that your credit card can handle the estimated bill for your party – having your credit card rejected in front of clients is both embarassing and a CLM.

A very well-known establishment in NYC – Peter Luger’s Steak House – doesn’t take plastic of any kind, they are strictly a cash-only place. After a very nice meal with clients there are few things more embarrassing than having to ask the client for cash in order to pay the bill, or worse having to have the client pay for the meal. Sure there is an ATM nearby, but a meal for a table of 8 or 10 people will exceed the maximum allowed for most people’s ATM withdrawals.  Asking a client for cash in order to pay the bill is definitely a CLM and one that can be easily avoided with a little planning and forethought.  This is where the Zagat guide can be your friend preventing not only potential CLMs, but also helping you find interesting and memorable places to dine with your clients even if they are vegetarian, keep Kosher or are huge fans of Sichuan Hot Pot.

Another classic CLM is talking about internal company business in public places. This problem seems to coincide with the rise of the cell phone – although it’s always been a problem. I’m always stunned by what you can learn just by sitting quietly in your seat on a plane, or sitting at the bar in a restaurant or using the bathroom. And it’s not like I’ve got good hearing or bionic ears, but I’ve overheard specific proposal numbers with detailed profit margins – why would you ever get this detailed about your company’s business in public? I’ve overheard layoff planning discussions involving large layoffs – how would those people feel if they knew some guy using the bathroom at O’Hare knew they were being let go three weeks before they did?

You may not remember your ID badge but you can bet other people will if you aren't professional.

Maybe it’s my military information security background, but if you find yourself looking around before telling your story, maybe you shouldn’t be telling that story in public. Sure not being discreet when discussing company business is an obvious CLM, but it’s more than that as well.  A cardinal rule of professional life is not airing your company’s dirty laundry in public. Every company has blemishes and issues – some readily apparent to everyone and some not well-known. Casually discussing these problem areas of your company over beers where other people can hear you or with outsiders – just isn’t smart. It makes not only your company look bad, but also you look bad by extension. You never know who is listening, so just don’t do it and you can avoid that CLM altogether.

Company ID badge CLMs. After a while your company ID badge becomes an invisible part of you – you don’t even notice it. But that badge is still very visible to everyone else you meet, especially if you act like a jerk. I’ve heard more than a few stories from people about coworkers who acted like complete raging jerks to service workers – only to get called into corner offices and reprimanded because their actions reflected poorly on the firm. Now of course some companies seem to take pride in their employees acting like jerks, but most firms realize that every employee is both an ambassador of good will and of the company name – and rightfully expect professional behavior. The same holds true while wearing company logo shirts at trade shows and conventions – they may not know your name, but they can guess who you work for pretty easily.

A while back – someone I used to work with had a co-worker who got into a shouting match with a flight attendant over turning off his cell phone – this was pre 9/11 – and he ended up getting kicked off the plane. This meant that the company missed presenting  their proposal  and lost the deal.  While he wasn’t fired over this incident, primarily because this sales person consistently made his number, he was among the first to be let go in the post 9/11 downturn because he was such a loose cannon. The wheel of life is a pretty powerful force – what comes around around goes around – treat everyone like you’d want to be treated and you can avoid a plethura of CLMs.

What CLMs do you see most often? What’s your “favorite” CLM? What’s the biggest CLM that you personally survived? -t

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