Saturday 2 November 2013

#45 Columns

"Ask him why he wants to remove those two columns from the table, they were there last month". It was a simple request, until I thought about it. He was a director. Back in the 80s he'd graduated in applied mathematics from Cambridge and had been working his way up the ranks of the firm for the last 25 years. Two years ago he ran the London marathon in 2 hours 35. He was 49 when he did that. This guy had gotten himself to a level that most people never reach in their careers and I had to interrupt his day to ask him about two insignificant columns in an internal weekly update table. 

I pondered the situation for a minute, drew a breath. Was the requester simply frustrated at another change in format and using me to vent this frustration? Was it worth asking because, if right, the new format could be applied across other jobs, simplifying the weekly reporting process, albeit negligibly? In the end, I went with the "unit, corps, God, country" rule from Three Kings and asked the question. The request had come from my unit, the director was part of the corps. I had the courage to ask a pointless question of an important person and it wasn't really my question, so I went ahead and asked it.

In the moments that followed, I almost instantly regretted asking. The director had given the response I'd expected, the response I should have myself given to the requester earlier in the day when said requester was around. I decided that what I should have done was nothing and then explained the next day that asking just didn't feel right. 

Is that what I should have done? What was more important? The chain of command or my own view of the situation? Obviously the former, unless I knew that I was right or had unique knowledge that changed the situation. Given the non-urgency and low importance of the request, I should have left it. I didn't want to seem awkward though by not doing something so simple. Plus this was really good practice for when a similar dilemma of greater importance arose. I figure if it did, I would just have to make a judgement about the importance of the hierarchy versus the importance of the matter at hand and ask other people for advice if necessary.


Running on empty said...

Was there no one directly above you you could ask?

Profound Familiarity said...

There will have been people I could have talked to about it if I'd wanted to.