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Finding Value in the Details

By Randall Schaefer, CPIM | July/August 2013 | 23 | 4

Details affect results, so those who so dedicate themselves will find their companies become more profitable, their jobs become more satisfying, and their careers become more successful.An unusual study on professionalism

Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as “the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.” But the dictionary does not suggest what specific conduct, aims, or qualities are important.

I would not presume to identify all the possibilities, but one of the key characteristics has to be the ability to manage details. After all, it is the inability to manage details that’s the most common cause of failure with supply chain professionals. For a warehouse manager, this may manifest as the inability to maintain location integrity. For an inventory manager, it may be large variances in physical inventory. A purchasing professional may be surprised to learn a supplier’s union went on strike and he neglected to stockpile a key component. Failure to manage details can bite us in many ways. 

Some years ago, the producers of the television show The X-Files gave the people in my region an example of true professionalism. They had a script that involved evil hazelnut trees (really!), so they researched where hazelnuts are grown and found my home: Barry County, Michigan.  The producers pored over a county map until they found the unincorporated village of Coats Grove and decided to set the episode there. They even kept the name intact, as it’s a natural fit for an episode about a grove of nut trees. 

The production support staff contacted the Barry County sheriff’s department and requested a photograph of a current patrol car, a close-up of the insignia painted on the doors, a picture of a county patrolman in uniform, and a close-up of the patrolman’s arm patch. They replicated all this for the less-than-30 seconds an actor playing a Barry County patrolman was on screen. 

Barry County, Michigan, is a low-population, rural county, and only the dozen-or-so employees of the sheriff’s department would know whether the episode correctly portrayed all these items. So why would the producers bother to so proficiently fine-tune those details—and pay to have them replicated—when virtually none of their viewers would know the difference? The local newspaper asked that question, and the producer explained simply that professionals need to get everything right. Viewers might not know if they just threw someone dressed like a cop onto the screen, but he and his colleagues would. 

To me, that screams professionalism. The internal need to get the details right, even if no one else is likely to notice, should be a driving force in our work lives and the basis for acknowledging all those whom we would describe as professional. This same principle was summarized by my grandfather as “always do right, even when no one is watching.” Such a simple admonition for our personal lives also must apply at work. We need to embrace this standard. Details affect results, so those who so dedicate themselves will find their companies become more profitable, their jobs become more satisfying, and their careers become more successful. 

My grandfather lived all 107 years of his life following this principle and passed down his wisdom to me when I was quite young. It is time I pass on his lesson to others because, even at my age, I want to get the details of my life right.

Randall Schaefer, CPIM, is an industrial philosopher, speaker, and retired consultant. He may be contacted at randallschaefer@att.net.

Do you have an anecdote that teaches, enlightens, or amuses? Consider sharing it with the readers of APICS magazine. Stories should be approximately 700 words. Email submissions to “Lessons Learned” editor Randall Schaefer at randallschaefer@att.net.

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