20 November 2011 ~ 0 Comments

stay away from evil clients

2010 was a good year to be in SAP (as are most years), and since our work is so important – has such a potential to transform our clients’ entire organizations, I wanted to put together some thoughts on choosing the right clients.  You need to be picky about where you work. What I’m saying here is: not everybody that’s willing to pay you deserves your help. Let me just put that out there.

SAPCOOKBOOK has had a part in training literally thousands of SAP professionals worldwide, and I’ve learned you’re a smart, conscientious, independent-minded bunch of people.  In light of the global jobs crisis, it feels somewhat glib talking about “how to be picky about your clients,” but I feel like it’s important for us “SAP people,” and in particular my students, to have a global conscience. To have a soul, so to speak. I’d like to raise your awareness that the work you do is really important – can impact all 20,000 individuals in an organization (or 100,000?) and if you’re going to spend precious time away from your family, away from doing the other things you’d like to be doing, then, damn it, I don’t want you contributing to organizations that think it’s cool to wreck the planet or who represent the forces of evil in this world.

OK, so how do you go about selecting clients?

1. What do they sell? is it a force for good in this world? Or evil?

I’ve famously and publicly decided that I will not work for companies who make things who’s sole purpose is to kill people. Gun manufacturers. Weapon systems manufacturers. These kids of clients. Have I had large offers from these guys? Yes. Could I be richer today? You bet.  But I’ve learned in my long career (after, yes, in my dark past, working for several of these types of organizations) that since their product fundamentally ignores that value of human life, that management also fundamentally ignores the value of human life. I’m encouraging you to think along the same lines when deciding about who to work with.

Are there good people working in these organizations? You bet there are. Do they think much about what they’re contributing to in this world? I doubt it. They just figure that they are such a small piece of the larger puzzle that their work doesn’t matter somehow. But I’m here to tell you that it does matter.

Now what you think is evil might be a little bit different from me. Maybe you hate puppy dogs, or commercial fishing operations, or maybe you think mining companies are up to no good. You might even disagree with me, and love nuclear weapons manufacturers. I’m not trying to tell you to avoid one evil in particular, just to decide for yourself who you will and will not work for, and to cultivate a mindset that your work and your contributions are important.

If you’re working in SAP, again, your work has a huge impact on organizations – how they process the fundamental transactions that keeps them going. I just don’t think you should contribute to companies that make stuff that is designed to kill people or that you think is fundamentally evil.  I’ve had some bad experiences with weapons systems manufacturers, for instance, that basically boil down to the fact that at the core of their business, they don’t value human life.

They’re not worth your time. Pass on these clients.

2. Does your client want you to do something stupid, dangerous or that will harm the public?

Have you ever been asked to do something that you knew, fundamentally, was just not a good idea? Or wasteful of time and resources?  And by stupid I mean – does not add to a quality work product, does not make the company more efficient, does not contribute to a body of work of which which you could later be proud? Does it eliminate jobs, rather than make people more effective?  This stupid thing that you’re being asked to do – and I’m sure this has happened to you, could it quite possibly make things worse for the people who work in this organization?  As a SAP professional, I encourage you to take your skills elsewhere if management repeatedly requires you to do stupid stuff.

This applies double for organizations where you have expressed your concern, only to be ignored.

3. Does your client do regular harm to its own workers?

You read that there are these companies out there who do ridiculously inane and destructive things. To their own workers.  Consulting companies often fall into this category, and are particularly not worthy of your time since often they’re little more than a “middle man,” and after you’ve been working for your client for any amount of time, doing high-quality work (which I know you do) they often express to you their disdain for the consulting company, and would like to hire your directly, if they could.  Of course they can’t because they’re under a ridiculously punitive NDA or non-hire. We’ll get to those later.

When a company that marks up your work by a factor of 10 or 20, and then actively tries to punish you or an employee for doing good things for a client – this company does not deserve your help.  I’m thinking of the big hardware manufacturers who have grown large consulting organizations by importing labor from cheaper and cheaper sources. The employment and human resources practices I’ve heard of coming out of these companies is astounding. That’s why I will never work for them. That’s why all of the very smartest people I know are quitting them to become independent contractors, unless they’re at the partner level and above, and they feel like they’re trapped (and they probably are, since the partners can make so much at these companies.) So if you hear about a company that regularly screws over their employees – please take a pass.

Many times we can feel like we have no choice about where we work. And so when we see some business practice that we’re less than prod of, we give our clients a pass. Now, more than ever, we SAP people have a chance to have an impact on the world around us. If we see something wrong – speak up. If management refuses to address the wrong, we need to move along and find another place that respect some basic ideas: don’t do evil, don’t do stupid stuff, and treat your workers right.

This certainly isn’t rocket science, but I hope this helps inform your next client decision.

Jim Stewart






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