When problem solving, look for simple solutions

Problem solving discussions on news broadcasts, in newspaper op-eds, on social media, and in political speeches have a consistent thread: “We can fix it by changing (one thing).

Most problems are not particularly simple. Societal and economic problems are incredibly complex, even in a small community. Winning a game of chess against Bobby Fischer or IBM’s Watson might be easier.

As a result, problems usually require a multi-faceted approach. Unfortunately, that often tempts us to eliminate any “one thing” strategy under the presumption that it’s ineffective, naive, or “too simple”.

Problem solving cause & effect

Rotary has for decades funded and built simple hand pump water wells in villages where there’s no dependable, convenient source of clean water. Many other organizations do similar water projects.

Does convenient access to a dependable source of water (ie: eliminating a three hour round trip hike) solve 100% of a third-world village’s problems? No. However, gaining easy access to clean, disease-free water for a village’s people is comparable to the impact of U.S. rural electrification projects of the mid 1900s. Electrification didn’t solve every rural problem, but it had a huge positive impact on rural communities.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian engineer, sociologist and economist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. While he “invented” modern microeconomics, many recognize his last name thanks to his “Pareto principle” – what we call “the 80/20 rule”. The principle states that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes.

Is it accurate to six decimal places? Probably not. Does it describe cause & effect in 100% of situations? Probably not. Does it describe a large percentage of cause and effect in business and society? Pretty close, I’d say.

If a single, simple strategy or tactic solves 80% of a problem, I’d call that a pretty good start. You may not have implemented a perfect solution, but you’ve made a boatload of progress.

Expectations matter

Managed expectations go a long way when solving problems.

Name the last time you solved a problem with a single solution and that solution performed perfectly 100% of the time, in every possible scenario so far – and can reasonably be expected to continue solving the problem in the foreseeable future.

A simple solution is often dismissed because it doesn’t solve the problem 100% of the time, or in 100% of scenarios where the problem can occur.

The “Do Not Call” system is a good example. Elected officials seem to agree that robocalls, cloaked and spoofed calls need to stop. Yet they’ve done nothing about it and continue to exempt themselves from existing robocall legislation.

While technology, laws, and a few vendors make it very difficult for us to solve 100% of this, you can solve 80% of it by using a Google Phone number when you don’t expect or want that party to call you. This is particularly true when the data is somewhat publicly accessible, such as voter or website domain registrations.

Google Phone will take those calls / texts, letting you avoid numerous unwanted interruptions via your cell.

Refining problem solving

Most solutions won’t resolve 100% of a problem’s scenarios. If they do, they’re often incredibly expensive, difficult to implement, hard to use, or all three. Even so, edge cases still find their way in.

Despite that, 80% isn’t always enough. Instead of looking for perfect solutions, try iteration. If your first simple solution solved 75 to 80% of the situation, look at what’s left.

What additional simple change can you make to fix the majority of the remaining situations? If you have 100 problem situations, your first 80 / 20 solution leaves 20 situations to resolve. Solving 80% of the leftovers leaves only FOUR percent.

Look at that again: Two simple solutions take you from 100% to four percent.

If you need to, refine again. At some point, the ROI of the next solution will tell you it’s time to move on to other problems.

Imagine that a single tweak to your sales process results in closing 80% of the sales you weren’t closing. Or that a single change in your manufacturing process reduces costs, in-use failure, or warranty claims by 80%. Neither are 100% solutions, but I doubt too many would object to that level of improvement.

If your approach to problem solving starts by looking for simple solutions, testing, implementing and iterating, the number of problems you face and the time and expense invested in dealing with them is going to shrink significantly.

What would you do with that newfound time and money?

Quality management’s slow ROI

We talk about numbers, metrics, & dashboards from time to time. One of the more difficult things to measure, much less manage, is quality.

Is there a single measure?

Some might suggest Net Promoter Score as an ideal single measure. NPS ranges from -100 to 100. It represents the willingness of a company’s customers to recommend their products & services to others.

If your business makes / sells cars, what single measure indicates your overall quality? Number of recalls per model year? Number of cars returned under lemon laws? Annual average cost of warranty repairs? Repeat sales?

Quality management is difficult

What makes it so hard to manage & measure quality?

Cost: Quality management systems are expensive, at least they feel that way. If you manufacture things (including software), the investment necessary to measure & report quality can easily approach the cost of producing the product. Finding the ROI is difficult at best, while the price sticks out of your P&L like an ingrown toenail.

Time: Quality control isn’t easy, fast, or simple. Measuring & reporting quality either during or immediately after the manufacturing process is a complex, incrementally-built thing. It takes time to build. If your team’s culture is focused on speed above all else, quality management may not make your “projects to implement” list.

Quarterly expectations: Time-to-return-on-investment compounds the difficulty. Quality control feels like an expensive, plodding animal, making it easy to view as an extravagance rather than an investment.

Accountability: Quality measurement can feel like blame creation, rather than data collection. Accountability must extend beyond the head/hands of the worker to the team’s management, systems, and to the training & tools provided to that worker. Quality work is accountable by design, and rarely happens by accident. It’s resilient, running for days or weeks at a time without stopping. It’s ready for the edge cases that try to inject chaos into your customers’ world. Customers appreciate when the products they buy can take a punch.

Culture: Quality isn’t a job. It’s a value. If your team sees it as an incumbent part of their job, it will change their work, how they work, & how they think about their work. If someone doesn’t see quality as part of their job, they may need training. If training fails, they may fit in better elsewhere. People who value quality don’t want to work with those who don’t value it. Who would you rather lose?

Every job is a quality job

Years ago, a leadership instructor moped into the room after a break & started droning on in monotone. He sounded like he was having the worst day of his life. After a few minutes, he took a break. When he returned, his mood was positive & very happy to be there – despite being in the same room with the same people.

He stopped for a minute & asked if anyone wanted the old, depressing guy to return. No one did. His lesson from that little act was that “Every job is a sales job.” If you’ve ever been “greeted” by a sullen receptionist, the meaning of “every job is a sales job” is obvious.

The point? Every job is also a quality management job.

Like the sullen receptionist, it only takes one person, event or action to make us forget the good work a business has done. Similarly, when one department’s role in quality management fails, it devalues the work of the rest of the company.

Quality management systems help us monitor & correct these things before they cause reputation damage.

Forests, forest fires, and reputation

In a world dominated by short term views, quality management’s slow ROI & difficult to identify returns seem too expensive & time-consuming to invest in. Even for those who invest, a ROI search in their accounting system comes up empty.

As a result, a bad financial period makes it easy to cut what seems like an extravagance that isn’t contributing to the bottom line.

Think twice.

Quality & reputation can be both sturdy & fragile, like a forest. It takes decades to grow a healthy forest. Reputations grow similarly.

Like a random lightning strike, a carelessly discarded cigarette butt, or an abandoned campfire can destroy a decades-old forest in hours, a change in quality that goes undetected can cause reputation damage that takes months or years to recover.

Does your business have months or years of staying power? In a pinch, you can borrow to bridge a short-term cash flow gap.

You can’t borrow reputation.

The importance of performance metrics

Last time, we talked about metrics that answer questions to help you increase sales.

Metrics aren’t solely about sales and marketing. Quality and performance metrics drive your business. Can you identify a few that would cause serious concern if they changed by as little as five percent?

If there are, how are you monitoring them? Monitoring and access to that info is what I was initially referring to last time. The performance metrics I’ve been working on are a mix of uptime, event and work completion information. In each case, a metric could indicate serious trouble if it changed substantially.

Uptime metrics

An uptime metric shows how long something has been running without incident. In some fields, particularly technology, it’s not unusual to have seemingly crazy uptime expectations.

Anyone who has picked up a landline phone is familiar with the standard in uptime metrics – the dial tone. For years, it was the standard because it was quite rare to pick up the phone and not get a dial tone. Its presence became an expectation, much as our as yet unfilled expectation of always-unavailable cell and internet service is today. The perceived success rate of the dial tone is probably a bit higher than reality thanks to our memory of the “good old days”.

Today’s replacement for the dial tone is internet-related service. Years ago a business would feel isolated and threatened when phone service went out. Today, it’s not unusual for a business to feel equally vulnerable when internet service is out. The seemingly crazy uptime expectations are there because more businesses function across timezones (much less globally) than they did a few decades ago. Web site / online service expectations these days are at “nine nines” or higher.

Nine nines of uptime, ie: 99.9999999% uptime, is a frequently quoted standard in the technology business. Taken literally, this means less than one second of downtime in 20 years. There are systems that achieve this level of uptime because they aren’t dependent on one machine. The service is available at that level, not any one device. Five nines (99.999%) of uptime performance allows for a little over five minutes of downtime per year. Redundancy allows this level of service to be achieved.

Events that idle equipment and people are expensive. What’s your uptime metric for services, systems, critical tools like your CNC, trucks on the road (vs. on the side of the road), etc?

Event metrics

Event metrics are about how often something happens, or doesn’t happen – like “days since a lost work injury” or “days since we had to pull a software release because of a serious, previously unseen bug“.

In those two examples, the event is about keeping folks focused on safety first and safety procedures, as well as defensive programming and completeness of testing. You might measure how many crashes your software’s metrics reported in the last 24 hours and where they were. Presumably, this would help you focus on what to fix next.

What event metrics do you track?

Work completion metrics

Work completion metrics might be grouped with event metrics, but I prefer to keep them separate. Work completion is a performance and quality metric.

Performance completion not only shows that something was finished, but that successful completion is a quality indicator. Scrap rates and scrap reuse get a lot of attention from manufacturers in part because of the raw material costs associated with them. Increasing scrap rates can indicate performance and quality problems that need immediate attention.

One system I work with processes about 15,000 successful events a day – not much in the technology world when compared to Google or Microsoft, but critical for that small business. If the number dropped to only 14,900 per day, their phones and email would light up with client complaints, so there’s a lot of emphasis on making sure that work completes successfully. Catching and resolving problems quickly is critical, so redundant status checks happen every 15 seconds.

Events of this nature are commonly logged, but reviewing logs is tedious work and can be error prone. Logs add up quickly and can contain many thousands of lines of info per day – too much to monitor by hand / eye via manual methods.

These days, business dashboards are a much more consumable way of communicating this type of information quickly and keeping attention on critical numbers – such as this example from klipfolio.com:

business performance metrics dashboard

What work completion metrics do you track?

Earning Return Business, part three

In the last year, we’ve experienced the joy of moving. Twice.

Yes, twice on purpose.

Apparently our lives are in such dire need of adventure that one move wasn’t enough.

Census you asked

Why do I bring up these moves?

According to U.S. Census data from 2010, Americans move about 12 times in their lives – and younger generations are trending toward moving even more often.

Moving is not an inexpensive or easy affair. It can stress families heavily at a time when they are already under substantial pressure. Since we do it about a dozen times in our lives, it would seem obvious that there’s lots of incentive to create an experience that encourages repeat business and good word of mouth.

Let’s talk about a few examples.

U-Haul vs. Penske

I’ve rented from Penske once, 16 years ago. I had to drive their truck from Missoula to Cheyenne to return it. In retrospect, this was not the most time and cost efficient plan, but a prior U-Haul experience had me avoiding them.

Despite the crazy return location, I’d rent from them again tomorrow – if they had a local store in the places I was moving from and moving to. Why? 16 years later, I still have good vibes from that move, the rig I received and how they handled the process on both ends.

I’ve since used U-Haul twice. As they were 16 years ago, the trucks are spartan in features, still use gas (less power, lower mileage) rather than diesel and often give you the idea that you’re the last person to drive it before they sell it off.

I’ve used them twice is because they were the only local choice at both ends of a move.

Confidence earns repeat business

Despite my issues with their trucks, the people who work for U-Haul  (and their dealers) have proven to be friendly and service-oriented.

As with many other large businesses, there are roses and thorns with each experience, and once in a while you’re fortunate to meet unique people who set the standard for everyone else you deal with in a particular market, such as Hungry Horse Montana’s Kasey Faulk and her crew.

The thorns usually relate to little issues that point to management’s attention to detail. A recent example is the truck I picked up. The windshield appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned. It was covered with bugs.

Thing is, the bugs weren’t whole like someone hadn’t touched the windshield at all. Instead, it looked like they’d been “sort of” cleaned but hadn’t finished the job.  I suspect U-Haul has someone clean the windshields in every truck at check-in time (or before it goes out), but that they don’t have their people hop in the truck to check their work when the cleaning is done or when the truck is rented.

Yes, these are little things

Little things. Trivial things. But they make you wonder about the attention paid to other little things, like oil, lube, u-joints and wheel bearings.

You see, after you’ve paid a crew to load a truck, the last thing you want to do is find yourself stranded in the middle of Eden on a broiling hot day in the sun.

Actually, that’s the next to last thing you want.

The last thing you want is to have to unload the truck and load your stuff onto its replacement – particularly if it was loaded by a crew as good as Kasey’s. You don’t really want to do that even if it wasn’t loaded by her crew.

Fortunately this wasn’t part of our experience and there was no mechanical issue on either trip, despite the ill-cared-for appearance of the rig.

Earning return business requires creating the right memories

While nothing went wrong for us, these kinds of things are on your clients’ minds when they ponder coming back to you.

  • Have they cleaned the truck / bedspread / bathrooms since the last time I was here?
  • Am I going to have to deal with grease on this and that and that again?
  • Will the tub be dirty again?
  • Will they track in dirt and not clean up the sawdust and drywall dust again?
  • Is that guy behind the counter going to ogle my daughter again?

If these are the memories you’re creating, how likely is it that they’ll return?

Depend on being the best game in town, not the only one.

What surprises say about your business

What does being professional mean to you?

To some, it means “Not being an amateur”.

So how does the public differentiate amateurs from professionals?

In some circles, money is the key. Amateurs don’t get paid, professionals do.  For example, an amateur golfer typically isn’t eligible for prize money in tournaments. Once they decide to go pro, they can’t go back to being an amateur.

If not money, training

For others, amateur can imply (sometimes incorrectly) that someone is less skilled than a professional doing the same task, eg: a pro golfer is surely more consistent and better at their trade than an amateur. Likewise, an amateur welder is more likely to produce cold, poor quality and/or “messy” welds than a professional welder.

In other lines of work, being a professional requires a bit more effort than simply deciding you’d like to get paid. Many professionals require internships, experience, tests and/or certifications to prove their mettle. To become a journeyman (professional) welder, it’s likely that you would first learn as an apprentice with an experienced welder for a year or more.

Despite all of these literal and occasionally artificial steps/barriers that prove something (skills, access to funds, etc), I do not believe that the acts of being paid, taking training, passing tests or earning certifications prove that someone is a professional. Some of these things prove that the local, state and/or Federal government consider the person a professional, but we’re talking more about checking boxes (however legitimate they might be) vs. proving something over time.

To me, a professional is someone who consistently meets goals, avoids (if not eliminating) client surprises and demonstrates an ability to solve problems while encountering unanticipated events – all while dealing with amateurs.

Why the “while dealing with amateurs” part? Because most of us are amateurs in the professional’s field when we’re their client.

Getting Real

Due to circumstances within my control, I’ve been involved in a few real estate transactions over the last month or two.

One of these required reviewing some residential rental property.

During one of these visits, I found doors that didn’t close properly, a microwave and disposal that didn’t work, a missing master bath mirror, loose toilets and cobwebs everywhere – along with a raft of eight-legged houseguests.

These things are not unusual. Agents find these things all the time, particularly in places that have been empty a while. The high-performing professionals do their best to make sure these things are fixed before they take a client to a property.

You may remember the story I tell about the real estate checklist an agent uses. The checklist demonstrates a level of professionalism / experience while making it clear that while things come up during a transactions, the agent has seen it all and will handle it.

In other words, there won’t be surprises they can’t handle. Customers really don’t like surprises.

Again, that Holiday Inn thing

Yes, I’m referring to that “the best surprise is no surprise” thing.

Professionals seldom get surprised by normal things like the property issues I noted above. If they are surprised, they take steps to encounter them in time to deal with them and eliminate problems before a client can see them.

Usually.

During my visit, the agent was surprised by the number of easily-solvable problems that rental property had. That’s what provoked this discussion.  This isn’t just a real estate thing – my experience simply makes a good example.

No matter what you do, the most noticeable difference between the amateurs and best professionals in your field is how the pro prepares for and eliminates surprises, unknowns and trouble in general. How they insulate their customers. It’s what people rave about when they recommend you, or grumble about every time they think about the experience they had.

Which of those two discussions do you want to be the subject of?

No matter what

No matter what you do, take a few minutes each week to mull over what “being a professional” means to you, both as a provider of products and services as well as a consumer/client.

Ask your clients what could have made their last experience with you just a little bit better? What would have made it less annoying?

Finally, what can you take from other experiences you have? Tweak and use them on your own business.

Perfect is the enemy of done – or is it?

A couple of weeks ago, NASA celebrated the one year anniversary of Curiosity Rover landing on Mars.

As someone who has been taking pictures since the ’60s, I still find it amazing that we can tell a satellite orbiting Mars to take a picture of a Jeep-size spacecraft parachuting to its landing 62 million miles away and have the photo on my laptop 20 minutes later.

The photos and video of the landing and all that led up to that event reminds me of the oft-quoted remark “Perfect is the enemy of done.”

Does it need to be “perfect”?

While shipping something and iterating its benefits, features and quality are perfectly acceptable strategies for many products and services, I think we shortchange ourselves if we don’t keep in mind that there’s a time and a place for “better than done”.

I was trained by engineering professors during my college days, so “perfect” means something well beyond “done” to me, often well beyond four decimal places.

Perfection is extremely difficult to achieve and even harder to prove , so let’s settle on a “Much better than where it is now” definition so we can keep the engineers happy.

Using that definition, perfect makes no sense for most work under most circumstances. For example, software programs are never “perfect” and while you can always sand a surface with a finer grit of sandpaper, does it matter if you take an 800-grit-smooth surface to where 10000 grit will smooth it?

Perhaps a better question is this: Is the cost and time investment worth going past “good enough/done” to reach for those “perfect” four, nine or 27 decimal places?

Going beyond a seemingly ridiculous number of decimal places is one reason why Curiosity made it to Mars and still rumbles across the Red Planet today – yet it’s unlikely that Curiosity is perfect.

BUT… it is extremely well-designed and resilient.

Design and Resilience

My point is this: while perfect is certainly the enemy of done for much of the work that you and I deliver, that doesn’t eliminate the need to put serious thought into the design and resilience of our best products and services – if not all of them.

It’s not unusual for us to design something based on immediate and short-term needs, never taking the time to consider what happens if it encounters situations and customers our short-term design never considered.

The information we don’t have is often as important as what we know and assume at design time.

When you send a product like Curiosity to Mars, you don’t get an opportunity to replace a part you didn’t think through as well as you should have. You can’t make a service call or throw a tarp over it while you rip it apart to figure out how to resolve today’s problem.

Instead, your design time process has to include what *could* happen and how your product would react and extract itself from an unexpected situation….long before you load it onto a rocket, pallet, download page or Fedex box.

What if your product…

  • Finds itself being used by a customer 10 times bigger than your design-time’s “Ideal Customer”? Or 10 times smaller?
  • Is being used in an unfriendly environment? A high-security or low-security situation?
  • Lasts 10 years longer than you expected? Remember – the work or result it provides still reflects on your business.
  • Cost 250% more to replace once it’s installed – and that installation takes 253 days  (the time it took for Curiosity to reach Mars).

When Curiosity lifts off, it was too late to turn a screw, change a part’s materials, or sand and polish it to an even-higher tolerance fit.

Think about your best stuff – no matter what you do. What would happen to it under the conditions described above? Would it be worth more if it handled those things without breaking a sweat?

How would you react when that extra bit of design effort pays off? What revenue will result? What will that first few seconds of success feel like?

PS: The sum of *all* NASA spending over the last 50 years is $800 billion. Lots of money. Yet that 50 years of exploration and discovery were cheaper than the government bailout of Wall Street, which cost $850 billion. A stunning comparison of ROI, even before thinking about the spin-off technologies from NASA’s work that have trickled down to business and industry, much less the things that impact our daily lives.

Help them help you

20130714-111557.jpg

During a recent road trip, I encountered this sign in a rest room entryway at an Oklahoma Turnpike rest stop.

Below the sign was a standard wall light switch.

While I didn’t test it and hang around to measure response time, it’s a nice idea that allows customers to help a business’ staff become aware of problems more quickly than their periodic monitoring might reveal – particularly at a very busy highway rest stop where a mess might be just around the corner.

The longer that new mess hangs around unaddressed, the more likely it is that it will make a bad impression on a visitor. While not foolproof or automatic, the switch is one more way to build in systems/processes that can improve the business environment.

What systems, tools and processes have you established that enable your customers to help your business?

What about your products and services? Depending on the nature of them, it’s possible for them to alert you to situations you should be aware of that will improve your business and how it’s perceived.

Tell your fish story, Mr. Limpet

Salmon

During a recent trip to Oregon, our journey took us to a dockside seafood restaurant in Newport.

As you can see from my photo, this restaurant offers fresh local seafood in addition to meals made with the local catch.

Take a close look at the sign used to describe this salmon.

We know that the fish was caught locally by a real person who had to reel it in, on fishing vessel (“F/V”) that employs local people. The sign tells us it wasn’t farmed, pitched into a freezer with 30,000 other fish, much less frozen and shipped in by truck or rail from 2,000 miles away.

The sign’s details drive home that this slab of salmon is fresher and thus (probably) better than salmon in the chain grocery down the street that has a sign saying “fresh salmon”. You know details about this particular fish’s path to the refrigerated case that you rarely know in an ordinary grocery store that doesn’t really specialize in seafood.

I’ll bet that if I had asked the lady behind the counter about Two Sisters, she could have told me about them.

Fresh and local is a particularly critical for fish and produce, but the effort to describe whatever you do in rich, honest detail is critical – particularly if you’re selling against commoditized products and services that tend to be compared solely by price. The goal isn’t to be flowery and cover up what you do with fancy wallpaper – it’s to help someone who cares understand why your stuff is what they really want.

Your why is just one more thing that makes you stand out because it resonates with what’s deeply important to discerning buyers.

What about what I do?

Emphasizing the upside of using local food should be an obvious win, but this sort of thing is no different for those who sell furniture, vacuum cleaners or whatever it is that you sell.

If I talk to your staff or visit your website, am I going to get why you sell what you sell, vs just selling any old thing? Do I get a feel for what’s important to YOU when you choose (or manufacture) a product, or deliver a service? Do I know what drove you to offer these services and why it might be more important to you than to me that you “fix” whatever issue my life, business or vehicle has?

I spent about 20 minutes listening to a vacuum guy compare different units for me the other day. I’m bad about listening to salespeople whether I plan to buy that day or not, because I want to hear and assess their pitch.

I got good info about the results, lifespan and repair expectations I could expect when choosing between different types / brands / quality levels of vacuums (all important stuff). I didn’t get much about why it was important to him that I make the right choice. Oddly enough, I got exactly that from someone about 30-40 years his junior – his son.

Enthuasiasts

You all know an enthusiast, and you probably are one about something. Enthusiasts will explain why you might value certain things or experiences as much as they do, either to bring you into the fold or just to explain why they care.

Coffee people will explain why a burr is superior to a grinder. People who are into furniture will ask if it is built using eight way hand tied springs. Skiers and snowboarders will wax on about tuning and wax.

Those things matter to enthusiasts who don’t want their beans scorched, crave holding an edge in the steep and deep, and want a repairable couch that will sit as nicely in 25 years as it does today. That’s why the link above explains the furniture manufacturer’s construction methods as well as WHY they use them.

The story behind what you do and how you do it is often as important as the products and services you offer.

It’s particularly critical if you’re in a high quality, high value market. If you can’t explain why you care and why your customer should, the next comparison that people will tend to make is price.

Unless you’re the box store, you’re likely to lose that comparison.

Can you find the quality in this kitchen? It isn’t the bacon.

Baconfest Chicago Chef Rose
Photo credit: Chicago Serious Eats

People send me bacon links and/or bacon photos on Facebook almost every day.

I’m not sure what started it. You’d think they see me around town with a fistful of bacon all the time (they don’t, I rarely have any) but it’s entertaining nonetheless.

Today, I found my own link about Baconfest Chicago and it’s all business (OK, there is a little bit of bacon too).

Check out the slideshow illustrating how Chef Rose cooks his Baconfest winning dish and look for ways he’s managing the quality of the food his kitchen produces.

Hint: One of my favorite quotes is from Chef Gordon Ramsey: “Without a leader, there are no standards. Without standards, there is no consistency.”

Where do you see Chef Rose managing quality?

What’s that work mean to your staff?

Oaxaca Mop
Creative Commons License photo credit: AlexPears

Yesterday, we talked about Roger Ebert and how his TED talk was such a great validation for the Apple speech synthesis team.

I asked you about your work and talked a little about finding meaning in it no matter what you do – as well as considering where your current work is taking you.

Employers have a role in that discussion too.

Who cares?

If you employ people, you don’t escape these things. In fact, they become more important. Are those you perceive as your “most valuable” staff members being challenged by work they find meaning in? If not, you risk losing them. The situation is no different for the rest of your staff.

Your responsibility as the leader in your business includes helping your staff find meaning in their work.

You might feel the staff should find their work meaningful because if they don’t you will replace them. After all, they should be happy just because they’re getting paid, right? While you might have fit in nicely during the days of copper barons and coal-fueled railroads, smart business owners know better.

Showing your staff how to find meaning in their work is what helps them care about what they do and, ideally, who they do it for. The last thing you want is a staff “going through the motions”. Show me a restaurant with a dirty floor and nasty restrooms and I’ll show you a restaurant with ineffective management.

Menial, schmenial

Even those who are commonly undervalued (such as the people who sweep the floors and shovel the sidewalks) find value in their work unless you’ve devalued it for them. This “menial labor” can reduce on-the-job injuries due to falls (reducing insurance costs as a result) and has a substantial impact on the first impression your customers have of your business.

Ultimately, helping people find value in their work is as simple as showing why it means something to you.