Bad Times Make for Good Habits


Making the tough choices on employees and operations can be difficult, but well worth it in the end.



I read a great quote attributed to John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State under President Eisenhower, which said, “The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.” 

It got me thinking that while we all stay very busy, too busy for the most part, we’d do our companies a huge favor by doing a better job of both prioritizing and executing, especially when it comes to those “tough problems” Dulles mentions.

How many of us—I’m betting the huge majority—have put off having that face-to-face, sit-down discussion with a former good employee who’s now living off the reputation of performances long past? Not only does your company have the right to expect you to meet the challenge, but guess what: so does your employee.

To a large extent, employees will achieve the level of performance you expect of them. It’s our duty to expect great performances from our employees and to settle for nothing less. When we fail in this mission we are not just letting the company down, we are also letting the employee down. 

Oftentimes there are reasons for a change in performance that can be remedied. In any case, your employees deserve the respect of knowing of your concern. A hint while dealing with this type of tough situation is to take the “personality” out of it. I’ve always considered myself an instrument that employees get to choose how to use. For example, solid performances get praise and promotions, while poor performances might earn a warning, write up or worse. I don’t take much credit for the raise in pay and, conversely, don’t take too much blame for the failures. 

Tough Choices Require Character
Similarly to underperforming employees, what about that painful but necessary decision to close down a severely underperforming store? We all have had to deal with stores that we’ve continued to operate and kept pouring in good money after bad. Eventually, this has to stop and we are forced to face the music and make a decision that will affect the lives of a dozen employees. But the upside is that we can reinvest the money, pay down debt or build a war chest for future projects or acquisitions. The upside isn’t achievable, however, until we make tough decisions.

Whether you’re the CEO of a large chain, district manager of a medium size operation or the owner-operator of a single store, the times demand we better handle the tough opportunities. The old axiom, “good times make for bad habits and bad times make for good habits,” was never truer today.

In management, it’s our job to make things happen. Every management position carries with it a bit of wiggle room. Every time you take advantage of your position and delay making tough but critical decisions, you are moving one step closer to, as they say in the political world, being voted out of office. 

Make no mistake, we’re all up for reelection in this business and it’s a lot more frequent than every four years. Those of us holding corporate positions are quite aware of this, but small business owners often feel a certain cloak of invincibility that doesn’t really exist. Remember, the customer is still king and has the u    ltimate choice to “vote the rascals out.” 

Bottom line: We get paid to face the tough problems and make the critical decisions. Use this trying economy as impetus to rise to the occasion.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at


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