A Buck Stop

Caution: Rant Ahead!

E-mail chains.

Ken sends a note to Carole, his boss: “I need to know what systems our teams use for client servicing activities, can you help”? Nothing wrong with asking for information. Unless you’re asking people who don’t have a reason to know about what you’re asking.

Carole forwards the note to Joe, a project analyst: “Hey Joe, can you help Ken with this?” PUNT! Carole is newer to the group, and not as familiar with what systems are used. She thinks that Joe who has done numerous projects with systems may have some information.

Joe responds to Carole: “Sorry Carole, I don’t have that specific information, but we did a survey for IT a few weeks ago, Kevin Smith has the results, he may be able to leverage that asset. Copying Jennifer on this, as she was point for us on the survey.” PUNT! Joe clearly has the survey. He simply isn’t willing to take the 5 minutes to go back through his e-mail or folders to find it and forward it along. Douche!

Jennifer forwards the request to Sheldon, a director in IT over all the divisions systems: “Sheldon, can someone in your group help answer this request?” PUNT! Jennifer clearly has the survey, if the survey has the right information (still unclear). Jennifer is Carole’s peer, and clearly can’t be bothered with this request, let’s just throw it over the wall to IT.

Sheldon responds to Jennifer copying her direct Harold and a consultant Kevin Smith who was peripherally involved with the survey: “Harold or Kevin will respond.” PUNT!

Harold (who happens to be on vacation) forwards the e-mail to Kevin: “Kev, can you look at this, I am in Atlantic City at the moment, and won’t be back in the office until Monday or Tuesday.” — This is just a knock on from Sheldon’s punt. Harold was out and he knew it. No fault to Harold.

Kevin looks at the e-mail chain, noting how little information surrounds the request and how many before him have punted it along. He tries to retrieve
the e-mail with the survey that Joe had mentioned earlier, and realizes that it is not aligned with what he thinks the actual question is. No quick solution here.

Kevin contemplates punting this request again. It is not really anything thing like his responsibility. He has three options:


1) Punt it to someone on a team that supports client servicing systems. (Which is not Harold BTW, it is one of Sheldon’s other direct reports).
2) Simply reply to Sheldon and Harold indicating that he does not have any direct knowledge of the user community or of client servicing systems and the aforementioned survey is not aligned with the inquiry as far as he can tell.
3) Reach out to the originator of the inquiry (Ken) and attempt to actually get the question answered.

In the end, Kevin chooses option 3, recognizing that continuing to PUNT! the request does not help. He calls Ken and asks about the request and offers to meet with him to create a plan to gather the information he actually needs.

At the meeting, Kevin and Ken realize that the only reliable way to gather the information is to ask the people who do the work. Carole’s people!. Kevin does what none of the other people on the e-mail chain even attempt; Kevin takes responsibility for making something happen. The buck stops, apparently with Kevin. So Kevin asks Ken for the names of the people he supposes know what systems are used.

Everyone else simply punts, including the originator. Ken knew who the actual users were, he could have simply asked them. Carole also. Joe knew that the survey didn’t really answer the question, he simply wanted it off his desk. Jennifer also knew that the survey didn’t answer the question, or she should have, if she had actually engaged on that project instead of simply delegating the work to others, not caring about the value of the information they provided. Sheldon probably didn’t know what was in the survey, it was far from his office – so he delegated to Harold, the manager reporting to him who has the closest relationship to Kevin, the consultant who may have an answer. Of the punters, Sheldon was probably the least guilty – as an IT executive, he simply delegated to the people in his organization most equipped, in his mind, to execute. However, since the inquiry was about client servicing systems and he know that Harold
was not responsible, and he was on vacation, that was dopey.

Kevin on the other hand is a freakin’ hero. He could have punted like all the others, but didn’t. He did the work that Ken and Carole clearly could have done, but didn’t. They were closest to the most accurate source of information.

In my experience, all of the punters will probably take some credit for Kevin’s handiwork. After all, they kept the buck moving until it finally stopped at someone who had the will to actually solve the problem. After the work was done, they all can sit back with a sense of satisfaction. Another job well done.

So which one are you? A punter? Or a Hero! — After a while, I get tired of watching clever people take credit because they found a way to get others to do the work they were too unqualified, unmotivated, self-important, or uninspired to attempt themselves. It is my strong opinion that given the amount of time all the punters spent on the e-mail chain in the example above they collectively wasted as much time as it actually took Kevin to provide the means to collect the answer. So punting is also highly unproductive. Don’t act like an unproductive, unqualified, unmotivated, uninspired, self-important punter. Stop. Passing. The. Buck.

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