I once sat in a meeting with a number of staffing firms listening to an executive tell us that he didn't mind putting food on our tables, but he didn't want any of us getting rich off of his company.
At the time, I, like the rest of the folks there, ketp a stony face, and said nothing, but inwardly, most of us must have either been laughing or indignant. What business was it of his what we made? If we provided people at the market rate and they did the job, how exactly did that impact his business? We didn't benefit from his cost savings, so why should he benefit from ours?
This isn't the kind of thing you're supposed to talk about in polite company (you're not supposed to question big clients), but I was reading through a book that described why exactly the executive felt the need to say something.
The book is called Organizing America: Wealth, Power, and the Origins of Corporate Capitalism, and it was provided to me long ago by the Princeton University Press. I picked it back up for some light reading, and saw I had marked some 30 pages, almost all for blog material. Despite it's title, it is not a leftwing academic title. It's well-researched, and gives a lot of excellent background on the formation of textile firms, railroads, and other corporate entities in the United States.
Key to this discussion, and the book isn't in front of me so I'll paraphrase, is the understanding that outsourcing, which used to simply be known as contracting, has a long and glorious history, but it's essential character is to provide costs savings to the corporate parent, without giving the appearance of providing to high of a benefit to the contractor. While that seems to just be common sense, you can see the same tension I started describing at the front of this post in negotiations between marketing and product finishing in the context of 18th century textile mills in Massachusetts.
This is a phenomenon we see in many instances, where human beings, using their internal logic, speak based on their position rather than on the general market. This is an important step to learn in business, as we often ascribe false reasoning to our clients and managers based on our emotional reactions to their words, rather than understanding why they make the statements they do. Understanding where the come from helps us learn how to overcome their objections.
Let me give you another example, this one internal. I've had three managers do a very weird thing. All three were recently promoted into a position, and they needed me to help them achieve an objective I didn't believe in. In each case, the manager told me it was my job to help them, and that they wanted me on board. They didn't say why. They just demanded acquiescence. Their words were all similar.
Manager: Are you on board?
Manager: I want to hear you say it.
Me: I said yes, I'm with you.
Manager: No, I want you to say, I'm on board with you.
Me: I'm on board with you.
On it's own, the conversation hardly bears any merit. Managers say these kind of things all the time. But after the second time, and then the third, something was clear. These managers had nothing in common. Different industries, different parts of the country. And yet, they all had a need to have me speak out loud, as to reassure them. Even though each of them had used coercion to get me to agree to their point of view, and they must have known that I was responding simply because they told me to.
And yet, they sounded the same.
What happened is in each case, a new manager saw me as a leader in the office, and wanted to demonstrate to me they were in charge. They used the words that gave them the illusion of control, because they knew they didn't have control. Six months before and six months after, this conversation would not have mattered.
Do you see? It was their position that led them to say what they said, just as it was the position of the executive to tell us he didn't want us getting rich (a statement that has at least 200 years of history behind it).
True innovation, and great salesmanship, comes from differentiating between what is expected, and what is possible, in client relations. Comprehending why a client, manager, or personal relationships speaks certain phrases is the value of experience.