January 19, 2011
Internal Conflicts: Using Saleschildren to Close the Deal
As the proud parent of a five-year-old (excuse me, five and a HALF), my wife and I are experiencing kindergarten as parents for the very first time. Overall, it's been a great experience. Our son has an engaged and energetic teacher, a beautiful facility, and a usually nurturing and challenging environment. Last night, however, brought home a new experience.
Our public elementary school often has fundraisers to help supplement the school's budget. This year we have been to Turkey Bingo and bought pizzas to support the PTO. Last night a new option came home: a company selling books and magazines. The program apparently involved bringing a salesperson into the school promising opportunities to win prizes if the kids brought back, the next day, ten postcards filled out with addresses of family and friends asking these people to support the school through purchases. If the kids did bring the postcards back filled out, they would win a small prize and be in a drawing to win a big prize. Other sales accomplishments even lead to a chance to win a "cheeseburger phone."
Apparently the salesperson was very energetic and had the kids quite excited. When my son gave me the envelope (he noted that the salesperson "actually said ON-velope, but that's okay, I knew they meant "EN-velope"), he said we "HAD to fill out the postcards and bring them back tomorrow." Being obstinate, as I tend to be, I said, "We don't HAVE to do anything." Then came the waterworks.
In talking to him, it became clear that he equated this sales program to other things he brings home from school that are required -- like his homework or an approval form that needs our signature. After some conversation, I got him to calm down, and I explained that this is a nice thing to try to raise money for the school (I was being generous here), but that it's not required. In fact, some people can't afford to buy extra things or may not have family or friends they can ask to help. I told him that we can, and that I would do it this time, but that it's not a problem if we don't do it. Just as important, I wanted him to know that if someone in his class could not return the postcards and/or make an order, it did not make them bad or sad. They may not be able to do it, may not be comfortable doing it, or may even have forgotten, and that it was okay whatever the reason.
To be clear, I'm not someone who is opposed to paying taxes for public education (ours are quite high and I'm okay with that), and I think education deserves significant financial support. As it is, I think most teachers are both under paid and under appreciated, and I am thankful to have good schools in my neighborhood. I don't fault administrators for trying to do more, and I'm willing to do my part to help in that quest.
I do, however, have a problem with tactics linking a child's perception of success to a child's level of sales. I have a problem with linking reading to sales. And I have a problem with the school's stamp of approval that essentially made magazine sales a part of the curriculum. Beyond that, I don't like the potential conflict the school creates between parent and teacher, especially for five and six year olds.
The conflict? If the school tells a child that something is very important and the school needs their help and support (i.e., sales) and a parent has to tell the child that they cannot or will not buy something or distribute the sales cards, the parent is now undermining the teacher. It is teaching the child that there are times when it is okay to ignore the teacher or administrator, which (barring wildly inappropriate behavior) is contrary to what we are teaching our child. Quite simply, the message is wrong, even if the goal is right.
And the link between this and business law? Well, I'd say it's somewhat analogous to teaching young associates that the number of hours billed is more important than the quality of work. Of course it's important to have a good work ethic and work hard for your clients and employer, but quality of work should be first, not quantity. And in most places, the ideal is both high-quality and high-quantity work, which is okay. I think the quantity over quality message (in that firms tend to track and reward hours a lot more than quality work, especially for young lawyers) is tough on young lawyers. But at least in that case, they are both adults and lawyers, which makes it bearable, if not ideal.