Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Being a Great Employee

I have written a bunch of performance reviews in my life. I’ve hired a lot of people and have written reviews on them. I have written reviews on myself so my boss could claim ownership of the review while relieving him the stress of actually making a judgment on somebody else’s performance. And, through the miracle of “360” evaluations, I’ve had a chance to write performance reviews on my boss. (Those are usually a hoot.)

When I am asked for my philosophy on what makes a good employee, it is easy for me to narrow my thoughts down to two guiding principles. When these principles become the driving force of an employee’s work ethic, the employee is virtually guaranteed a stellar review and success in business beyond all imagination.

  1.  Make your customer happy.
  2.  Make your boss look good.

That wasn’t hard, was it? But that’s how simple it is. To look good at work, the secret is to unselfishly help those around you.

I have never worked in any retail environment in my life. Not once have I actually had to deal with the public. When I refer to customers, mine are always “internal” customers — people who work in the same company with me but that I do work on behalf of. But I suspect that the same principles hold true even with the more traditional definition of “customer”.

Notice that I stop short of saying “the customer is always right”. We all know that in many cases, the customer really doesn’t know what’s best for him. After all, that’s why we’re providing the service, right? So the secret isn’t to always do exactly what the customer tells you to do. Success occurs when the customer is “happy”. That way he’ll pay his bill on time, leave with a smile on his face, and tell all his friends what a wonderful experience he just had.

If the customer isn’t “right”, that’s okay; you just have to figure out some way to make him see the error of his ways. And make him think it was his idea — that’s the tricky part. A customer who has just been sold the “wrong” product won’t be happy, even if it was his idea. But a customer who believes he changed him mind of his own free will — and only because it makes sense — that’s a customer that will keep coming back for more.

Regarding the second principle, keeping your boss happy. Now that Scott Adams has appeared on the business books scene, it is finally fashionable to say out loud what we’ve all know for ages: bosses are clueless. Sadly, they kinda enjoy it. There’s really no reason to interrupt their ignorant bliss. But the fact is, they somewhat control our destiny. They have the power to hire and fire, they give and deny raises and promotions, and they provide for our general well-being. So what are we to do?

It’s not enough to make them happy. The funny thing about our bosses is that they are actually smarter than our customers. So they can’t be duped into believing that changing their mind is a good idea, whether it’s their idea or not.

But the one thing they do understand is recognition of their successes. They love to be praised for good work — whether they actually did the work or not. They have fragile egos that must be constantly stroked. (Most of them are men, after all.)

So your job as a good employee is to make sure that your boss is in a constant state of looking good to his boss and his peers. Your boss must look like the hero. Your boss must be the one who saved the company, who invented the perfect product, who raised revenue and cut expenses with one blow. You do the work, he gets the credit, and I can guarantee you, everybody will be happy.

Lay your selfishness aside; there is no place for it in business. Not when you could have pure greed instead. It’s much more rewarding. And it can be yours if your customers are happy and your boss looks good.

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