How one colleague's failure to do the right thing became the benchmark for the four who followed—and the damage they left in their wake.

Phoning it in

As David McCullough brings to light in his book John Adams: “But greatest of all, he wrote, was the gift of an inquiring mind.”

But all the provisions that He has [made] for the gratification of our senses . . . are much inferior to the provision of our nobler powers of intelligence and reason. He has given us reason to find out the truth, and the real design and true end of our existence. — John Adams

In February 2010 I went to work at Bank of America for the 9th time. A lot of people badmouth the bank, and they have their reasons, but this company has had an immeasurable impact on my career—and I have far more good things to say about it than bad.

With such a breadth of background in the banks, I’ve seen my share of ridiculous behavior—but The Bottom 3 would take absurdity into the abyss.

My primary interaction was with #4 and an application developer named Aravind–a phenomenal colleague on every level. I also collaborated a good bit with a database developer named Vikas–one of the most careful listeners I’ve ever seen, and a great guy to boot. Aravind developed the application and I built the database, and we hammered out quite a few nights and weekends collaborating on our incremental code. But it was #4’s baby all the way, and I cannot overstate the amount of effort he put into the business requirements, testing, and working with end-users. As I sit here in reflection, it’s hard to believe that I’m talking about the same guy.

Once we had delivered the initial project to the business, a reporting enhancement was requested to add a new piece of data. Have you ever been frustrated filling out Amazon’s gift note box because you’re limited to 240 characters? It can get a barebones message across, but it’s not quite as illuminating as what a real birthday card can provide. That piece of data we were asked to add to the report was an email chock-full of loan information, and our customers needed to tap into the details of that field for it to be of any use.

What we gave them was 15 more characters than the maximum allowed in Amazon’s gift note.

Shouldn’t we start by asking if this is the best we can do? The whole point of having a report is to be able to glean information and make decisions from it, so it defeats the purpose if you have to go back and forth between the report and the system—which is exactly what they ended up doing.

It bewilders me that a dedicated business analyst who should know better did not recognize the futility of providing such limited information. We all make blunders from time to time, and that’s okay—so long as we’re willing to be called on it. When I politely raised my concerns right off the bat, I was stunned to see that a man of #4’s ability could be so brazenly careless in his response:

“It doesn’t matter since the users already accepted it.”

Never mind that he incorrectly informed them in the first place, and that I had a way around the problem. I took the initiative to follow up on my concerns, and when I submitted my unsanctioned solution, I was immediately rebuffed by #4 without so much as a “thanks anyway.” At that point I felt that had done everything I could do to look out for our customers, so I dropped it. A week later the users came out with the same concerns I had been addressing all along. I figured I had some backing now that they were unhappy, so I tried one last time to offer up my solution, and this is what #4 wrote in return:

“This issue was NOT assigned to you. . . . I do not care if your point was correct.”

The all-capped “not” should speak volumes all by itself. In all my years in this business I had never seen such flagrant disregard, and it’s telling of the management that he felt free to cast such derision upon a colleague. A simple gesture of “I appreciate your effort, but we need to go in another direction” would have been nice—and the right thing to do (since Excel is not a good format for reading such output anyway).

My response to his rebuke could have been better, but expressing reasonable frustration with a colleague’s irresponsible and obnoxious behavior is not grounds for termination–not by anyone with an inkling of objectivity and fairness.

That my solution was not accepted is not at issue–it’s the gross negligence and flat-out contempt that took place in the process. The next day I was having an enjoyable lunch with Vikas and #5—having no idea that it would be our last. And what are the odds that almost a year later, I would meet a friend of theirs at lunch on the first day of the most exciting opportunity of my career? You can say I’m foolish for my honesty, but when he connected me to that 2010 contract, I told everyone at the table the full story. Acting as if I had infiltrated the bank after being convicted of money laundering, The 6th Man left the table to expose the “treachery” he had uncovered. I was on my way home when I got a call from the agency telling me that the manager called and said, “It’s not going to work out.”

How did we get to a point where prudence is shunned to serve expedience at all costs?

Note: As mentioned in my protest handout in the “Snapshot of the Story” section at the end: “On my first day I was essentially fired for having been fired, which I could see grounds for had I lied about last year, but both my application and interviews were honest in every way.” Evidence of that honesty is in the following screenshot of the employment history section of my application.

All of this nonsense simply because I wanted to provide something better than what amounts to Amazon’s little box below.

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