This is a story about a couple of professional service providers, in my village, both of whom had unique and useful offerings, and yet their businesses experienced drastically different growth over the past 25 years.
Every year, as school children in Himachal me and my brother would go to the only tailor in the village to get our school uniforms stitched. Despite submitting our cloth early on during the summer holidays, it would always turn into a big rush at the tailor’s end, making us anxious to get our uniforms in time. Counting down from five days before the start of school, we would drop into his shop with the intent of gently reminding him of the delivery date. But every year, the uniforms wouldn’t get done even till a day before. When we followed up further, he would get irritated and throw the uniform cloth at us, daring us to get it stitched elsewhere. You can imagine, how embarrassing it would be for us, joining the new class at school, in shirt and trousers that are a few inches short. That constant struggle of adjusting the pants for a week, trying hard not to look like Charlie Chaplin! Eventually, we would get our uniforms a week later. We could never show our frustration to him, rather we had to thank him for his kindness to remain in his good books.
On a more regular rhythm, we had a barber, who would visit homes to give haircuts to customers. The barber’s service was remarkably prompt. His haircuts were quick and sharp. We would even serve him a cup of tea, while he shared all the latest news from the village, supplementing it with his expert comments. His head massage (champi) was something we looked forward to.
These days, the tailor’s business is struggling. He has shut his shop and serves very few customers from his home. It makes me wonder if he still gets irate with customers who remind or follow-up with him. The barber, however, is doing very well and his business is flourishing. Whenever we visit home, we make it a point to get a haircut from him and relive our childhood memories.
It is easy to put down the change of ‘fortunes’ to individual personalities, market changes, type of business, etc., but I am pretty sure that the attitudes and behaviors, of not just tailors and barbers, but also of any service provider, is a critical factor in determining long-term growth.
We are all used to talking about our responsibilities towards children, parents, spouse, country, society, religion, we rarely talk about our responsibility towards our work or profession. Try searching Google with the phrase and you will not find anything meaningful (Yes, I was surprised too :)). Professions in medicine, defense, education, art and religion are historically built on standards that ensure one is true to the larger purpose. Rules of engagement often remind us that we are in service of the profession and to human beings. Personal benefits are consequential. If we have complaints about these professions in the last few decades, we know where to look at. Newer age professions such as engineering, human resources, retail, business management, entrepreneurship, unfortunately did not evolve in a structured manner, with a written creed, explaining the purpose and laying the foundation for professionals to stay true to, while being in service. In technology, the open source community tried to achieve this, but has had a limited impact.
Every small act of every professional, good or bad adds to the overall progress of the profession. All professionals will collectively gain or lose in the long run because of the acts of all. Are we willing to put the glory and purpose of the profession ahead of the self? Are we willing to be responsible for our professions?
PS: A big salute to Medicare teams and Government agencies across the globe who are putting their lives on line while fighting the biggest battle in the recent memory. What a shining example of responsibility towards one’s profession!