Looking for capabilities when roles replace jobs | Contributor

By Mike Cook
Courtesy to The Bellingham Business Journal

If you are the owner of a business, you likely know that the idea of jobs bounded by strict descriptions has begun to make little or no sense unless you are involved in providing a service that involves a high degree of repetitive activity.

The smaller the business, the more evident this truth becomes.

Every employee is too large a part of the productive capacity and capability of the business to be bound by a simple description of tasks to be performed. Whoever shows up on a given day needs to be accountable to the customers for doing everything possible to meet their expectations.

As “work” has evolved, so have our businesses. We are all working with fewer employees than we would have in the absence of current technology. Employees now perform roles on behalf of the business, rather than merely a set of tasks neatly bundled into a “job description.”

Before you offer any argument to the statement I just made, let me acknowledge that there are businesses—dental offices come to mind—where specific, technical knowledge is not completely replaceable by responsibility and hard work. When the specialist who performs the root canals is out sick on Tuesday, no one is going to get a root canal that day.

But what about the relationship with the disappointed patients? Who will manage that, and how will they proceed? Not by performing the root canal, by managing the relationship.

Your business, that is to say the flow of products or services that is generated by you and your employees is founded on a set of expectations based on past experiences and anticipated future exchanges. You might refer to some employees as responsible for customer service, but in actuality, the smaller the business, the more likely that every employee has responsibility for the customer relationship.

The dentist might be out on a given day, but some sort of value needs to be delivered to insure that the customer will patiently await the return of the specialist.

Back in September 2012, I wrote a piece that spoke to this issue. I spoke of an employee’s willingness to make a decision to satisfy the customer (me!) in a situation where that employee could have easily have said they did not have the authority to honor my request. I will grant you that I was not asking the employee to perform oral surgery when the dentist was out, but a risk was involved and the employee stepped up.

Ultimately, it is how you perform when you are at your worst that determines whether your business is sustainable. Anyone can perform when everything is working.

How will you find the employees that will honor the customer relationship when the going gets tough?

Recently an associate of mine, Steve Roberts, wrote a brief post at his site, CoolMindWarmHeart.com, titled “What our resume will look like in the next life.” Steve is a deeply thoughtful man and frequently inspires me to think differently about familiar issues.

In the piece, he suggests that the capabilities we might need to interview for now, and the questions we need to develop our children to answer, look something like these (italics are my additions):

—How well can you recognize and act in accordance with timeless, universal principals of health? Not just physical health, but emotional and psychological too.

—How well can you manage fear? Again, not necessarily physical but emotional.

— How well can you learn from your experience and share what you’re learning with others? Are you a collaborator?

—How well can you gain ever-deeper understanding of what you cannot live without––in a given situation, and in your life in general?  Really, aside from a paycheck, why does working here make sense in your life?

—How well can you align commitments with action and action with commitments? Do you understand that our promises to customers are yours too?

—How well can you turn conflict into a bridge to greater understanding? The customer may not always be right, but they have a right to their point of view. Get interested.

Ask yourself this: How would you answer these questions? And how comfortable would you feel asking them to potential employees?

You may initially look at this list of questions and judge that not all of them are relevant to you or your business. OK, you can pare down the list or create your own. But let me ask you this: Has there ever been a time when you wished you had asked some of these questions, or all of them, or even similar ones?

If you haven’t been asking questions like these, then you have been interviewing for employees who can perform when everything is going well.

You may want to think about changing your approach.

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. He publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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