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I Forge Iron

Maybe that co-worker isn't incompetent...

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My kid was complaining about how "group assignments" always seem to involve a member that doesn't do their share of the work.  I'm sure most of us can relate.  In my case, I got to thinking of some co-workers/colleagues in a new/different light.

For example, one of our distributors has an administrator who handles all project material orders, warranty replacements, shipping, etc.  The materials are not only trade-specific, they're often involved in complex assemblies.  As a result, the manufacturers will have their agents asking lots of very technical questions.  All of this is funneled through the distributors administrator who possesses zero technical knowledge, and all the social skills of an alarm clock.

I'm often on the receiving end of emails with sentence fragment questions, appended to vague threats that material orders will be delayed.  Nine times out of ten, the job name isn't in the email title.  I have to be careful to answer within the administrators level of knowledge, or else the response passed through to the factory agents will be incorrect.  

For some time now, I've considered this administrator to be incompetent.  I'm a bit isolated in this perspective, as my boss greatly appreciates how this dogged administrator never forgets to submit timely paperwork.  It does bear mentioning that my boss doesn't have to answer the questions.  

I got to wondering how this person could go on for years behaving as a massive obstacle to progress.  At a minimum, it seems like they'd learn the basics of what we're all talking about.  Yet any effort to refer to this person's past experience evokes an almost prideful declaration of their ignorance.

Here's the thing.  This administrator is such an effective obstacle, that the entire market works around them to resolve issues, answer questions, etc.  Now that obviously benefits the administrator by reducing their work.  But it also benefits the administrator's boss who doesn't find it necessary to hire someone more knowledgeable to handle these issues.  

From a purely practical standpoint this administrator generates a finely calibrated level of obstruction, which massively reduces this distributors overhead, while also creating a perfect level of plausible deny-ability for the owner.  All that's needed to prevent customers from pursuing less annoying distributors, is to offer low enough markup to make it a sound business practice to put up with them.

Now please don't read this to imply that this administrator is a Machiavellian genius of calibrated misery.  I think it's more than a little likely that they're simply blessed with an abrasive personality, poor social skills, and an unhealthy obsession with Accounting.  They're merely the owner's view of what the "perfect" person for this job would resemble.  Before you decide that a co-worker is incompetent, maybe consider if management shares your goals. 

Until and unless I can find a cost-effective replacement for this distributor, I'll have to work around this administrator to get my job done. 





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The business world will always appear operate along a baseline of inexplicable madness, as viewed by a select group of observers.  Perhaps a mixture of charity and utility drives the retention of such individuals.  Sometimes a rickety framework is superstitiously protected, because it "works", much to the frustration of more perceptive outsiders...

Robert Taylor

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Another factor to consider is that when we deal with someone professionally we are only seeing one aspect of their personality and life.  Like most of us they may shine in certain aspects of their lives and be pretty sub-optimal in others.  We may base our opinion of them based on whatever aspect, good or bad, with which we interact.

In Rockstar's example the individual may be incompetent in many facets of his life including Rockstar's interaction with him or, there is a possibility that there are other unseen and unknown facets of him where he is perfectly or highly functional.  It is hard to say which without knowing more.  Maybe his boss keeps him on for other reasons that we don't know.

That said, we have all known folk who are very good at most aspects of life with few flaws and we have known people who are pretty bad at most aspects of living.  And there are those who, for example, who are great spouses and parents but aren't so good professionally.  I have known a fair number of people who are really good with numbers and analytical things but have lousy people skills.  It's not that they are mean or nasty, just kind of tone deaf to the subtleties of how to best interact with various other humans.  This is why they may be really good professionally but make really bad bosses or supervisors.  The stereotype examples of this would be accountants or engineers.

And there are those who work best as part of a team and those who do their best work individually.  Similarly, there are people who are born or learn to be good leaders and supervisors and those who work best as subordinates.

This is related to the Peter Principle that people rise to their level of incompetence.  They are good at something and keep rising and promoted until they reach a level where they are not so good and stay there.  The geologic/soil science version of this phenomenon is "the clods sink to the top."

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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5 hours ago, George N. M. said:

"the clods sink to the top."

My Grandmother used a version to describe folks who were less than expected. "Cream rises to the top, so do xxxxx."

That little bit of family memory is about all I can contribute to this thread. I've said many times I spent 30 years working for the state and have seen examples of about everything Rockstar has talked about. The long term, marginally competent employee isn't uncommon. 

Being the kind of thinker I am I often wondered if strategic flow blocks helped filter the workload to a manageable level for those upstream. The one office I worked out of for the majority of my career produced almost flawlessly. Seriously, the only change of materials, design or conditions suits filed were nuisance suits. Excavating a right of way they encounter a semi sized boulder or cluster of VW sized ones or a spring. The state paid these with a cursory inspection and possibly we were called in to produce more data for a redesign. That's it, 28+ years working for HQ Materials geology section and not one bad design, not one.

What about the change of conditions suits? Nobody can afford to drill the entire right of way, a 2 lane road has on average a 60' right of way, ditches, shoulders, lanes. To cover the right of way completely would require bore holes a minimum of about 50' below grade every 50'. Even then you'd miss something. The nuisance suits were calculated as part of the cost. 

We'd drill a series of holes, the field geologist would log and write his observations and measurements in the log book. Samples were delivered to the soils lab and analyzed and tested. The data from the surveyors, drill crews and lab were delivered to the appropriate office geologist who wrote his report using a large reference library. The foundations or centerline, etc, geologist sent his report and recommendations to the headquarters engineer who sent it to design who sent it for final review and the head guy. 

Sometimes it's possible for data to move too fast for proper processing but look perfect. Then you can get events like, The Tacoma Narrows Bridge, better known as "Galloping Gerty." 

The occasional bottle neck might be a good thing.

Frosty The Lucky.

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We call people like that "post turtles" as in a turtle sitting on top of a fence post where I'm from. You have no idea how they got up there but you know they didn't do it by themselves. 


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8 hours ago, Frosty said:

Being the kind of thinker I am I often wondered if strategic flow blocks helped filter the workload to a manageable level for those upstream.

I think that's a very elegant way to summarize what I'm seeing here.

George,  I'll freely admit that this administrator might be excellent at all sorts of things.  In fact, my whole point was that I suspect they're actually excellent at reducing overhead, risk, and work for their firm.  I've certainly worked for mischief makers who feigned ignorance, faulty hearing, or poor recollection whenever it suited them.   There are a lot of malefactors who operate on the good faith of others who charitably assume that the obstructionist in question must be good at other things. 

Whether we agree to call them clods, or post-turtles, (love that by the way!)  makes little practical difference because the implication is that we're entering into a "judge not lest ye be judged" balancing act.  

This places all of the focus on the individual, not the organizational plan.  I've come to see the truth in the old expression "personnel is policy", as I've yet to personally encounter an honest firm with a dodgy employee running rogue.  After all the plausible deny-ability was exhausted, and the plain truth of the dishonesty was laid bare, the bosses were always worse than their employees.  Getting there involved a lot of obstructive people who conveniently refused to notice how the "unintentional outcomes" of their actions tended to reward one side, at the expense of the other.  

That right there is the real cost of doing business with them.  I know that our firm will furnish hours upon hours of painful technical support whenever we contract with this distributor.  Whenever competing sales agents come asking what they can do to earn my business, I'll tell them what I'm currently up against.  

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Oh great, now the voices are squabbling about who is most elegant! 

Judge not is a recipe for failure if applied indiscriminately. Or without good judgment. A business that doesn't judge it's employees on applicable factors is pffft. Judge not lest you be judged regards matters of faith and morality, not job performance. You don't have to fire an immoral but you certainly need to fire an unethical one. Liars and thieves need to go. 

It's WHAT you judge that makes the difference. It may look like we're judging a person if we're judging their actions. Perception is or should not be the reality in such things. 

Competence, effectiveness, get along-ness; if they're issues then judgment is called for. It's like applying, "Forgive and Forget," indiscriminately. Forgive Oh YEAH, it takes the self destructive weight of anger off YOUR shoulders.

Forget, are you NUTS? If you forget a propensity for doing harm you're inviting repeats. From the specific individual or others. Forget is in YOUR mind, ignoring lessons is a B A D thing. Airing badness publicly isn't usually good, even if they were found guilty at trial. Quietly warning someone else if it looks like they're being suckered? Wouldn't that be the latter of, "Aiding and Abetting?"

It's these issues that make running my own business so unattractive. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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As always, I appreciate your thought-provoking responses.  I hope all the voices in your head can agree they're a choir of elegance!

Your last statement put some memories into a new context.  A long time ago I worked for a firm that was way better than the sum of its parts.  Everyone loved working with them because the work was always smooth and profitable.

At the helm were two individuals, each with pretty serious personality issues.  Reinforcing George's point above, their combined efforts were profoundly effective and I have no qualms about giving them due credit for creating an excellent company.

They began with some profoundly simple concepts, rigorously applied them, and built systems around human nature.  I've never worked for a company that was more sincere about its employee training than this one.  They told you what they cared about, why they cared about it, how their process was applied, and enforced.  It was very thorough.

This was a demanding place to work because ownership would spot check anything you did.  If they found any loose ends, hesitation, equivocating, etc., the focus would spread, and their investigations would intensify.  It's really important to point out that they were like this with everyone from senior management to interns.   Hardworking people who stammered their way through, got coaching on how to present their work with greater confidence, clarity, etc.  Honest mistakes were addressed fairly, but with sufficient clarity to convey the relative security of your position.  Some people struggled more than others, but everyone did good work in the end.

In the years since that company folded, I've crossed paths with many of my old colleagues.  Most of them are working for firms riddled with incompetence and dishonesty.  

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That's about the ONLY thing they agree on though it's never unanimous. 

That sounds like a good place to work, the owners understood human nature. People live up to your expectations, if you expect them to be whining dependents they will be. If you expect excellence they're be excellent. If you give them the tools too you can't go wrong. 

Have you ever noticed a thief can't trust anybody, a liar believes no one, a violent person expects violence. Oh, there are more but I'm blanking. We judge the universe by our own standards, we have to we only know what we know. Being flexible in our judgment is good. An open mind is a wonderful thing so long as it's not so open your brains dribble out.

Speaking of experience and understanding. I read whatever you post, I understand what you say but I frequently have no frame of reference so even if I understood it I have no feeling for it. If that makes sense. Without a frame of reference to judge by, my mind starts free associating: explanations, rationalizations, motives, etc. Occam's razor most often stops at incompetence and fear. I forget who said, "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence." Working 30 years for a gvt. agency has shown me so much more incompetence than malice I fetch up on incompetence. The downside I'm aware of in myself is I stop there without looking deeper and sometimes set myself up. What's really troubling is I find I don't WANT to look for the malice. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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This discussion brings up another issue for which I do not have an answer.  Should an employee, coworker, customer, contractor, supplier, etc. be judged only by professional/commercial/business criteria in our dealings with him or her or should/can other aspects come into the equation?  The obvious are criminal arrests or convictions.  Should you make a decision about the person based on the fact that they have been arrested/accused or convicted of a particular offense?  Does it depend on the seriousness or moral offensiveness of the offense?  Does a DUI have the same effect as an assault, passing a bad check, child abuse, or a sexual offense?  And do other things carry similar weight such as politics?  Should you do business with a contractor who has a bumper sticker for X on his truck and you think that X is an terrible and any one who would support him/her is an awful human being?

Or do we only judge them by "official" interactions and everything else is irrelevant?  Are we like a professional sports coach who, when confronted with a criminal charge against a player, says, "All I care about is if they are out on bail on game day"?

And does it matter if the person is someone you only have a passing commercial relationship with such as a contractor or supplier versus someone you deal with every day such as an employee or a coworker?

I will admit that when faced with these situations in my life that I have usually made a decision based on an ad hoc evaluation.  I have known ex-cons who have committed some pretty bad crimes but I figured that they had paid their debt to society and it wasn't for me to pile onto their consequences.  And I have been in other situations where the person's conduct was offensive to my sensibilities and I have kept my interaction with them as brief as possible.

As far as criminal charges goes my legal training kicks in and I sincerely believe that a person is innocent until he/she admits it or a judge or jury decides that they are beyond a reasonable doubt.  Once there is a conviction, though, then I can decide how to react.  If the crime is serious enough I don't have to make a decision because the person drops off my radar because they are off paying for the consequences of their decisions.

I'd be interested in other folks take on this.  This situation can arise in blacksmithing situations as well as in other aspects of life.

"By hammer and hand all arts do stand."

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I think human nature is going to enforce limits on what we can, and can't find time to care about.  Incentives make a huge difference in that estimation.  

Risk versus reward is often presented as a two axis problem, it's not.  As often as not, the choices we face today, are a result of the choices we made before.  

Whether that's positive or negative is up to interpretation.  For example, I avoid working with dishonest clients.  As a result, I'm less popular in certain markets.  There are times where those markets are the only ones with viable work out to bid.  

What about new or unfamiliar clients? How do I go about determining if they're honest?  I can't name an area of science, media, or industry which hasn't generated an equal measure of noise to fact.  A great deal of very intentional effort has been put into creating "proof" that whatever side you want to choose, is correct.    We actually have scientists publishing articles where they are quoted as saying "the science is settled" on something in their area of expertise!  Science is the unending pursuit of knowledge.  Faith is belief in the unproven.  That distinction is intentionally blurred in pursuit of personal objectives.  I don't think this is a new tactic.

Honest efforts to sort all that out lead to lots of finger pointing, no accountability, everything goes tribal.  I think that's a tragic waste of human potential.

I don't know if it helps everyone, but I find some solace in accepting uncertainty, so I can focus on (my) actual problems.

I started this post because it struck me that my distributor may have a different view of my "problem".  Everything here is still uncertain, but I did gain one meaningful thing.

I could argue that this administrator is incompetent, which makes it less advantageous to work with this distributor.

I could equally argue that this distributor's business model makes it less advantageous to work with them.

Focusing on business priorities, the cause doesn't matter as much as the effect.  We continue to work with this distributor because they charge less, which helps to offset their administrative shortcomings. 

As the person living through "groundhog day" with this irritating administrator, it's important to retain my professionalism, so as to maximize the benefit of this distributor's lower rates.  To that end, it's a whole lot easier to interact with this person on the presumption that they're playing a dullards role.  Their limitations, real or feigned, are no cause for personal offense.  I'm free to work around this obstacle as efficiently as I can.  In the unlikely event that this causes offence, I will have succeeded in creating pressure to change the status quo.  Now that may well lead to increased difficulty in working with this distributor, which would negate the business incentive to work with them.  However, what are my alternatives?  If I don't work around the administrator, nothing will get done and my business will suffer.

I may not have clearly mentioned this before, but efforts to talk it out with this administrator have been fruitless.  

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I understand the dilemma George, Forgive and Forget is too often a matter of degree rather than kind. I can't speak for others but for me there are a few unforgivable things: pedophilia, serial rape and murder are up there but I don't say never. Even the worst might be forgivable, fortunately I haven't had to deal personally with what I think of true evil. I don't think.

For the purposes of discussion, a person has done their time. Do I call them forgiven? Okay, I can go along with "paid their debt they're forgiven" and treat them like an upstanding citizen. Do I forget? Probably not, I'll almost certainly keep an eye open for the same type problem or evidence it's happening again. Given time I'll probably relax the watch.

I live in an immoral universe so I usually don't apply my morals to others provided they don't do harm. Matters of faith? Definitely not, you worship how you see fit, so long as you do no harm. I mean actual harm, not corrupting other's faith so long as it's persuasion, not force or threats, have at it.

Too many of these questions are WAY above my pay grade so I do my humble best to be a good guy.

Goodness, I start to reply and have to go to a dilated eye exam so I don't even open the comp for a couple hours.

Voila! Rockstar has made another installment! B)

Risk management is as old as predator prey life! Is it safe to run across the clear space or should I keep under the edge of this log? If I go straight across I'll get to the juicy goodness of food sooner than the competition. But if I stay under cover the hungry flier is less likely to see me and make me food. Which action has the best bottom line? Fish school for the same reason as do bison herd, etc. 

Agreed, some things aren't worth worrying about: some aren't important enough, others I can't effect, many more I don't know about, etc. If I can't effect the outcome or it effect me, let it go.

You talk about people trying to deal with problems they can't solve. The hubris of some approaches or IS fraud. Folks who think Science settles things doesn't understand science. At it's best science is the Best DESCRIPTION of what we have around us. It's being constantly updated as our ability to observe and measure become better. Science can no more be settled than the water in a river be located.

Many people, a goodly % can't let things they can't solve alone and get on with what they can. They can't fix the problem so they fix the blame. 

What you do for a living balances on the bottom line, is it worth your time and effort to earn x$ or do you move on? 

Economics is just another term for risk vs rewards. Is it profitable to do x? A great example I recall from a special a few decades ago about Australian bushmen. The journalist was walking with the tribe member assigned by the headman to help the visitor. They were moving the village, possessions on their backs and walking, the guide is pointing to good plants and bad plants, explaining what and why. One has a bulbous root that contains water and demonstrates. As they're walking along the journalist spots one and starts to go harvest it.

The guide stops him. "Why, is it a dangerous plant, not the water plant, why?" 

"It's the right plant and a large one but it's too far out of the line of march, it will you cost more water than it can provide. It's a bad deal"

It was a beautiful example of basic economics. The cost was greater than the benefit, keep walking. Risk, cost, same thing when you get down to it. It's like respect and fear, they're the same thing different only in degree. Controlling risk reduces fear. 

Anyway. It's ALWAYS about the bottom line, always has been, always will.

Frosty The Lucky.

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11 minutes ago, Frosty said:

I can't speak for others but for me there are a few unforgivable things: pedophilia, serial rape and murder are up there but I don't say never. Even the worst might be forgivable, fortunately I haven't had to deal personally with what I think of true evil. I don't think.

frosty i can see what you mean and if i came up against those kinds of people after they had hurt my family I would have a hard time forgiving them but i know that in Gods eyes i was just evil and he was willing to forgive me so i should be willing to forgive them though personally I think I would be more like Corrie ten Boom in this story Corrie ten Boom meets captor after released at least that's the minimum of what I feel ok I think I've said more than my 2cents worth so I'll leave it there for now


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Anyone who has a serious interest in repentance and forgiveness really should read On Apology by Dr. Aaron Lazare. It’s short, readable, and enormously insightful into the role that apologies play in repairing broken relationships and the necessary elements of a successful apology. Cannot recommend highly enough. 

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12 hours ago, Frosty said:

For the purposes of discussion, a person has done their time. Do I call them forgiven? Okay, I can go along with "paid their debt they're forgiven" and treat them like an upstanding citizen. Do I forget? Probably not, I'll almost certainly keep an eye open for the same type problem or evidence it's happening again. Given time I'll probably relax the watch.

I agree. I've been both, a convicted felon and a business owner. In my life I've known real killers and truly evil people. I think most people can actually become productive members of society again with the exception of sexual predators and some murderers. 

In my experience I've found that giving someone a second chance (usually people convicted of drug offenses) will have one or two outcomes. You'll either hire a person who is grateful for the opportunity to prove themselves and will go the extra mile to show you how much they appreciate the chance or someone who is still in active addiction. Either way they make it known pretty fast which they are. 



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