Q. Steve, in your latest blog post, you asked: “Do you have any employees who perform incomplete work or avoid undesirable work entirely? If so, consider ways to reframe the employee’s job assignments as contributions to a higher purpose.” Can you provide an example?
A. Sure. Let’s say you manage a supermarket where there is a need to periodically clean the public restrooms. When you approach the employee to assign the task, how does he respond? With enthusiasm or dismay? I’m certain that, given the option, most employees would prefer to stock advertised specials or bring shopping carts in from the parking lot. Even so, the restrooms still need to be cleaned.
Suppose the store’s purpose* is Make Everything Fresh. Now, “freshness” informs every decision that employees make – which is an excellent touchstone in a supermarket. After employees are hired, they acquire technical job knowledge and develop job skills through the completion of their onboarding and training processes. And because they’re working for a purpose-driven organization, they are also informed about WHY they do WHAT they do HOW they do it: Make Everything Fresh.
Now, when the stocker contemplates, “Why must I rotate the yogurt?” the answer is self-evident: Make Everything Fresh. Or when the cashier questions, “Why do I have to wipe down my station’s conveyor belt?” or the butcher asks, “Why should I add crushed ice to the seafood display?” or the employee asks, “Why do I have to clean the restrooms?” the answer is the same: Make Everything Fresh.
If the stocker fails to rotate the yogurt, over time the store will be offering expired yogurt to its customers. And expired yogurt violates the organization’s purpose. If the cashier neglects the conveyor belt, it will become stained and dirty. Customers will be reluctant to place their groceries, especially exposed produce, on the soiled conveyor belts. And if the butcher ignores the crushed ice in the seafood display, eventually the fish will be lying limply in pools of stagnant water. Decidedly unappetizing. It’s the same for the employee who is responsible for cleaning the public restrooms. If he neglects the task by doing a shoddy job or avoiding it altogether, he has violated a covenant with his employer, no different than if he failed to wear a name badge or arrived late to work. The unattended restrooms will become a poor reflection of the supermarket’s purpose: Make Everything Fresh.
Once an organization’s purpose has been defined and communicated, failure to honor it becomes a performance issue. Just as businesses hold their employees accountable to documented appearance standards, codes of conduct, and other policies and procedures, employees similarly must be held to service level standards that are aligned with the organization’s stated purpose.
The Mayo Clinic, for instance, has a purpose statement that reads: “The needs of the patient come first.” If a rogue employee decides to put his needs ahead of the patient’s by subordinating their care to expediency, indifference, or profitability, that becomes a performance issue, no different than if he neglects a documented policy or procedure.
* Disclaimer: This is not a trick, ploy, or tactic. Employees are observant, and they don’t miss much. If this supermarket has not bothered to define its purpose or the store’s leadership team appears indifferent toward it, then the above example lacks credibility and is irrelevant.
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