Should You Ever Take a Stance Against Your Company?

I could have titled this “How to Handle an Ambush at Work – Part 1”.  It is the story of a time I was ambushed at work.  Ironically, it was not by a co-worker or even a boss. 

I once took an interim job as the Atlanta District Manager for a small chain of stores.  The chain’s strategy was rapid growth for an eventual sale.  Our main supplier was also based in Atlanta.  While I knew the local account reps., I had never met with any of the supplier’s internal management.  You can imagine my excitement when I was invited to a “get acquainted” meeting with the supplier at their shiny new corporate office.  Ironically, I saw it as an opportunity to network for a new job (silly me).

What I did not know was that my company had not paid the supplier in quite a long time – and no one was answering their calls.  I guess it’s difficult to open 100 stores a year and still pay your bills.  The “meeting” was just a desperate attempt by the supplier to reach someone at my company – even the lowly, unsuspecting District Manager. I should have known something was wrong when they didn’t even offer me a bottle of water.  As I waited in the conference room, in my best suit, in walks the President of the company (which means it was a lot of money owed) and shoves a phone in my face.  “Call your boss” he yells!  “What are you talking about?”, I sincerely asked.  He went on a tirade about unpaid bills, dishonesty, and lack of contact from my company ending with, “CALL YOUR BOSS!!”.

Here’s the crappy part.  Knowing where I was, my boss wouldn’t take my call either.   After a couple of pitiful attempts to reach someone, I left the conference room embarrassed to be part of such a messy situation. I also figured it was an inconvenient time to leave my resume.  My boss gladly took my call once I assured him I had left the building and was in the parking lot.   In hindsight, I was used by the company to gauge the supplier’s current mood and collection plans.

While the whole interaction took less than 15 minutes and I just wanted to get out, here is how I wish I had handled it.

Neutral is an awkward spot to be in unless you are a mediator (which I am now).  I felt neutral and awkward, not defending my company but not really helping the supplier. While I, of course, owe a duty of loyalty to my company, the supplier was 100% correct.  From my experience, this supplier had been a good partner and the company was screwing them without conscience.  I think integrity trumps loyalty in most instances.  I could have given the supplier some secret internal phone line to the company or at least tried harder to reach someone.  I owed that to the account reps. who had always been honest, professional, and helpful to me.  I would have felt better about the situation and myself.

I believe you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.  However, this is the one and only time in my work career where I wonder if I should have taken a stance against my employer (it was, after all, an interim position).  On the other hand, I could have sided with the supplier and asked for a job only to be told, “Are you kidding, why would we hire a traitor like you”.  Sometimes you are damned if you do and ……. Well you know the rest.  What do you think?

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