Doing work they’d be proud of

William M. Paxton 1920s
Creative Commons License photo credit: deflam

As I was up early to write (as I start most every morning), the reading that primes my writing time started with a piece by @Umairh Haque, who writes for the Harvard Business Journal.

It referred to a question Steve Jobs asked John Sculley (at the time, President of Pepsico) when trying to recruit him to join Apple as CEO.

The question: “Do you want to make sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to help change the world?”

Before you think this is a blue sky kumbaya sort of thing, it’s clear as day that Jobs intended to make money and that he wasn’t worried that Sculley just wanted to sell the world a Pepsi. One of the things Steve was asking Sculley was if he was doing work whose expected outcome was worth his time and his skill set.

He thought someone with Sculley’s skills had more in him than sugar water. Years later, we all know Sculley’s attempt to Pepsi-fy Apple failed. Perhaps the best thing Sculley did was fire Jobs – because of what it enabled him to do NeXT (and Pixar).

It hit me while reading this article that most people who aren’t customers or prospects don’t truly know what I do – not even the ones closest to me. When that really hit home was when I thought “Would my granddaughters be proud to talk about the work I’ve thrown myself at?”

Maslow’s pyramid

Chip Conley talks about this in his book that tells how he applies Maslow’s teachings in his management of boutique hotel company Joie De Vivre and how those practices saved his company after 9/11.

He tells a story about a woman who has cleaned toilets and made beds for guests for over 20 years. I suspect people walk past her and think “Poor woman, she’s stuck in this dead end job cleaning hotel toilets forever.” Many probably feel sorry for her.

When Conley spoke with her, he found that she loves her job and feels very differently about it than you might suspect. 20 years later, she misses her home country and her family, yet America has given her opportunities despite spending her work time picking up travelers’ hotel rooms and cleaning their toilets. To her, cleaning a hotel room means making someone comfortable when they are away from their home and missing their family. Making their room a little more homey and comfortable is what makes her proud of her work.

Think about that for a moment. Have you ever checked into a motel/hotel and found things broken or dirty? Doesn’t feel much like home. In fact, it increases your frustration with traveling, being away from home and so on. She understands that. She knows that the work she does has great value to the next person who stays in the rooms she is responsible for and she is proud of it.

Grunt work

Many businesses have job duties like this. Just because it is “grunt work” doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Their work and personality at 2:00 am is the face of your business to many customers.

If you’ve checked in late at night in a low-priced, chain motel, you probably encountered the night manager at the desk. Night managers are typically in charge of dealing with the day’s books. They aren’t often hired for their engaging front desk attitudes.

Yet when the weary traveler appears at the front desk, the sometimes hair-mussed, sleepy night manager who is working their second shift of the day (on their second job) is the face of that company.

In the morning at checkout time, the perky awake person who is all smiles is a substantially different persona. They’re the face the company intentionally portrays, but many guests never even encounter them because of automated checkout.

It’s the biggest difference you see first-impression-wise as you travel up the “food chain” of the hotel/restaurant business.

When the folks on the night shift are as professional and proud of their work as those on day shift, then you’re on the right track. It isn’t all them – a lot of it is a result of your management.

How do you make them feel about their work?