The Job You Should Focus on the Most
BY Jeff Haden
Forget about industry awards or impressive milestones. If you want to know the true measure of your company, look at the worst job on the payroll.
Think about a terrible company you’ve worked for. (We’ve all worked for at least one terrible company, even if that company was our own.)
Then think about the worst job on the job perception totem pole. I bet it was the pits: no challenge, limited resources, few incentives to perform well, no real hope of recognition or advancement… when you think about it that job was like a poster child for the organization itself.
Now think about your company. What is the worst job? Don’t assume the worst job is the lowest job; sometimes the worst job is actually one of the high level, highly paid positions.
If there is no clear loser, what is the one task no one wants to do? Maybe it’s taking inventory, or calling the biggest offenders on the accounts receivable list, or processing returns, or vetting new customers.
Identify the worst job and then fix it. Your entire business will benefit—because the true measure of a company is its worst job.
Allowing a terrible job to stay terrible negatively impacts your entire organization. Ignoring the need for additional resources, or greater recognition, or incentives to perform at a high level in one position causes you to ignore less obvious but similar problems in other positions. And it sends the signal that at least a few employees are less valuable.
Sure, some employees are naturally more important to the success of an organization—but every employee should be made to feel equally valuable. There’s a subtle but important difference, one that’s your job to maintain.
A friend of mine runs his company that way. Instead of creating process improvement teams, implementing a Deming cycle, or calling in the black belts, he has two (very smart, very self-motivated, and excellent team player) employees whose only goal is to improve the worst jobs and most-avoided tasks. One week they’re in the warehouse figuring out how to limit the number of inventory touches; the next week they’re in quality control figuring out how to move certain tests to the shop floor where they belong; the next week they’re in the maintenance area figuring out how to make parts clean-ups safer.
Keep in mind the goal isn’t to make a terrible job “cushier.” The goal is to make a terrible job better by providing the right resources, the right training, and the right incentives so every employee can justifiably feel great about their achievements. A great job isn’t an easy job; a great job is one any person can be proud to perform.
You may not be able to improve the worst jobs by dedicating a team or even a person to that role. (Although you should think hard about it; typically when you improve a job you do so by improving efficiency, reducing waste, eliminating roadblocks—the return is almost always worth the investment.)
But there is one person you can assign: You. Identify the worst job and fix what’s wrong. Then rinse and repeat.
When each employee feels valuable, every employee benefits—and your business does, too.
JEFF HADEN learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business. @jeff_haden