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The Following Client Has Been Rated R

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If you have an e-mail account at www.hotmail.com and you accidentally misspell the "mail" portion of the address as you type it into your browser, you could end up at a pornography site. Such a bawdy situation recently arose for the Ncom Group, a 50-employee company in Columbus, Ohio, that does E-commerce work for manufacturers. One customer had a Web address that, when misspelled, led visitors to an X-rated Web site. When a few of Ncom's employees typed in the wrong URL, they thought their company was doing business with a sleazy client.

President Mark Prevost took quick action at the company's weekly Monday-morning meeting. He asked the group to form a client-review committee consisting of one member from each corporate department: customer service, graphics, IT, warehouse, and management. The panel was charged with reviewing potential clients' suitability from the employees' perspective. If a majority of the members were uncomfortable working with the company, then the salesperson would have to turn down the prospective client.

Since the committee was formed, in November, Ncom's employees have rejected three prospective clients: a novelty lingerie manufacturer, the maker of a cream that purportedly enlarges the male genitalia, and a maker of flags, including a Confederate banner.

The committee's power, however, is not absolute. Both Prevost and CEO Doug Sapp have veto authority. They have yet to use it, and management experts say they'd be wise to do so with discretion. "Have you ever been on a committee where someone has told you they wanted your input and then they ignore everything you say?" asks Barbara Lawrence, a professor at UCLA's Anderson School. "No one will take the committee seriously if management exercises the veto power more than once or twice. The message gets out real fast."

Sapp says he's loath to use his veto power "as a sword," and Ncom employees confirm that management meddling hasn't been a problem so far. Kevin Lotspaih, director of client services, says, "I think management realizes that if we can make a case for not working with someone, they'd be stupid not to take that input."




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