The following story took place about six months ago, but a few pieces about it still bother me.

I received an email early one morning, about 7AM, from our Director of Business Development.  She was looking for help obtaining a piece of equipment that our chief scientist needed to gather some data for a presentation that she had scheduled for later that week.  She worked in a different office and needed help motivating this project.  There wasn’t any time to waste, in order to gather the data and put together the analysis and presentation, the equipment was needed later that day. Fortunately she came to the right place.  I knew a company, not very far away, that would rent us the item needed.  I made a quick call, and minutes later had a quote of approximately $3,000 for a one week rental.  Purchase price was about $60k.

I relayed the info about the quote to the Director of Business Development and the Chief Scientist.   They all agreed that the price was reasonable and we should go get it.   At that exact moment, our Scientist was tied up in meetings regarding a new product effort.   Although, this project was nothing that i needed to be involved in.   I decided that if I didn’t help motivate it, that the opportunity to have this data for the customer presentation would not happen in time.

The time was now approximately 9:30 AM.  In order to get the item, i needed to either get a purchase order to the company with the item, or get them a credit card.   I started down the path of our internal purchase requisition system.   I attempted to enter the purchase req, to find out that the company was not in our system.  In order to get it entered, I needed to contact our purchasing department, fill out a form, submit it to purchasing, who would then send it to the finance group for approval and entry into the system.  Once the vendor was set up, i could enter a purchase requisition, in which i would identify the cost and the appropriate internal account to charge this activity to.  Once i submitted the purchase req, it would be forwarded by email to the VP of Operations for approval.  Once he approved it, it would go to finance for approval.  Once finance approved it, it would be routed back to purchasing, where someone would convert it to a Purchase Order.   This process, on average, at best took a few days to have everyone put in their approvals. 

I needed to have the equipment in a few hours, not a few days.  So I put it on my personal credit card with the plan to submit an expense report to be reimbursed for the payment. When I made this decision, I knew that i would probably catch some flack from almost everyone in the approval cycle that I described above.  The only party that would not be upset would be the Director of Business Development and the Chief Scientist.

I delivered the equipment to the Scientist at around noon that day.  The presentation went very well.  I received a very nice thank you call and email from the Director of Business Development and Scientist.  A few days later I submitted the expense report for reimbursement of the funds that i had laid out.   The VP of Sales had to sign the expense report, and sure enough he was not entirely happy with my decision to go around the standard purchase req process.  His feedback was that I should have not had helped and that i should have let his staff go through the standard process on their own. 

My conclusion was that this VP, who is extremely brilliant and someone that I admire, did not understand the bureaucracy associated with the standard process.  Quite often the important people in a company do not have to live with the details of the processes that they create. (but that’s a topic for another post.)

So,  I made a series of decisions, with the objective of meeting both the needs of internal customers and  an external market opportunity.  I used my judgement to determine that the standard process would not be successful and that I had to show some initiative and creativity in order to meet the objective.   

Having employees that are willing to utilize judgement and show initiative is what I value most in an organization. Unfortunately not all organizations understand this and what motivates this behavior.  There are a few pieces of this story that bother me,  one is the centralized command and control role that the Finance group plays in the process, it’s amazing that anything gets done in a timely manner.  Another is the realization, that most employees in this situation would not have been motivated or confident enough to act in this way.   Successful companies do not rely on robots that follow set procedures,  they need talented and motivated people that are trusted to take calculated risks when opportunities present themselves.

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