Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Credit Where It's Not Due

With lies you may get ahead in the world - but you can never go back. ~Russian proverb

NBC News reports that millenials (people who reached adulthood—whatever that means—in the year 2000), are five times more likely than baby boomers (the post W W II crowd) to take credit for someone else's work. This is on top of earlier studies that show millenials think they're “disproportionately entitled” and more likely to trash their co-workers to get ahead.
I don't know about “disproportionately entitled”, though I guess it's from the business of giving everyone a trophy in any competition or some such, just for showing up. As to the rest, I have my doubts. First of all, the boomers either have made it so they don't need to glom credit, or they've realized they ain't going to make, so who cares anyway. Or, as in my case, they're retired and don't have any co-workers to screw over.
Truth be told, I seriously doubt millenials are any worse than anyone else during the early years of a career. Throughout history, we've seen stories of credit being stolen (science is loaded with instances), work associates being dumped under the bus, and general lying, cheating, and stealing in business, government, science, and education. Yes, education. Professors have made careers out of filching graduate student work as their own. In business, it's supervisory people who are the most likely to claim credit for their underlings' work, and supervisors are generally not the youngest people in the workforce. In government, well, it's just another intramural sport.
There are honest people out there who make it without having to screw over everyone around them. I like to think I'm one of those, but that's a question only co-workers could really answer. By the same token, I can't think of many situations where I really got whacked by a co-worker, especially not be a significantly younger one.
One reason for this is that I spent 20 years in Quality Control. No one tries to steal QC's thunder because QC are the bad guys. That tends to make the QC group kind of tightly knit (and tightly wound, but that's another story). Most people in the profession would like to get out, so they're not in the business of looking better at statistical quality control; they want to look like they would be good production managers or engineers or marketers.
Oh, I recall one guy who tried on occasion to take credit for something he hadn't done. He was so incompetent, though, that he couldn't explain exactly what he did. In a few cases, he tried to take credit for things that really weren't such good ideas. We let him have those.
There was one occasion when someone did try to get credit for one of my ideas, but it was sort of comical. I had recently joined a company as Quality Manager and was appalled at how the inspectors were getting bullied, threatened, and ignored by manufacturing personnel. The result was that too many shipments were going out with defects which generated customer complaints which generated returns which generated making orders twice which is not conducive to making money.
At the end of one particularly frustrating day, I walked into the general manager's office and explained the situation, then said, “I have a way to stop this. I want to arm the inspectors.” That got his attention, but he did allow as how that probably wasn't a real good idea. I had figured that he wouldn't go with it (although he did seem to consider it for a moment), so I sprung plan B. We would pull the inspectors from production and only check product just before shipping. If it failed, it went back to production to make it right. This would not be popular with the Production Manager because it could affect shipping schedules. A little to my surprise, the GM loved the idea and called in the Production Manager, Claude, to break the news.
Claude's reaction made my day. His jaw dropped and his eyes about popped out of his head. “You can't do that!”, he hollered. Oh yes we can, the GM told him, and starting tomorrow we will. Well, to make a long story short, the idea worked. Operators were now fully responsible for what went to final inspection and couldn't blame an inspector for the junk the operators were making.
Flash forward a couple of years. I'm sitting in Claude's office talking about this and that, when the subject of how customer complaints had dropped. Claude leaned back in his chair and said, “Yep, that sure was a good idea I had to pull the inspectors off the production line and put them at the end.” I didn't exactly jump up on his desk, but I came close. “YOUR IDEA?”, I said with murder in my eyes. “You almost had a stroke in the GM's office!”
“Well,” he said, “at least I had the idea to go along with it.”
I do believe he may have been ragging me just a bit. Oh, and by the way, Claude was about 10 years older than I was.
However, I did learn one time that a “colleague” (and I use the term loosely) had been taking some liberties with credit. I had gotten out of QC and into IT as a member of a contracting firm and was one of the sysadmins at a large client. One of the junior admins was George. Now, I don't mean George was junior so much in age; he was a few years younger but was out of what is now considered the millenials age group (19-36). After he had been at this client for some time, he got transferred to another client. Most of us were not upset at his leaving. He was a nice enough guy, but he always needed help to solve any kind of networking problem, which gets old after a while.
One day, not long after he had left, one of the client employees came up to me and said, “Boy, I bet you guys are really missing George.” I said something like “not really” and the client was amazed. “But look at all the things he did.” He then proceeded to list five or six of George's “accomplishments”, most of which were problems I had fixed, while a couple belonged to the other sysadmin. I explained that to the client, and then told him I was actually very glad George had moved on.
After all, with him gone, not only was I not solving problems he couldn't, I didn't have to fix the problems he created when he did try to implement something.
There is a gentle irony that, in my last gig with the City of Birmingham, I kept getting credit for stuff I didn't do.
One thing I instituted was the practice of regularly sending notices to users concerning system changes, potential internet dangers, and general useful information about the systems. I kept trying to get others to occasionally author some of these missives, because I didn't want to be regarded as some guy trying to be Mr. IT for the City. It seemed, though, that the other admins and the boss were more than happy to let me continue. After a while, I realized why. If you put your name out there, you become the person in IT everyone knows. That means you're the person everyone calls with every idiot question they might have.
Getting undeserved credit is not all that it's cracked up to be, in my opinion.

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