What Are The 5 Most Dangerous Words In Business?

That is not my problem.”

If anyone in your business responds to a coworker or to a customer with “that is not my problem…”, your business is in serious trouble! These five words signal a dangerous situation where that employee is totally disengaged from the business and does not care about it, their coworkers, the customer or their career with your company.

I have heard these words many times over the years and other variants like:

  • That is not my department
  • That is an HR issue
  • That is a sales issue
  • That’s our policy
  • It’s not my _______ (fill in the blank with car, office, building, computer, etc.) so there is nothing I can do.

Invariably, whenever I hear this from someone, it is very clear that this person is disgruntled, does not care about the company and sees no future for themselves at the company.

Quite a few years ago I was working on a project with a few other (much larger) engineering and construction companies. We were constructing an addition to a gas plant in northern Canada and I was working on the site as a liaison between engineering and construction. As with most projects during the course of construction, there were issues that surfaced that needed to be resolved. This required the engineering companies, construction companies and the owners to sit in a daily meeting and review the issues and make decisions on how to move forward.

The construction companies at this site almost always approached the problems in a confrontational way. They would deny it was their issue and throw out roadblocks to solving the issue in a cost effective and timely manner. These issues were “not their problem.” Consequently, when the bulk of their scope of work was completed, the owner of the facility cut these companies loose and was happy to see them go! These businesses missed out in millions of dollars of follow on work that was given to other companies that were willing to take ownership of issues and work to resolve them.

Although the behavior of these construction companies may seem extreme, this behavior exists in many businesses. It is a contagious disease . . . unless it is contained and eradicated, it will spread and poison the rest of the organization!

You can eliminate these five dangerous words and this destructive mindset by following the principles outlined below:

  1. Continuously communicate your company vision, mission and values (hint: customer service should probably be part of this message)
  2. Communicate very clearly with your employees how you expect them to interact with customers
  3. Make sure all employees understand who they can go to for assistance on any topic that is relevant in your business. Follow Atul Gawande’s advice in The Checklist Manifesto and build a responsibility checklist or matrix and train employees on it.
  4. Train employees to ask questions to understand the customers’ needs and then follow up on those needs by connecting the customer to the appropriate expert
  5. Make sure your employees don’t just “throw the problem over the fence” by pointing the customer at a person or down an aisle. Have the employee make the connection directly between the customer and the topic expert.
  6. Reward employees for great customer service
  7. Remove employees who don’t exemplify the customer service values

“That is not my problem” and the mindset that goes with these five dangerous words will destroy your business. What do you need to change this week to eradicate these words and this mindset from your business?

You can leave a comment on how you have been affected by the 5 most dangerous words by clicking here


The goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best, but legendary.” Sam Walton


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