Everyone Doing Their Job

If every employee in our company did their job (as defined in their job description, most recent performance doc, or whatever), would that make us successful as a company? Of course it would – well, at least in theory. That’s what job descriptions and performance documents are supposed to do. If you added all of them up across our entire employee population, everything should be covered and everything should work fine.

Well, clearly this isn’t true. There seems to be a gap somewhere.

Here’s an illustration: All of us, at any level in the company, get an annual performance review that results in a numerical rating in the range of 1 – 5, where 3 means you did what was expected of you and a smaller number means that you excelled and went beyond. And larger numbers mean that you were deficient in some way. I can’t and won’t quote any figures, but the vast majority of employees at my company are rated as 3 or better, which means that they have been judged to be fully performing or exceeding their assigned duties. (This strikes me as being a bit like living in Garrison Keillor’s fictional town of Lake Wobegon, where everyone is above average.) I guess it means that we have done a good job of hiring and growing our employees, which is the sign of a good company.

But how does this correlate to company performance? My company is really good at delivering good financial results, so that makes sense. But how are we doing on things like quality and customer satisfaction? We are fortunate to have several products that are highly rated, but we also have a number of products that are on the opposite end of that scale. We know that our overall product quality is far from what it should be, and that we have quite a few customers who are not very happy with us for a number of reasons. So the average of our employees’ rated performance does not correlate to what our customers think of us – thus a gap.

Does this make sense?  What’s wrong?

This happens other places, too.  When Alan Mulally took over as CEO of Ford in September 2006, he held an “ops review” in which managers from each of Ford’s business units presented their progress and status. Each reported a status of “green” meaning that each unit felt that they were meeting their defined goals. Mulally looked at all these good reports and then said “We lost a few billion dollars last year.  Is there anything that’s not going well?” because obviously this didn’t add up.

I’m not sure about Ford, but I think what’s missing in our company is an overarching desire by the collective “us” to see the picture from our customers’ point of view and then to act holistically to ensure that everything we do concentrates on a positive end result. I think we have far too many people who are doing their assigned job – and doing it fairly well – yet it’s not coming together well enough as a team effort.  It’s rather like all the baseball players on the field, each really good at what they do and very skilled in playing their assigned positions, but when the fly ball drops in the infield, each player looks at the others, wondering why someone else didn’t catch the ball that fell into a gap. And although each player is excelling at pitching, catching, hitting, etc, the team is still not winning many games.

How to fix this? It is easy to say that management needs to do something about it. In the case of the baseball team that is not winning, perhaps the coach needs to take some action like shuffling the lineup. But it’s not just up to the coach – or management – to get on a winning track. Each employee – every one of us – has a brain and professional skills that can be applied to making things better. It’s simply not enough for each person to just “play their position” well and not be concerned about the overall outcome. Management provides the direction and coaching, but it’s the players on the field who play the play the game and whose efforts result in a win or loss.

So my point is this: Each one of us needs to be aware of how we are performing as an entire team – are we winning or losing the game – and pitch in. If something is happening near you, don’t just assume that someone else will handle it.  Check to make sure that someone “has the ball” – and that they are doing the right thing with it. And when you have the ball and need to hand it off to someone else (beware of handoffs), make sure that whoever you have given it to is handling it with the same efficiency that you did.

It really doesn’t do much good to have everyone doing their job if we are not winning the game.

About John

John Peterson has been creating and managing the creation of software for his entire professional life. During that time, he's been through many projects large and small, worked with a wide variety of people on a wide variety of technologies, made a lot of mistakes, and learned a lot in the process. The intention of this blog is to pass along the wisdom he has accumulated in the creation of software to those who may be earlier in their path of experience.
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