I had been consulting for months at a company that was implementing a very advanced computer system when one day the CEO and the CFO invited the IT manager and me to lunch for an update. After lunch and a positive update, the CEO sprang an unexpected question on us (the CFO had already been briefed). He told us that the company was going into a new mail-order business, with advertising in national magazines, and he wanted to know how many consumer responses he thought we would get from the magazine ad campaign, to get an idea of the computer processing we might need to be prepared for. The CEO asked us all to write our guesses on a paper napkin, so we could discuss the work to be planned. When the napkins were turned over, the CFOs guess was 30,000 responses, mine was 20,000 responses, and the IT managers was . . . incredibly. . . zero. The big bosses displeasure and chagrin were palpable.
The IT manager should have made allowance for our bosses egos. He was being honest: He didnt think the ads would pull responses. When it comes to discussing your own work with your boss, straight talk is the byword. But when you are putting your boss on the line and in the spotlight, brutal honesty is not the best policy. Obviously these top officials were enthusiastic about their idea. To declare that the ads would generate no responses at all was a slap in the face to both of them. Prudence and an understanding of human nature should have kept my colleague from insulting his bosses with an answer that showed contempt for their idea.
Shortly afterward, my colleague was fired .