Ethics in translation project management

Towards a new corporate consciousness

Nowadays, more and more companies are becoming mindful of the limits to financial models based on the unrelenting, unnecessary production of goods and services.  The recent global pandemic and the urgent warnings about the devastating consequences our economy is having on our planet have certainly highlighted our individual and collective responsibility to take action.

Here at AJT, we like to believe that the once common focus on short-term benefits is slowly but surely giving way to an ethical and more sustainable production model, centred around respecting material and human resources in every phase of the production and supply of goods and services. And we are determined to play our part in this change.

When it comes to running a translation company like ours, project management is key. There are three main factors every project manager must take into account when organising a job – time, cost and quality. We can think of it as a triangle in which we cannot be in all three corners at the same time. If you decide to put time first and deliver a large-scale project at pace, say to meet a client’s product launch,  you might incur additional costs in the form of rush fees. At the other end of the scale, if your client needs the best possible quality but is on a tight budget, other urgent projects might take priority on the linguists’ schedules. Our job as project managers is littered with choices to be made all day, every day to fulfil the needs of our clients as best as we can, ensure our linguists enjoy the best working conditions, and protect the wellbeing of our workforce.

Before any aspiring project manager reading this article gets scared and decides to drastically change their career goals, it’s important to highlight that these choices are actually what make our job so interesting. We’re far from mere machines that just send out emails. We can put a real personal touch on the way we work with our clients, our team members, as well as our external partners.

Putting our values into practice

As members of Team AJT, we share not only our passion for languages – which of course is what brought us here in the first place – but also our ethical and moral values. Every one of us is committed to making our workspace a safe, fair and healthy environment for everyone, and we strive to reduce our environmental impact as much as possible. Here are some examples of how we put our values into practice in our day-to-day work:

Integrity & honesty

When managing workflows, we want to stay true to our moral values and maintain integrity, honesty and transparency every step of the way. As project managers, we therefore consider each new request or potential client not just from a commercial, but also an ethical point of view. Being keen to see our company prosper doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice about who we work with. In fact, when dealing with prospective clients, we like to ensure we are both on the same page and that the company contacting us is not involved in activities that go against our moral standards.

Every project is different and requires specific skills. We take the time to define the scope with the client and discuss internally whether the tasks involved fall within our fields of expertise. It is human nature to want to please the customer, but one of the first things our project managers learn at AJT is not to over-promise and then under-deliver. In other words, it is crucial to manage the client’s expectations in terms of the timeline, cost and nature of the work. While we can count on an extensive pool of linguists to offer a wide range of localisation services, we also feel comfortable acknowledging that a certain request might not be a good match for us. If that’s ever the case, we’re upfront about it and advise the client on the best options for them.

This work philosophy allows both us and our linguists to work with a relaxed state of mind and, at the same time, assures our customers that we will deliver exactly what they expect of us.

Fairness & respect

We hold every one of our collaborators in high regard and we greatly value their work. Without them, AJT would quite simply not be AJT. We believe that translation and other linguistic work can really make the difference in achieving our clients’ goals, and therefore deserves fair remuneration. We are, of course, open to dialogue and always willing to find the best solution to suit our clients’ budgets. That said, we do not want to compromise on our linguists’ wellbeing and paying them a reasonable rate is our top priority.

All of our translators, editors, copywriters and graphic designers are onboarded at fair rates. This enables us to retain the most talented providers on the market and maintain fruitful professional relationships with every single one of them.

With communication comes respect, which is another key aspect of what we do. We make sure to share every relevant piece of information that may help our linguists to do a stellar job, and openly listen to any concerns they might have about a given project.

We are specialised in professional human translation. As obvious as it may sound, we must not forget that apart from being skilled professionals in their field, our team members are above all humans. That’s what gets us such excellent linguistic results. Since humans are not machines, however, it also implies that unexpected setbacks might occur over the course of a project. This might be due to external factors, as was the case in the summer of 2021, with floods in Germany and the Netherlands causing loss of power in certain areas. It might also be down to personal matters, such as unexpected health or family problems. Whatever the situation, our project managers’ communication skills come in handy once again. On the one hand, we encourage our team members and freelance collaborators to reach out to us promptly and openly about any unexpected issues that might prevent them from completing their work on time. On the other, we keep the client in the loop about any problems arising during a project and do our very best to find a solution together in order to limit the potential ramifications.

Both our team and our clients are mindful that behind the catchy, spotless translations we deliver there are highly qualified individuals – not machines. We believe there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome with the correct dose of proactive thinking, a willingness to make compromises and, just as important, compassion and understanding.

Accountability & lawfulness

No matter how hard-working, experienced and passionate we are about what we do, none of us are entirely safe from making the odd mistake. It can happen to anybody. When it does, it is vital that we remember that one slip-up does not define us, neither as people nor as professionals. Nevertheless, there is indeed action we can take to tackle and minimise whatever problem might have emerged from our errors.

First of all, and most importantly, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and communicate them to our team. By the same logic, when a colleague reaches out to us to ask for advice on an error they might have made, we refrain from being judgemental or resentful. Instead, we are open-minded and understanding, as we could find ourselves in the very same situation at any time.

Secondly, we have to tackle the problem promptly and find the best way to reduce any potential loss in time or profit. Once again, it is important to communicate with our clients and collaborators on matters that can sometimes be delicate. Not only what we say, but also how we say it can help resolve issues that might initially seem insurmountable, but upon closer inspection are just small bumps in the road.

Being a project manager involves a lot of responsibility, which we take in our stride, all the while ensuring we abide by the laws applying to our company and the countries where we reside. When in doubt, we know that we must not be afraid to ask for help from someone with greater knowledge or experience than us to make sure we learn from our mistakes and move towards a better version of ourselves.

Live ethically, work ethically

As small as they may be, the choices we make in our day-to-day lives really contribute to shaping our environment and set an example to those around us. The same rule applies to our workspace. To collaborate with a company that truly demonstrates they care about and value our work is not just a possibility – it’s the best way to preserve our financial and mental health.

Doing so will generate a ‘virtuous circle’ for the company, their end client and for us as contributors. A happy and healthy linguist or project manager will undoubtedly deliver amazing localised content. This, in turn, will bring successful results to the end client, who will be more likely to come back to the same translation company with future requests.

If we embrace this way of thinking, the position of project manager is a truly interesting one, as we actively have the power to gently influence both the linguists and the clients during the translation process. No matter how many negative, inward-looking habits the modern-day economy has tried to instil in us – we can (and will!) make the difference and positively shape the translation market of tomorrow.