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As I was driving around my local Jersey Shore town last weekend, I saw a half dozen businesses that had shut down. While I don’t know the details behinde all of them, I know that some were impacted by Super Storm Sandy.
A few articles ago I wrote about a local business that was – in my opinion – handling the post-Sandy economy badly in terms of customer interaction. Regrettably, I neglected to include one important attribute in that piece; everyone in that business was working hard and sharing the load.
It seemed to me that the two people in the front of the shop and the unknown number in the back had one thing in common. None of them were taking a “that’s not my job” approach to business.
That’s Not My Job
It’s something that I don’t think I’ve ever said in my professional career, yet I’ve heard that phrase countless times recently. Unfortunately mostly from young people.
A 20-something friend hired at an entry level marketing position was asked to help label some envelopes. Response: That’s not my job.
The 20-something attendant at the security office where I teach when I asked about a parking sticker for my car: That’s not my job.
There are few small businesses that have the resources to allow every individual to have one stated “job.” Practically speaking, when the unexpected happens, sometimes different people have to wear different hats. Sometimes that means doing things that aren’t necessarily adapted to a person’s skills or talents.
But that’s business. That’s reality.
The job of every employee is to do whatever reasonable thing needs to be done in the pursuit of keeping the business healthy. This is especially true during hard times.
I’m the founder of my two companies. I have a quarter century of professional experience in marketing and communications. But when a client comes to visit at my home office and concurrently the cat shits in the litter box, my job ceases to be “marketing professional” and I don the hat of “poop picker upper.” It’s either that or create a bad experience for my customer.
Picking up cat poop. Yes, that’s my job. I may not like it, but it keeps the business healthy.
The Entrepreneur’s Job
I was speaking to a young person at a networking event recently who must have thought that the purpose of networking was to tell total strangers the full list of things that aren’t their job. At the end of this person’s litany of things they should not be asked to do, they handed me a business card that had the word “Entrepreneur” on it.
I wasn’t shocked. As a side gig, I teach college level web development and as soon as any senior graduates the first thing they do is put “entrepreneur” on their LinkedIn profile. Everyone’s an entrepreneur these days.
That notwithstanding, do you know what real entrepreneurs do in their businesses?
There isn’t a single reasonable thing that a true entrepreneur would say, “That’s not my job” to. Not one.
A Stellar Example
Both of the companies I founded use Rackspace services. There are times when we need to interact with Rackspace support on a variety of issues.
If you are unfamiliar with Rackspace, let me offer you a crash course. When you buy a certain level of product, you are assigned a team of people who each specialize in a specific thing. The network guy specializes in the networking aspect of your service. The firewall gal specializes in the firewall aspect. And so on.
Many times I have called to talk about two different things. For example, I’ll call the firewall person about the firewall problem I’m having. When that conversation concludes, I ask my question about the server or the network or whatever. Do you know what the firewall person doesn’t say?
That’s not my job.
Never. Not once.
The firewall person notes my issue and then calls me back with the appropriate person on the phone and bridges the gap between my need and the person who can help me.
Each of them understands that their specialization and their job are two different things. Their specialization may be the techno-cyber-doohickey, but their job is to satisfy the needs of their customers.
Hire With Passion
What this means for your contemporary business is that you need to hire people with passion. You need to set the expectation up front that the job consists of work that involves mostly one thing, but can include many others if the need arises.
I’m not trying to be unreasonable. I don’t condone sending the new employee down to the alligator-filled river to fetch a pail of water just because you don’t want to.
I’m talking about reasonable day-to-day activities that everyone should participate in.
I also think that it’s in your business’ best interest to occasionally shift jobs around. I’ve seen businesses that trade off the cleaning of the coffee machine, for example. It’s a strong psychological act to periodically be in charge of one of the holiest devices in the office. It makes people feel like they are contributing, but on the flip side it also encourages people to know that all tasks are important to the health of the business.
The Marketing Message
So what’s the marketing message here?
There is none. I have no marketing wisdom to offer.
But I do have an analogy. You know how when you’re on a plane and you’re told that in the event of an emergency you should put the air mask on yourself first before putting it on your children? Sometimes people object to this because they feel that they should help their children survive first. But here’s the thing: if you lose consciousness, then you can’t help anyone.
So before you get to your marketing, you need to make sure that your employees are all invested in the health of your business because the customer that hears one of your employees say, “That’s not my job” may very well become a former customer.
And marketing can’t fix that.