A client fired us the other day and I’ve been dwelling on the situation. The number one reason we lose a client is because they cancel their scholarship, grant or tuition program – but even that does not happen often. Yet, this client fired us because of the level of service we were (or in this case, weren’t) providing. Ouch. What makes the situation worse is that it was completely preventable and the service they expected – the service we promised – was and is completely standard for us.

I called the client and did my best to assure them that at least their departure would be easy. I feel like we betrayed their trust and it’s gnawing at me that they may wonder if they should have done business with us in the first place. As I’ve analyzed our multiple fail points, I’ve realized this is a situation which lacked co-accountability. If you are a parent or have spent time around tweens and teens, you’ll know the blood-boiling phrase ‘but that’s not my job’. I believe we have (but not for long) a lack of co-accountability in our office. Everyone is so busy doing what they think is “their job” that they overlook the complete job we are doing for our clients, but they are the people WHO KEEP THE LIGHTS ON!

As a kid I lived in Germany. Until I heard about the term co-accountability I did not understand that it can be a stronger social norm in some countries than in others. In Germany, for example, if you litter (intentionally or not) 3 or 4 complete strangers will say something to you immediately.  On a bus or train, if an older person gets on and the youngest seated person does not offer his or her seat pretty quickly, once again, complete strangers will engage! It may help that carrying firearms is also not allowed in Germany, but regardless, there is definitely a strong culture of co-accountability there. People see the impact of their actions on the big picture.

Back to our client firing us – imagine if our office was one that embraced co-accountability. We would have had multiple forward-thinking people analyzing possible outcomes with plenty of time to alter the course so that by the time the client received the deliverable it had been triple washed. Instead, we responded to the client’s complaints at the 11th hour. We did not use the system we have to anticipate problems so that we could act early and quickly. We were reactive instead of proactive. We knew how they defined success of their program, but failed to implement the dashboards and red flags to see bumps in the road before they became steep, painful mountain climbs. The puzzle pieces which depicted the aspects of their programs were managed individually without regard for the need to connect them so that finished product was tight.

I’m an optimist and know we will learn and grow from this situation. But the lump in the pit of my stomach is the result of learning a lesson while causing our client frustration. We must learn and grow without causing harm along the way. Continuing education must be part of our corporate culture.  It is my job to teach skills and provide tools so that we accurately forecast potential issues and cut them off at the pass. Our improved training program is in the works now. It has been enhanced to include not only details about our systems and processes, but also on how to incorporate co-accountability and proactivity into every position at our company.

I am going to share this post with our client, not because we expect to do business with them again but because I want them to know that at the very least, we take our failures seriously and are willing to discuss them publically.


— Becky Sharpe, President & CEO