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Employee Ethics November 20, 2012

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses, Management.
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Taking a step back from our day-to-day work, it is always interesting to examine reasons and motivations for our actions. Any given industry comprises every background imaginable and represents cultures from around the globe. However, despite our differences, most professionals (engineers, lawyers, doctors, even project managers) are obligated to similar ethical codes and owe a duty to the public to act for their benefit. Further, each individual is bound by their own personal morals as well as their employer’s particular culture. But what happens when an individual’s personal moral code conflicts with the firm’s?

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Practical Wisdom January 5, 2011

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Doctors, teachers, judges, and lawyers.  Police officers, pilots, engineers, and parents.  Infinite dependence on their collective wisdom, experience, judgment, and virtue.  Ethics, responsibility, authority, and – most of all – a human relationship with those whom they serve.

All for nothing.

Society demands justice when things go wrong.  Rules and regulations, policies, penalties, and incentives are put up as hurdles to future “malpractice” – whether intentional or not.

But these rules come with a price.  As much as we desire to achieve some utopia of perfect human existence in which no one is immoral or makes mistakes, our tolerance – or rather lack of it – dehumanizes us.  As business consultant Alan Weiss once said, “A zero-tolerance policy is another way of saying ‘we don’t trust you to use your judgment.'”  But yet, this is where we find ourselves.

I strongly urge you to take twenty-three minutes out of your busy schedule to contemplate what it means when we deny our human need to provide meaningful work and service to others.  Not necessarily altruism, but a recognition that we serve other people, not just economic incentives.  Those twenty-three minutes might be spent in any manner you desire, but I highly recommend that you try listening to Mr. Barry Schwartz describe how our rules contribute as much, if not more, to our collective moral decline than any one person or group could on their own.

Wisdom, empathy, and human connections form the basis for any meaningful work that we might undertake.  Without them, we are truly merely part of an inhuman machine, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Go Ahead – Ask! May 8, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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No report, recommendation, or analysis will ever be “perfect.”  Even the definition itself will vary depending on whether you are the expert or the client.  Hence the need for constant questions and feedback.

I recently provided a client with a draft document, with my standard request for any questions or concerns.  It would seem obvious that if someone has a question, they would ask it, but this may not always be the case.  Upon my follow-up with the client, I was advised that there were a few questions.  “Good,” I responded.

“Good??” came the reply, along with a questioning look.

I hadn’t really considered that there might be plenty of folks out there that aim for perfection on the first try, and might be over-thinking the solution without obtaining some feedback before going down the wrong path.

From my perspective, I value any questions very highly.  Not only do they help align our collective expectations, but they indicate a critical and thoughtful consideration of my recommendations.  I don’t want someone to cast a quick glance over a report and say, “Sure, looks great…let’s do it.”  It’s an easy pass for the short term, but I’d at least want to double check any critical assumptions rather than leave land mines for the implementation.

Don’t be afraid to receive questions (or even objections).  They mean that your analysis is being used as it should – contemplation of serious change.  And if you’re the client, don’t be afraid to ask.  A true professional will not be offended, and will in fact welcome the valuable dialogue.

Avoiding Tunnel Vision February 22, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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I just finished some light reading – supposedly non-business related – only to have a reinforced opinion that there are connections everywhere.  Granted, the book being non-fiction automatically puts it into the realm of being about real people – and what is business but dealing with real people?

The book itself might seem of little consequence to engineers, managers, or consultants.  “Paramedic: On The Front Lines of Medicine” by Peter Canning, an EMT from Connecticut, is about his years performing medicine “on the streets”.  In the early chapters, we learn a bit about what it takes to become a paramedic.  One of the most critical items is to avoid the “tunnel vision” that accompanies arriving on a scene with preconceived ideas about what you will find – regardless of how the incident was reported.

It should be abundantly obvious that this attitude is just as important in non-life threatening situations as well.  It comes down to the question of how well you have been trained to properly assess your client’s needs and act appropriately, regardless of why you got the phone call in the first place.

Maybe you have been asked to improve the client’s profitability.  He doesn’t know what the problem is, he just has general symptoms: not meeting goals, poor morale, and lack of new customers.  Do you jump in and recommend a new marketing campaign?  Round up the employees to discuss “change management”?  How could you possibly suggest a solution without taking some time to understand the operations and the root causes of these symptoms?

You can’t.

To do your job properly, you must assume very little.  It is safe to assume that the company craves profitability, just as the paramedic bases immediate care on oxygen and blood flow.  But beyond that, it requires an in-depth examination.  The problem?  Neither patient enjoys being examined.  But you’ve got to get the gloves on and get in there.

Don’t try to solve the wrong problem and do more harm.

Sustainability May 3, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Whether one defines sustainability broadly with respect to the global environment or narrowly with respect to a particular industry or technology, one characteristic stands out as a hallmark trait. In the broadest terms, sustainability is the idea that our actions today should not ignore the effects on future generations of life on our planet. This of course gives rise to the notion that were it not for humans, nature would be inherently sustainable for eternity, which is a fine point for philosophers and astrophysicists to argue, but not practical for our lifetimes. We have the ability to alter our environment to meet our present and future needs in a way that other species do not. This is no surprise, but there are critical implications for our future depending on our implementation of this philosophy in the present. (more…)

Beware of Low Budgets April 26, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Since 1972, federal regulations have required qualification-based selection for federal projects requiring professional services such as architecture or engineering. The legislation had the effect of taking price out of the selection criteria, maintaining professional qualifications as the primary focus. This certainly seems logical, but what about our professional ethics that dictate our regard for public safety, duty to the client, and duty to the employer? Are we to believe that a low bid for a juicy project could somehow affect our professional judgment? (more…)