The Tale of Three Monkeys
Once upon a time, evil scientists put a monkey in a cage. In this cage was a metal box and dangling above the box was a big bunch of bananas. But unknown to the monkey, the metal box had electricity running through it, and when the monkey climbed up on the box to reach the bananas, it got a nasty electric shock. Time and time again it tried to climb the box and time and time again it got shocked until eventually it gave up. Soon, the evil scientists introduced a 2nd monkey, and as this new monkey went to climb the box, the first monkey pushed him away to protect him from the electric shocks. Every time the 2nd monkey went for the bananas, the first would beat him and push him away. After a while, the first monkey was removed from the cage and a new third monkey was added. When this 3rd monkey went to climb the box and get the bananas, the 2nd monkey beat and pushed him away (even though he himself had never been shocked). This went on for some time, finally the 3rd monkey turned to the 2nd and enquired (in some sort of monkey sign language), why he was being stopped from getting the bananas? The first monkey turned to second and replied “I don’t know, it’s the way we have always done it around here”.
There is a point to this story. When you provide a service or game changing product into your customers company, there will be people who are the just like the 2nd monkey. They will be set in their ways of doing things, and so will dislike your service or your product because it’s a change to what they are used to. Some people are just scared of change.
A bigger problem is when the customer (your main contact, the person who makes the decisions and pays your bills) hates change. I have heard of a small service company who went into a customer site and created a fully automated sales, ordering and fulfilment system which could streamline customer order to shipment reducing the entire process to milliseconds – only to find that the customer insisted on a manual order validation process be put into the chain, a process which added hours or even days onto the cycle that the service company was looking to improve.
When we are working with people who are scared or hate change, there is no real solution. You can ask them to justify their concerns, but like monkey 2, they may not be able to. You can try to help them overcome their fears, but sometimes, they just want their ‘bit’ in the chain to be as it always has been.
You are left with two options – accept their request, or walk away from the project. But, the one thing you can’t do is argue with them. It doesn’t matter if they brought you to do a service because you know the most about your industry; if they have made their mind up, arguing will only make them dig their heals in further and they will end up hating you.
When you accept their illogical, silly, bad idea that they force upon you, it will hurt. It will make you feel bad, it will make it seem like you are doing a rubbish job – trust me, I have been there. All you can do is point out (in the most subtle way you can, but ALWAYS in writing) your concerns on their request, and remember that when it doesn’t work out, you can revisit the project in a few weeks and take out their request with the benefit to you of more chargeable work.
But remember, they are the customer, and the customer is always right!