Mutually Exclusive Business Values

soc_econ.pngWhen your values conflict, you have to decide between them. It’s pretty damn simple in principle, but gets hard in practice. It’s hard with yourself, and even harder when it’s within a corporate top-down hierarchy.

Think about it: Which do you want? The more fun job that pays less, or the craptastic job that pays more? Which do you choose?1 There is no “right” answer – what works for me may not work for you. But there is a “right for me” answer, and a “right for you” answer.

The same thing applies in all areas of your life. I like my alone time. Maybe you never want to be by yourself. I like music while working, where it might distract you. And the list goes on.

And then we get to corporations. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be a problem. Decide what you want to do, then do it. Example: “We want to help people file as many tax returns as possible.” Not a problem. Automate as much as possible, be hyper-efficient, and shunt people with weird returns off to a separate queue so that they don’t gum up the works. Or another example: “We want to help you file your return, and know that we took care of every detail.” Also not a problem. You get lots of staff, make sure there’s lots of time blocked off so that weird things can be handled on the spot, etc.

But those two values are mutually exclusive. You can’t have high throughput while taking “special individual care” of any kind. It’s assembly line vs. handcrafting, and they work in fundamentally different ways. That’s not a big deal when you’re working for yourself – you choose whichever option appeals more to you.
When you’re in a corporation, however… that’s when it goes wrong. If someone above you – whether immediately above you or the CEO of the company, it doesn’t matter – decides that the company should produce handcrafted items at assembly-line speeds…

…well, you do get both of something. Both of the disadvantages and none of the advantages of either method. It seems pretty straightforward, which is what puzzles the crap out of me. If this is so damn obvious (and it is), then why is this such a system-wide problem in corporate life?
1 If you said “neither, I’ll make a bloody high-paying job that I love”, then that’s yet another value choice, isn’t it?