I just listened to an HBR Ideacast interview with Patrick Lencioni, author of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. Here’s a quote:
A friend of mine was a waitress in college … she said her and her friends would come to work and complain all the time about the people who came into the restaurant because they stayed too late, or they made a mess … and they always wanted to get out of there as fast as they could. Finally their manager sat down with them and said ‘look at these people who come here. These are people who are celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, or who are coming in to meet an old friend, or who have a stressful life and they need to go someplace where they can actually relax and get a good meal. We are the conduits of that. Everyone who comes in here has a story. Our job is to help them make this the best experience possible.’
He was sincere in that. After a while these waitresses starting coming to work with a different sense of purpose. During the breaks and after work they would talk about the different events they’d served, and the people who came into the restaurant. He turned what looked like a crummy job into a vocation. All people deserve that.
Notice the way his story puts it, that the waitresses deserved to have meaning in their job. It isn’t about how their manager tricked them into working harder, it’s about how he gave them relevance. Irrelevance, he goes on to say, is one of the three signs. People deserve to have their jobs matter. Good companies, and good managers, need to give them that level of satisfaction.
Who does the administrative assistant help? Her boss. Yet her boss is probably reluctant to acknowledge the impact that he or she has on his or her life because they don’t want to seem selfish, so they fail to really sit down and say do you realize how much better my personal and professional life is because of you? Do you know every thing you do for me makes me happier and less stressed?
Every employee needs to know that there is somebody out there that they serve, and when we don’t let people know that, we deprive them of a fulfilling job.
This irrelevance is the second of the three signs. The first is anonymity:
People cannot be fulfilled in their work if they are not known. All human beings need to be understood and appreciated for their unique qualities by someone who is in a position of authority. People who see themselves as invisible, generic or anonymous cannot love their jobs, no matter what they are doing.
The third is a coined word, immeasurement. It reminds me of what I called metrics in a recent post on this blog.
All human beings in any kind of a job need some way to assess their own performance that’s objective. It might not be numerical or easily quantitative, but it’s somewhat objective and observable by them, because then they are not left to depend upon the opinion or the whim of a manager once a year during a performance appraisal. People need to be able to go home from work every night, or every week, or every month, and know where they stand, and know what they can do to influence how they’re working. This is why sales people are generally very satisfied in their job, because they have very clear evidence of their performance. Most people think they are coin operated, but in fact a quota is a wonderful scoreboard for them evaluating themselves, and all people need that.
Sometimes it requires a manager to be very creative in how they come up with that. In my book this one guy works at the drive-through window in a fast-food restaurant and the manager helps him realize that the best way he can measure the impact of his success is to find how many times he can make somebody smile or laugh that comes through his line. So he writes down or records for himself how often he can do that.
We have to give people that sense that they have some measure of control.
What do you think? I posted a few months ago about research related to better performance from happy employees. This makes a lot of sense to me.