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I Forge Iron

Good business versus "doing your job"

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Yesterday I had a couple of experiences where people were "just doing their job" in a way that was bad for business.  The striking thing about these individuals was that they were very punctilious about pursuing their task.  I have to admit, it really got under my skin.  It's difficult for me to relate to someone would work so hard to do something that's bad for business.

The individuals involved seem to believe their job is to do whatever the client and their plans tell them to, especially so when there are obvious conflicts.  There's no consideration of what value the client would see in a given issue, or what risk (and cost) they're creating for their subcontractors.  If their hands are tied, they figure they can't be held accountable so they constantly seek to have their hands bound.  When that fails, they point to discrepancies in the design,  delays in production and additional charges from the subcontractors as "proof' of their struggle.  

In practice, this approach infuriates clients who can't understand why the architect, engineer, contractor, and subcontractor are all incapable of building the simple  project without delays and additional costs.  It's a lot of work put into straining relationships, angering the client, delaying the project, reducing profitability, and wasting time.  The kicker of all this is; that these individuals pride themselves on their diligence, integrity, and customer service.

I've seen quite a few greenhorn entrepreneurs who take the same approach.  It's like they assume that with a short list of good-sounding priorities to define their job, they can't fail.

I think good business is based on delivering your end of the deal to stakeholders.  As a professional, especially as an entrepreneur, that's the job.  Everything else is supplementary and complimentary to that end. This extends to all stakeholders, including the client.  Whenever I've worked with (or for) people who didn't understand this, there were problems.


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Remember that ISO certification does not care if your processes are good ones; just that they are documented and you follow them blindly!  You are marked down for going outside the process to do what's *right*!

In some ways this mentality is lampooned in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix where in one task he has to get some paperwork through a bureaucracy... 

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Thankfully ISO hasn't made it's way into my line of work.  I have worked for companies like you've described.  Many years ago I was leaving a position with an international QA firm in the Semiconductor industry.  During my exit interview with HR the lady pulled out a list she'd made of customers and employees from all over the world who had emailed her to protest my leaving.  She explained that she'd compared their positions and locations to mine, and noticed that most of them had no reason to know who I was. She asked me how I'd gotten to know these people.

I explained that the official process and channels are too slow to make the project deadlines.  So I went looking for people to help me, and in turn, I always did what I could to help them.  Eventually this led to trading names of like-minded professionals.  In most cases we never met, or even spoke on the phone.  Nobody broke the rules, we all just connected the problem with someone who could/would solve it.

She said, "Well that might explain the employees, but what about customers you've never worked with?".  I had to laugh.  "Well, our customers have similar problems.  If I happened to know someone in the customers company who could help, I'd pass that information along. Sometimes it's better to contact an engineer in another country who'll answer, than to leave another unanswered message with a manager in the same building.

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