Friday, April 20, 2007

Knowing What Business We Are In


Knowing what business we are in isn't just for business owners. It is for the employees, staff, and workers in organizations as well. Do we know what business we are in? I ask this because of recent anecdotal incidents I've experienced.

In one case, a friend and I were at a restaurant. We were looking to throw our trays of remains away, and noticed that the restaurant had no visible trash receptacles. In fact, many people were simply leaving their trays of scraps at their respective tables for the workers to clean up. However, we didn't notice this when we had gotten up with our trays. But one of the restaurant employees, who was cleaning up tables, noticed us. But instead of taking our trays, she told us to go to her worker's station and to take care of our trays and trash ourselves.

We complied. But we looked at each other and both said, "Wow. She doesn't get it." I guess she had better things to do than help customers.

Another incident was during the period when I was dealing with my mother's death, and then my mother-in-law's death. At the time I was unable to make it for a doctor's appointment, but I needed to fulfill my prescription. When I called the doctor's office, the receptionist chastised me for not asking for it sooner.

I explained the situation, and this person simply said that it wasn't her problem. She reprimanded me for not calling the prescription in sooner or making an appointment so I wouldn't be in this predicament. I didn't want to argue about what she felt I should be doing, I just wanted my prescription. She eventually complied (sort of).

After finishing the discussion, I felt horrible. She definitely didn't understand the business she was in, nor my particular situation. She just wanted to be right.

These are just examples from everyday life of not understanding the business we are in as employees. Not understanding what we do at our jobs is a symptom of myopic thinking. We can only see our own needs in the immediate short term. We do not understand that we are representatives of the places where we work, and that we have a mission which is bigger than our own selfish interests.

Think about it. No one hires us because we need a job, or because we want some money. We get hired because the one hiring us wants us to fulfill a task that is important for her business. And in exchange you get paid for your expertise, efforts, or abilities. We do the same thing when we want a raise. We focus on what we want, not on why it makes good business sense to give us a raise.

Part of this problem is societal. We have created a culture of entitlement. But what can employers do now, since this affects their brand? Education is a part of the solution. But it is more important to remind employees why they are there. Reward good work, publicly praise when they get it, and privately reprimand when they don't. Also, spend time in the customer's shoes. See what it looks like to them. And ask your customers what they think. You might be surprised.

Oh, and that receptionist…well, she got fired because she just didn't get it with anybody.

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