A verb confusion lesson

Jan. 1, 2020
I just returned home from an industry event that has become a central and essential part of my calendar.

I just returned home from an industry event that has become a central and essential part of my calendar. I’d love to say I enjoy this event more than any other of its kind, but I’m convinced it stands alone. In my experience, it is unparalleled. The content, quality and attention to every detail is an abject lesson in “sweating the small stuff.” And, the massive amount of effort and energy this organization invests up front pays substantial dividends at the back end in the flow, execution and experience of everyone involved.

I can’t say it’s perfect because it has gotten better every year and I have no reason to doubt the trend line will continue to climb. I enjoy it so much that I schedule the rest of the year’s event calendar around it. It is all about achieving excellence in every aspect of you business, every aspect of your life.

However, this is not about the conference. It’s about what was waiting for me when I returned home. It wasn’t the shop. The shop was still there, none the worse for my absence. It was a vendor suffering from a potentially fatal disease — verb confusion.

Grammar? Disease? How can verb confusion possibly be considered fatal? Come a bit closer and I’ll tell you!

Verb confusion becomes fatal, especially for a business, when the owners or the managers recognize service as a noun only, failing to understand that service is only relevant when it exists as intended — as a verb, an action verb!

From the moment we switched to this vendor, an industrial laundry, it became apparent that while they could use the word service in a sentence to describe what needed to occur, they could not execute. They could not apply it as a verb in reality!


Uniforms didn’t fit or they came back from the laundry looking almost as soiled and wrinkled as they did when they went in. They would end up in the wrong locker or worse yet, at the wrong shop. And, finally, when I was away recently away at an industry event listening to a host of world-class speakers sharing ways to keep our business laser focused on delivery and a level of service unattainable anywhere else, our uniform company lost our uniforms altogether. But, that wasn’t the worst part!

They compounded the failure by running away from the problem. They made things exponentially worse by forcing me to chase them. They forced me to take action when I returned to the shop the following Monday morning.

The back story is rich and is currently still unfolding. It focuses on a company’s unwillingness to recognize failure when it occurs or to take action in order to mitigate a potential failure. The failure to recognize there is a problem is arrogant. The failure to take ownership of a problem, large or small, before a situation becomes unsalvageable is dangerous. The failure to proactively take ownership, accept responsibility and act decisively can be fatal.

We are using this experience to help everyone in our company understand that service is a verb, an action verb. We’re looking at every aspect of what happened and how the ball was dropped. In other words, we are using what did not occur, what did not transpire, to help us understand how to act, what to say and what has to happen to avoid a problem or how to act and what to do when there is.

I’m sharing it in the hope that it might prove useful or be of interest to you.

Someone once said that sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me! That isn’t exactly true… words like action or service can not only hurt you, they just might kill you if you allow them to remain misunderstood.