Gokul Blog — A conversation on VoIP, IMS, Cisco and Just about Anything

Deeper analysis of VoIP

Going above and beyond

Posted by tggokul on September 18, 2008

Disclaimer : What I have expressed in this post are not views but rather questions that I don’t have answers for. This post was triggered by something that I happened to witness recently.

Two guys X and Y are working on something and they come to a point where there is an external dependency which “Z” has to be fulfil. Due to unavoidable circumstances, Z is not available and if they have to continue X and Y would have to do something that they are not familiar with or something they don’t want to do. Without this activity getting completed, they cannot go about doing their work. They have an option. Either of them or both of them combined could do this work (assuming they know how to do this) or they could raise it to the person who is supposedly responsible for making Z available. X says that they need to do the first option, Y says that it is not his job and walks off.

Question No. 1 : Who did the right thing?

The first impression would be that Y was not being a team player and walked off when he could have assisted X. X went above and beyond the call of duty. Now a small twist, what if Y is extermely competent if not the best person to do the job he is doing? What if he is extremely diligent in the work he has been assigned to and would never rest till his job gets done? Would you call him a person who walked away? He goes above and beyond in what he does, is it really wrong to walk away when he is asked to do things which do not fall under the realm of his responsibility?

What is team work? Is it doing your job well and assisting people when they are having problems or is it filling in for another person when the situation demands? Isn’t Y in some sense being extremely professional? I am not sure how many people reading this post actually follow football (Americal football,NFL). It is supposed to be the best example of team work. And you know where is the emphasis? Making sure the specific player does his assigment ( or his job) the right way? A linebacker’s single goal is to mark a receiever/Running Back and stick with him. History shows that people who botch their assignments the least are the all time greats.

So doing your job well and making sure the team does not stutter on your behalf, isn’t that not teamwork? Does a person have to go above and beyond to prove what a valuable asset he is? Have we all started expecting “above and beyond”? Is “above and beyond” the new average? The biggest problem with over achievers has been that they expect the same from others.

Let’s say that the same X and Y were working for company A and they are delivering a project to customer B. The services that A offered were for 10 days but both X and Y went above and beyond and completed the task in 5 days. Company A is very happy since its employees went above and beyond. Now lets say customer B asks X and Y whether they could do something extra since their business requires it. X goes above and beyond and does it without charging the customer. Customer B is happy and maybe even company A since it has got a satisfied customer. Now lets say that Customer B comes up with these requests 5 more times and X has fulfilled all of them without charging anything extra. As far as customer B is concerned, X has gone above and beyond, but I can see company A fuming since they are not getting paid for the services. I am sure company A would ask X to tone it down. Y on the other hand would have refused to do anything extra because it did not fall under his scope of work. He might not have a good rapport with customer B, but isn’t he actually helping company A?

As a company it is equally dangerous to over-deliver as much as it is to under-deliver. Who is the more professional here? X or Y?  Some time ago, I was involved in the project where there was this large System Integrator, a huge MNC product company and a small Indian services company ( I will not disclose which team I was in 🙂 ). The System integrator was putting together the product of the MNC company and was using the services of the smaller Indian company. There was a meeting on a Sunday where the progress of the project was supposed to be discussed and the system integrator asked the engineers from the MNC as well as the small company to come for that. The senior engineer from the MNC said that it was not his job and the Single Point of Contact from his company ( A program manager) would be there. The large System Integrator could do nothing about this. The entire team was filled with Indians other than that Senior Engineer who was a Caucasian. When he refused, the entire team including senior management in the System Integrator team accepted that the guy was being professional and everybody seemed to accept that.

Fast forward couple of weeks from then. A similar meeting was arranged and a senior engineer from the smaller Indian services company refused to attend the meeting citing personal reasons. This was escalated to very senior levels and this person was branded as a non Team-player.

So is this differentiation based on culture? Is it ok if a caucasian does this but not an Indian? Was this differentiation made because of the size of the companies? We will never know.

It has been a long rant and I know I have raised a lot of questions. My gut feel is that there are no right answers. What do you think?

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One Response to “Going above and beyond”

  1. Vijay said

    Hi,

    As you had concluded, there are no right answers but some answers are ‘better’ than some others.

    I find that you are talking about two different things here. In the first part of the post, you argue that Y is a good team player, who does not step beyond his role (Y is very competent in that role) while X does. I rightly agree, that all good team players are specialists at what they do. As long as they don’t botch up, the team does well.

    In the second part, you mention a scenario where two members (of different race) and working for different companies provide different reasons for absence and are treated differently. I am not surprised ! The senior engineer cited personal reasons for not working on that Sunday. That does not make him a non-team player. But it is an apples to oranges comparison here. The caucasian provided a perfectly good reason for his absence. If he had provided this reason only for Sunday meetings, then I think it is wrong to brand the Indian senior engineer as a non-team player.

    Thanks
    Vijay

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