Thursday, December 13, 2007

Truth or Consequences?

At what point does one tell the truth to a client? Or to anyone, for that matter? So often we see a company motto of something like "Our Customers are Number ONE" or "Customers Come First" or ... Well, you get the idea. The problem is that the customer doesn't really want to hear the truth. The customer wants to hear that things are going to be just grand, the the project will be on time and under budget, that there will be no problems, that you will exceed all of the stated goals (even though IT goals are, at best, nebulous), that the bottom line will improve dramatically, and that everyone will get a promotion and huge pay raise because of this wonderful project. Nirvana. Doesn't happen!

So, now that you are in the position of telling the truth or losing the order to another firm that you know is lying through their teeth, what do you do? The answer is (you knew it all along but wouldn't admit it, right?) that you walk away. That's right - walk away. If the customer wants you to lie now then the customer will lie about you later and, when the job goes belly up, you will be the one to blame. A consultant lives and dies on his/her reputation. A company is only as good as what it can do to help the customer. And if a 2nd or 3rd rate company has to lie to get the contract, then let them have it.

True, the customer WON'T call you back later - not normally. That would be to admit a mistake. But maybe they will listen to the next company or person who has to walk away rather than agree to everything and do nothing but take the money and run. If your integrity is for sale, then you lose that integrity on the first sale. And you never get it back. And you won't make as much money as the guys who lie, cheat and steal from their clients. But, in the end, you will be a much happier person.

I think that this will be the last in our line of philosophical blogs. From now on, lets' deal with rulebased systems, the Rete Algorithm, neural nets, statistical analysis - hard core stuff that we can all comment about.

Happy Chaunnuchah
(Yeah, it's over now)



Bubba De Katt said...

Years ago, I did a lot of work for AT&T Bell Labs as a consultant. My boss was one the lab's visionaries and he gave all new consultants a little speech that went - "You are here to give us an HONEST and PROFESSIONAL opinion. If you don't know the answer to a question, then tell us because a dishonest answer will only hurt us. If you have a problem with this, let me know. If you do have a problem with this and do otherwise, I'll make sure you will have the reputation that you deserve. Thank You".

Yaakov Kohen said...

That AT&T guy sounds like a very wise person - unfortunately, most financial companies are so bottom-line oriented in the short term that they cannot see the long term consequences. The Japanese give promotions to guys who find problems in production. In the USA the same guys get fired or put on the mid-shift as punishment.

Quality takes time - and these modern, middle managers don't have time to do the job right the first time. On the other hand, they do get rich on the backs of schmucks like you and me. And you know the really sad part? They'll never know that what they did was wrong.

I had a middle manager (project manager) recently tell me that if he had lived during the time of the American Revolution he would have been a Tory. Britain was our best trading partner and the Revolutionaries screwed up that relationship. Ethics mean nothing to him - only looking good to the customer and to upper management. And I'm fairly certain that he could never understand the SDG sign off below.