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Blue ocean thinking

Photo 21051337 | Blue Ocean © Brett Critchley |

I was thinking about the widely-read business book Blue Ocean Strategy, which was published 20 years ago, and the application of its central premise to purpose-driven work today.

In the book, red ocean strategies represent the way business is approached in most industries: competing for contested—and often shrinking—demand and market share. This can lead to a race to the bottom as margins and quality suffer under the weight of “hitting the numbers.”

Blue ocean strategies, conversely, reflect a novel approach to business that seeks to uncover, create, and capture uncontested market space—the size of which is unknown and unknowable. This plan of action can result in product and service innovations that make the competition irrelevant.

I related these approaches to the view of a job role through both a process- and purpose-driven lens. A process-driven view of a job role emphasizes a single dimension, job functions—the duties and tasks related to a particular job role. If employees possess adequate job knowledge and can demonstrate sufficient job skills, then they are deemed capable to reliably execute their job assignments. The goal of this dimension is competency.

A purpose-driven view of a job role also acknowledges the necessity of well-trained employees who have the knowledge and skills to consistently deliver product and service quality. However, this view also recognizes a second dimension of every job role: job essence. This dimension reflects job purpose, the role’s single highest priority. It doesn’t replace or supersede job functions. It integrates with them to elevate routine customer transactions to refreshing customer experiences.

In Blue Ocean Strategy parlance, viewing the total job role myopically through a process-driven lens of job functions would be a red ocean perspective. Most organizations do this. As a result, they compete through efficiencies—trying to increase productivity and throughput by doing more things faster with the most cost-effective production source (whether human or automated) and materials. And frontline employees arrive to work each day aware of just one dimension of their job role.

A blue ocean perspective sees the total job role as comprised of both job functions and job essence. Purpose-driven organizations do this. They equip employees with the competencies and ideals needed to consistently deliver inspired product and service quality. So, it’s not zero-sum: process-driven or purpose-driven. It’s both. While blue ocean companies may automate and leverage technology in the name of efficiency and cost-savings, they maintain a commitment to guiding principles and core values. And these tenets are reflected by employees at all levels of the organization.

For example, employees who work in Event Services at Hyatt Hotels, with the job purpose: to care for people so they can be their best, must not only be technically competent (i.e., ensure the proper staging and presentation equipment is in place), they must also reflect job purpose by, for example, ensuring that shipped boxes containing program materials are delivered to the meeting room well in advance of the event’s start time. And they must double-check the batteries in the microphone, verify the quality of the markers at the flipcharts, and confirm the placement of water bottles at the speaker’s podium. Each of these actions reflects the higher purpose of the job role: to care for people so they can be their best.

So, the next time you are designing a job role or reviewing a job description, remember to look at it through a blue ocean lens. While the job functions are likely already clear and itemized, job essence is probably awaiting clarification and inclusion. It’s only when you articulate and reveal both dimensions to employees that they will be made aware of their total job role.

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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