Recently, I have found myself retelling a story I read a long time ago, in a leadership book, that really stuck with me. It was about a boy who had a summer job at a bank. I’m paraphrasing…
One time the CEO of the bank asked the boy, “So, how do you like your job?” The boy replied somewhat discouraged, “I have a really stupid job. All I do is replace the pens and the make sure these containers that hold the deposit slips are never empty”.
The CEO then said, “Not only is your job not stupid, you have the most important job in the whole bank! Our bank can’t exist if customers don’t deposit money, and customers won’t deposit money if they don’t have confidence in our bank. It’s your job to make sure that our customers’ very first experience when they walk through our door is a good one.”
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“What could be more important than that?” “How do you think our customers would feel if the pens didn’t write or they needed to go through the time and hassle to ask someone to get them a deposit slip? Would they feel welcome and confident in us?”
Motivation and effectiveness
The boy suddenly felt much better and kind of proud. Once he thought about his job the way the CEO had explained it, and realized why his job did matter, he thought of ways to do an even better job to make customers feel more confident and welcome. So he started cleaning the counters each day, and making sure every thing on them was neat and organized. And he started greeting people as they walked in the door.
I think there are three important lessons in this story.
- Every job matters.
- Make sure each employee knows why their job matters.
- Employees who understand why their job matters will do a better job.
1. Every job matters
If you can’t explain why each job in your organization matters, you need to question whether or not you need the job in the first place.
You need to make sure you can explain how everyone’s job contributes to the business, both to make sure that you are maximizing your resources, and so you can explain it to the people doing the jobs!
2. Make sure each employee knows why their job matters.
As a leader, it’s your job to make sure you explain to everyone why their job matters and how it impacts the business. You need to make sure that the experience that boy had with the CEO happens for every one of your employees.
People want their work to matter. There is no better way to have employees understand why their job matters than for you to connect the dots for them, and give them a clear line of sight both to the top of the organization, and to the outside customer.
Make time to connect the dots.
I would always make time in my schedule to talk to individuals and mid-level managers to understand how they felt about their job. I would learn what parts of the business and external world they could (and couldn’t) see from where they were sitting. I would then connect the rest of the dots for them.
I did this in one-on-ones, talking with people in the cafeteria, breakfast meetings, riding in the car for sales calls, brown bags, attending staff meetings of the managers who worked in my organization, and any other opportunity that came up. If you make an effort to share with people how their work fits into the bigger picture they will be more motivated and more effective. Which gets me to the third point.
3. Employees who know why their work matters do a better job
Once people truly understand how their job contributes to the business and why it matters, they are more likely and able to step up, solve more problems, and add more value.
Once the boy understood it was about customer confidence, not pens and paper, he developed more ideas of how to deliver that outcome on his own. With personal knowledge of what business outcomes their roles need to drive, people will do more of what the business needs them to do.
Get your people to step up and creatively do the job that needs to be done, not just the one that was defined for them.
Here are a few examples:
- Product Development: I would explain to my product development organization how we made money, and where the profit came from. I would explain how getting new products out sooner would benefit not only our competitiveness, but also cost less. I helped them understand how their salaries fit into the P&L, and gave them ideas of the kinds of things they could do to impact sales (make it easier to demo) or impact expenses (make it easier to test.)
- Tech writers: I would give tech writers a chance to interact with customers and share the business model of our customer support function with them. I’d have them talk with customer support people. They realized that if they could improve the product documentation it would result in both a better customer experience and a lower support cost.
- IT department: I explained the business model to the IT department and how much each sales rep needed to sell, and what all the steps are in the sales process. I told them about the length of sales cycles and how special deals were often given in the last 24 hours of the month. That helped them to understand why the IT systems had carry a to carry heavier load (and better stay working!) at those times. They realized that they could change the way they planned and managed IT services to support the sales team to make closing business and handling special pricing easier.
Taking time to share and explain
Taking time to share with every group, how the company makes money, where the revenue comes from, and where the profit comes from, motivates people to step up and do more for the business.
Helping everyone understand how the P&L works and if their job is part of the P or the L, and how their job impacts the profit, makes a big difference not only to morale, but to cost reduction, creative thinking, and innovation.
This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.