07 Jan3 Unacceptable Excuses for Not Getting the Job Done.

Being good at something means getting the job done right and getting it done on time.  In my first interview with an Investment Bank, I was asked about working long hours and weekends. “Look, I don’t know anything about this business and I am sure there might be reasons why sometimes, long hours and weekends are needed, but quite frankly it looks to me that it is a business like any other and if you are not able to run it between 8am and 6pm, then you are probably doing something wrong!”

Being able to perform to that standard is what Operations Management is all about. That means having the right tools, the right people, the right number of them and the right process.

I am a process hawk and there are some particular excuses about poor process that really wind me up:

“Busy”: I was in a well known local bar in Zurich, the Widder, with friends recently. A busy bar on a Saturday night. This bar, being in Europe, had waiter service. The waiter came to take an order for a second round of drinks. We waited, and waited, so we prompted him again. Still the drinks did not arrive, so I called the waiter over and complained. His answer: “Sorry, we are really busy” and nonchalantly waived his hands around. I told him flat out that was an appalling excuse and they either needed more waiters or to let fewer people in. This excuse is also a favourite cop out in busy restaurants too; winds me up because if you are going to be in business and open a place with 200 seats, then you ought to be ready to serve 200 folks with drinks, food or whatever service you are offering.

The division of fault and responsibility: One particular excuse in Operations, much loved when you are checking the status of something is the “e-mail cop out”. As in “I have sent an email chaser to so and so”. This is a lesson I learned early and never forgot; it was during my formative year at IBM as an industrial trainee, which the Americans call a co-op student. I was asked to pull a project together and had to source a piece of it from a long time IBM veteran who was just not delivering. Asked about the status by my boss and “master sergeant trainer”, a brilliant guy and long time IBM’er, Kevin Walling, I gave it the old “Well I asked Pete and he hasn’t delivered anything” explanation. That was followed by what in German is called “ein Abrieb” or in plain English, a good old-fashioned bollocking. I was told in no uncertain terms that this was a black and white case of it being my responsibility even it was the other guy’s fault. One dressing down was enough and that lesson was impregnated in my grey matter forever!

Lessons Learned: Think very carefully about using any of the following excuses for something not having been done:

  • I sent an email to …
  • I called the IT help desk
  • We are really busy

The person doing the job has to be responsible for getting the job done. Others may be at fault for not doing something or doing it wrong, but the process owner has to escalate until things done as per the procedures.

Importantly, as the BT ad in the UK says, “it’s good to talk”. Standard procedure should be to pick up the phone and talk to somebody in person. Lately, I have encountered an interesting phenomenon among the younger generation; the word “conversation” no longer means “I talked with somebody, in person or by phone.” The word now seems to include E-Mail exchanges. I must admit to being troubled by this; less so by the fact that it shows me up as old and perhaps old fashioned, but more by how much this misses the personal touch. My experience has been that people you talk to in person are more helpful and the dialogue is more conclusive; you find out if the guy knows the trade and why he has not instructed. More importantly though is the critical fact that starting a conversation on e-mail is not the same as getting the issue completely under control. It could be the “proverbial thin end of wedge” in terms of excuses for not getting on top of the problem.

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