Leadership

Use the 'Come To Jesus' meeting to get wayward partners back on track

The Come to Jesus Meeting is a tool that can be used effectively if done right, but when you play the hole card, you better be able to back it up.

The Come to Jesus Meeting is a tool that can be used effectively if done right, but when you play the hole card, you better be able to back it up.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I first heard this term from John Puckett, now CTO at DuPont, when I worked for him at a Boston area start-up years ago. (He was just inducted into the CIO Hall of Fame; congrats John!). Whenever we had an issue with a vendor that could not be resolved, a business term or a service level that was consistently going unmet he said it was time for a "Come to Jesus Meeting." I got to observe one of these meetings and actually started feeling sorry for the vendor on the other end of the conference call.

I wouldn't say that these meetings are a last resort, but they're pretty close. They serve a purpose in relationship building with a partner. The essence of one of these meetings is akin to the "Shock and Awe" approach the US Military took in Iraq the second time around.

As a partner relationship matures, a bunch of things can and do happen. The partner begins to shift resources away from you and toward new customers that they need to impress. Or, because you're up and running, they start rotating the less experienced support folks to your account. Support tickets disappear into the ether. Your account manager gets too wrapped up in his/her new accounts that they can't make monthly or even quarterly partner update meetings.

And then it happens... Boom. Outage...Crash...data corruption...security breach. Basically, anything that can happen when any service provider becomes complacent happens and the SLAs are out the window. So all of those white papers and speaking engagements and gratuitous magazine articles that you did for your partner all mean nothing. You have slowly become the customer of a vendor and you didn't even realize it.

Sometimes, however, this can happen quickly. That first Come To Jesus meeting that I was a part of had a similar premise, but it was during the dot bomb period where everything seemed to be going a lot faster than it is now. Our data center partner was falling down on the job: Missing key maintenance, ignoring control books, and rebooting live web servers "by accident."

When our CIO got involved, he didn't complain to the support supervisor, or even our account manager. He called the CEO of the company himself. He read the guy the riot act, but in a very professional manner. The progressively sloppy attention to detail was putting our business at risk. He painstakingly reminded the CEO of all the press we did for them in the early days of the partnership and demonstrated that the reference accounts that called upon us bought their services because of our word. Our word. Just using that term is calling in question that gentleman's honor. It had the same reaction as a glove across the face on a dueling ground. (John's English, so the effect was a little more profound)

But you do not get to be CEO without listening to and working with disgruntled customers, so the conversation had the desired affect. We couldn't get what we wanted going through the normal channels. Support, account manager, didn't matter, we couldn't get the service we needed. Only then, when we worked through the prescribed chain of escalation, did we involve the CIO. And when the CIO has to get involved in a support issue, that's when you go to the top. Straight to the CEO. The word came down from on high and when we said jump, they jumped.

We didn't abuse that opportunity (although we dreamed up scenarios in the breakroom later that day). We continued to demonstrate the same respect for our partner that we desired in return. This was an important lesson I learned. It serves no purpose to rub the partner's nose in it. That's akin to the old playground jibes of "My dad can beat up your dad." We gave the account manager and the support supervisor ample opportunity to continue with dignity to service our account. Whatever punishment or disciplining that had to be done was done internally. We did not need to add to it.

Shock and awe.

So years later I took this lesson into a situation I inherited and discovered another twist to the Come to Jesus Meeting. Again, the partner was a data center service provider, a very large and well known one. We were a mid-sized company and should not have been partnering with them to begin with. They were used to dealing with Fortune 1000 companies and we were barely in the Fortune 5,000. But, you play the cards you are dealt.

So we had service issue upon service issue that could not be resolved. We had outages, disk issues, shared SAN infrastructure issues (yeah...we were asking for that one). All the symptoms were there... Shock and awe time. Now I had used this tactic in the past with great success. But for some reason it didn't work here. They just operated at a different speed. So I went through the steps in my head and tried it again. This time, I said if the issues are not resolved I was going to switch to our local data center because of breach of contract. It was true, they missed every SLA we had, but I had also discovered that you better be able to back up your threats.

Well, I knew we could back it up. I hired a great team and we discussed the option before I had the second Come to Jesus Meeting. They had my back. They were dealing with these issues for so long anyway and were itching to get everything under control in our data center. So the "partner" took me up on it.

They said I had 45 days to relocate five racks of servers, buy my own SAN, install the applications and leave the data center or else they would charge $50,000 per day for every day we were over the 45-day deadline. They never thought we would be able to pull it off, but 39 days later, we were live. Control books in place, data transferred, applications tested and up and running. I certainly tried to play up the David vs. Goliath imagery, but I found I didn't need to.

In summary, the Come to Jesus Meeting is a tool that can be used effectively if done right, but when you play the hole card, you better be able to back it up.

10 comments
Justin James
Justin James

... what exactly is a "Come to Jesus meeting"? And why is it called that (potentially offensive) name? Is it simply code for, "having our high level executive be stern with their high level executives"? If so, I think that it is a highly *ineffective* tool in many scenarios. To put it simply, in far too many cases, the vendor's attitude come from the top. As someone who has been on both sides of the "bad vendor" fence, I promise you that it is very rare that the problems you describe are starting at the department level. Does it happen? Sure. But if you've got a department of a vendor who does this, management becomes aware very quickly. No, most of the time, it is the management who said, "hey, these guys gave us the references, time to stop giving them gold star treatment." Another winner, "hey, this customer is really demanding, we can't meet their expectations anyways, so let's stop supporting them and hope they dump us." And of course, "this customer is demanding champagne service on a beer budget, I don't care how much reputation they bring us, let's stop trying to please them." Don't think that I think what you're saying here is flat out wrong. It isn't. But overall, my objections are: * A vendor delivering bad service is simply unable to meet the terms of the contract, or unwilling. No amount of tough talk can or will change that permanently. * Tough talk can, at best, provide a temporary window of decent service (before the low level workers start to exact revenge) to allow you to safely transition to another vendor. Period. If you think it is a permanent fix, you're wrong. * There is ALWAYS an underlying reason for poor service, and only rarely is it confined to a single department. Usually, the vendor has a bad attitude all around, is unable to fulfill the promises that their contracts make, or they are pros at shifting limited resources around in order to satisfy their angry customers. * In my experience, 50% of a bad vendor relationship is caused by interaction problems between the customer's employees on the edge of that transaction and the vendor's people on the edge. In other words, "when my call center calls theirs, do they get along?" I have seen vast improvements (and declines) in overall service simply by changing ONE person. And you know what? A change in one person at the *customer* usually gets great results! All too often, the customer has someone who likes to talk tough or push around a vendor at the forefront of that relationship. The vendor's people grow weary of the attitude, they figure, "we can't satisfy General Patton, so we might as well give up and save ourselves the headaches." And the customer's reaction is to usually tell their in-house whip cracker to turn the heat up more. Big mistake. * Finally: there are some real culteral differences that you may be facing, particularly if the vendor is in another region or another country. I discovered that in India, saying "no" is considered rude, and that it is acceptable to say "yes" to everything with the implicit understanding that impossble requests will still not be met. To folks in the US, of course, when someone says "yes" we take that as a promise and hold them to it. Talk about being set up for failure! Here in the South East, when you solicit feedback, chances are, you will not hear anything negative even when it is true, the old, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it" is often adhered to. As a result, you think you're doing things right, and without warning you find out about massive issues only after they are past "problematic" and have become "deal killers". I beleive that culture clashes are a major source of pain in vendor/customer relationships. This is coming from someone who has worked for some really good vendors and some really bad vendors, and who has had to deal with some really bad vendors too. J.Ja

Brett.Blatchley
Brett.Blatchley

Justin, those were great culteral examples! I'd never heard of the Indian one, but it makes sense, now that I recall my dealings with them. I can vouch for the Southestern US one; that's very ofen the way things are. Being "up north direct" is considered rude by many here. Whereas, Northerners think Southerners are "two-faced." But it's really for the reason you pointed-out. Bravo!

Brett.Blatchley
Brett.Blatchley

Though tongue-in-cheek I saw the meaning right away, and while I might have been offended as a Christian, I wasn't and rather enjoyed the comparison. Here's my take on the steps of a good "Come to Jesus" meeting: 1. Remind the offender of their priviledged position, serving you the customer (or employee, or partner). (God tells us how He has blessed us.) 2. Note how the covenant between you both has been bent or brocken. (God reminds us of the ways in which we've offended Him, and the promises we've broken.) 3. Remind them of how you've kept your side of the covenent. (God reminds us of His patience under the circumstances.) 4. Point-out that the "wages of sin" are death to this covenant. (God reminds us that our waywardness will end in disaster.) 5. Suggest a the way that would reconcile the relationship. (God tells us of His pardon for us, purchased by Him through Jesus' sacrifice.) 6. Ask for a commitment. (God askes us if we will accept the free gift of His pardon, and surrender the lordship of our life to Him.)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

...implies it's Judgement Day for the vendor. And, if properly conducted by the customer, that's exactly what it is.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Where the employee confesses their "sins" and committs to improve, and the employer committs to help. Much depends in such meetings in the "sincerity" of the confession. James

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Which I guess is potentially less offensive. My experience with the term is hearing it used in the same context with a coach's halftime talk. "Blah, blah, work ethic, knuckle down, blah, take one for the team, blah, shining example, blah, blah, all in this together, blah, pep rally, go get 'em."

wmlundine
wmlundine

Yes...as is shock and awe IMHO.

Jay Rollins
Jay Rollins

That is the context of the post. The vendor comes hat in hand to confess their sins and promise to do better. Jay

Photog7
Photog7

You are correct. Metaphors and analogies using religion to describe business misbehavior are surely a poor choice of words. It trivializes what for some is the meaning of their life and for others is a subject they would prefer not to discuss in the workplace. Let's stick to clear business terminology. The simple fact that someone had to ask what was meant means it wasn't the clearest way to communicate the idea.

Justin James
Justin James

You might want to update the post to explain that quickly... I know that at least around here, you have to be very careful with how you use words that carry religious significance! J.Ja

Editor's Picks