On August 17, 2017, Christy and I moved Jack into his dorm at Auburn University.
We left our home in Fairhope at 8:00 a.m. that morning, and around 9:00 p.m. that night we pulled back into our driveway. At 9:30 p.m., we left for New Orleans.
Why the quick turn around, you ask? Thirty minutes was the maximum amount of time I wanted Christy to be in an empty house. With Jack being the last to leave the nest, I had a feeling that momma might be a little sad.
By 6:00 a.m. the next morning, we settled into seats 22B and 22C for the long flight to Canada.
I can count on one hand the times that I have gotten it right during our twenty-six years of marriage. This was one of them. Even better was the way it played out. I bought the plane tickets last Christmas, anticipating that Christy’s emotions would require some sort of diversion in August.
What I couldn’t have planned was the timing. When I bought the tickets, Auburn had not posted the times for freshmen to move in, nor did Jack even have his dorm assignment, so I took an educated guess. It ended up being a jam packed twenty four hours, but the rapid sequence of events kept Christy from obsessing over Jack. (He thanked me later for this.)
Getting it right in marriage–especially for us guys–usually means that we quit thinking about work, sports, or the myriad of activities that compete for our attention and approach life from our spouse’s perspective. For me, it started with a simple question: What does she need me to do?
In his book Competing Against Luck, Harvard professor Clayton Christensen encourages leaders to ask a similar question: What job has your customer hired you to do?
This simple question can have a profound impact on the way you see your business. The first has to do with PURPOSE. Peter Drucker once said: “The purpose of a business is to create a customer.”
Upon Jack’s departure, Christy hired me to do one simple job: keep her mind off of being home alone with me. (Sad, but true.)
My purpose became clear. Get her away from her normal routine.
For companies, answering the question of what job has our customer hired us to do distills all the market analysis, strategic planning, and operational goals into a simple solution. Being able to answer this question clarifies the WHY you are in business and makes communicating the purpose much easier.
Even more important, because you have asked it from the customer’s perspective, it keeps you connected to who will purchase your product or service.
The second result of asking What Job has my Customer Hired Me to Do has to do with ALIGNMENT.
In my experience, one thing executives struggle with is how to align individual employees with the overall mission or vision of the organization. Employees want to know how they contribute to the success of the company, yet it is hard to fit a generic, 30,000 foot mission to an individual’s specific job.
As I stated, the purpose of our vacation was to keep Christy’s mind occupied. What it meant for me on a daily basis was this:
(1) I had to take her to places she’d never been. (We had to see something different every day.)
(2) I had to turn a blind eye to eating Mexican food. (Her favorite. . .we had 14 times in 7 days.)
(3) We had to find quirky Christmas ornaments during our travels. (A tradition of ours.)
(4) She had to spot a moose. (See below.)
Every morning I woke up, I knew what I had to do to keep her from thinking about Jack.
The beauty of determining the job your customers have hired you for is that it allows different employees to answer the question in terms of their daily work. For example, health care customers might say that the job they hire hospitals to do is to make them feel better. A nurse could answer that she does this by monitoring pain and making patients comfortable. A nutritionist could answer that she does this by providing food that keeps energy levels high while not making patients nauseous.
Both are aligned with the purpose and each can see how they contribute to it.
The third benefit from asking What job has your customer hired you to do is employee MOTIVATION.
On the surface, motivation seems like a slippery pursuit. I mean every person is a little different, right? We all have unique skills, experiences, and temperaments so it makes sense that what might motivate one might not motivate another.
In reality, it is simpler than you think. And here is where our question of the day helps.
Building on our health care example above, each nurse brings personal strengths to the job. One nurse might make patients more comfortable by administering each dose of medicine in a timely fashion and educate the patient on how to manage pain. Another nurse might hold the patient’s hand and sit down and talk.
Each draws on unique preferences to get the job done. This freedom results in intrinsic motivation–giving the nurse a feeling of control in determining the outcome, which is THE motivator (for all of us) at work.
Similarly, do you think I supplied Christy with a detailed itinerary of what to do every day? (Those of you that know her well would answer “Heck no, because she would lose it on the way to the car.” And you’d be right.) Rather, I knew my job was to alter her routine (purpose) by providing new experiences (aligned with purpose), but . . . I encouraged her to pick and choose how that might unfold each day (kept her motivated.)
To stay ahead of the game, leaders constantly ask themselves, “How can we maximize profit, increase productivity, capture new markets, or in general, just be more successful?”
Before a leader asks all those questions, I would reflect on this one:
What has my customer hired me to do?
In my experience, the answer is often liberating because of its clarity; innovative because it stimulates new thinking; and inspiring because of its simplicity.
By the way, you don’t have to go to Canada to figure it out, although if you do, Christy will be happy to accompany you. I think the novelty of this empty nest thing is wearing off.
CALL TO ACTION
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