March 31, 2011
Based on peer conversations I’ve had over the past week, I’ve been considering the potential to script/institutionalize job essence so that it can become a function of one’s job role—and not left to chance.
To clarify, the essence of an employee’s job is his overarching purpose—his highest priority. Job essence for employees at most companies is to create promoters—enthusiastic customers who will recommend their products and services, are less price-sensitive, and have higher repurchase rates.
Job function refers to the duties associated with one’s job role. For example, a job function of a restaurant server may be to provide ice water to guests who have been seated by the hostess. This may be restaurant protocol—a mandatory step in the process of providing table service.
But providing restaurant guests with ice water in and of itself does not reflect job essence—to create a promoters of the restaurant. The reason being that guests, at least in the U.S., expect ice water to be served. So providing ice water is not a differentiator—there’s no competitive advantage. In fact, if it’s not offered and diners have to ask for it, that may be seen as a displeaser.
On my flight home from Boston last night I thought of two examples of businesses that had, from my perspective, captured job essence within an employee’s job function (though I’m sure we could produce many more):
1.) There’s a restaurant in Denver called The Broker Restaurant that provides a complimentary shrimp bowl (with the purchase of two or more entrees) in the same way many fine dining restaurants provide a basket of bread. While a basket of bread is typical, ordinary, routine, and expected, the shrimp bowl (for first time guests) is unique, extraordinary, fresh, and unexpected. Placing the shrimp bowl on the diners’ table is a job function, just like providing glasses of ice water—or a basket of bread, that reflects job essence: providing a pleasant surprise. (Unless, of course, you’re allergic to shell fish…)
2.) I recently visited a delicatessen at the Atlantis hotel on Paradise Island in The Bahamas to purchase a roast beef sandwich for lunch the following day. When I placed the order, I mentioned this to the server. She then confirmed the bread type and some other specifications and then disappeared in the direction of the kitchen. When she returned, she handed me my order pointing out that she had taken the time to group and individually wrap the sandwich’s ingredients in wax paper to keep them fresh and separated until I was ready to build my sandwich at lunchtime the following day.
If this was the restaurant’s policy (a job function) on to-go orders intended to be consumed the following day, then it illustrates how the essence of the server’s job (express genuine interest, provide a pleasant surprise) could be captured in a job function. Now, I doubt this is standard policy at the delicatessen. More likely, I was fortunate to encounter an engaged server who made the choice to express genuine interest in me, anticipated my needs, and provided me with a pleasant surprise.
Both examples illustrate how job essence can be institutionalized (via standard operating procedure) as a job function. The danger, of course, is to rely on these standardized practices to “wow” guests and deemphasize the spontaneity that ordinarily accompanies job essence.
This is what happened at The Ritz-Carlton after guests remarked that nearly every employee they encountered responded to requests with, “My pleasure.” At first, it was fresh and unique, conveying professionalism while expressing genuine interest in serving the guest (job essence). Over time, however, it became a bit rehearsed and predictable—and it lost its uniqueness and charm.
Now, in order to convey more sincerity and spontaneity, Ritz-Carlton encourages “ways of being” as opposed to “ways of doing” by suggesting that employees vary their replies to guests’ requests (e.g., “My pleasure,” or “Absolutely, “ or “Right away,” or “Certainly”), recognizing that these responses are always preferable to “No problem.” (Which is like nails on a chalkboard to me—not at the Apple Retail Store but certainly in a luxury hotel or a fine dining restaurant.)
Can you think of any other businesses that have managed to effectively capture job essence within a function of the employee’s job role?