Monday, March 19, 2007

What is Your Job?

People answer this question: banking or medicine or framing or writing or whatever their profession happens to be. That's correct technically, but wrong practically. A person's job is the same no matter the profession: make the boss happy.

Well, it's impossible to make someone happy if they choose to be unhappy. But an employees job is to try to make the boss's life easier, to solve problems not create them, to simplify rather than complicate. Too often, people get hung up on the stated purpose for a hiring or promotion or lateral move: you have a great ability to innovate. So, as new employee, the attempt to innovate informs every decision. No, the real goal should be to find out what the boss wants and exceed the delivery of the desired product.

Do you cling to noble notions of changing the world when all the boss wants is the TPS report delivered on time? Maybe you need to recalibrate your job description. It's not selling out to make the boss happy, it's your job.


David said...

Bear in mind that, in a corporate environment, "making the boss happy" can involve multiple bosses, who are often made happy by different things. Consider, for example, a project manager in an information technoloogies group in a public company. His direct boss, who does his performance appraisal, may be made happy mainly by the implementation of trendy new technologies. But his internal customers--who should be considered "bosses" of a kind--are made happy by the creation of systems that actually do useful things for marketing or manufacturing. And the ultimate bosses, the shareholders, will be made happy by things that improve earnings per share, even if they don't know exactly what those things might be.

If our project manager worries only about what will make his technically-focused boss happy, and does not develop an understanding of the needs of his other "bosses", then he will be extremely vulnerable when his immediate boss is eventually replaced or even when the organization structure is changed.

David said...

The same principle applies at the level of a total business. Re the competition between Boeing and Airbus, this post notes:

"Apparently Airbus worked to satisfy their customer - the airlines - while Boeing put considerable effort into understanding the desires of the final customer - the passengers."

The writer is arguing that Airbus thought their "boss" was the airline, since that's who writes the checks--but that the real "boss" is represented by the passengers.

Melissa Clouthier said...


You bring up a good point. Employees make mistakes when they don't recognize their true boss. Still, a project manager won't last long if his immediate bosses hate him and his ideas--even if he proclaims that he's saving the company. I imagine there was some smart, but ignored employee in Airbus who saw the big picture.

The employee must decide whether to work for such a short-sighted boss or move on to another company. If he chooses to stay, I still posit that his job is to make his boss happy to the best of his ability.

Some sick company cultures create an environment where new ideas or better ideas die. More often, there are sick bosses--people quit bosses not companies. The best companies root out these bad weeds. The worst companies are filled with them.