“Your job is to make my job easier.”
Every now and then a TV show will produce a nugget of wisdom, and that quote above is one of the best I’ve seen. In the TV show “Sopranos”, mob boss Tony was telling a subordinate to get his act together and stop doing thoughtless things that made Tony’s day harder. On the other hand, for years, the cartoon strip “Dilbert”, the TV show “The Office”, and the movie “Office Space”, all of which I enjoy, laid subtle memes that bosses are out-of-touch idiots and suitable objects for ridicule. These media icons, and others like them before and since, are successful because they take real situations and amplify the silly parts. Soon, everyone in the office or in the shop is laughing about how “that’s so true!” about their own boss, when in reality the comparison is probably only superficial. High-tech people are especially prone to absorption of these memes and subsequent impatience with bosses and coworkers alike; the stereotypical IT guy isn’t, in turn, a source of humor for no reason. In my younger years, I succumbed to the dark side a time or two myself, and in the process limited my own success. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us (show of hands, here’s mine) have dipped our toe in this pool. The ease of Internet web-snarking and trolling, allowing these habits to quickly metastasize across organizational boundaries, doesn’t help, either.
It is natural that people feel this tug, a tendency which is exploited by media to increase ratings. Often, people with highly developed skills, such as programmers, engineers, machinists, welders, mechanics and so on, will project their expertise onto their supervisor, and find them wanting. This evaluation often takes place without taking into consideration the broad array of skills possessed by, and responsibilities on the shoulders of, that same supervisor. Or sometimes, lost in what I like to call a “brain bubble”, creative experts disengage their social filters and blurt out retorts which may be well-meaning, but that come across as insensitive or insulting (again, my hand in the air first). Effective supervisors will develop thick skins about these issues, but still, it is also the responsibility for the skilled worker to recognize the corrosive effect their habits have on team cohesion and morale. The more skilled the worker, the more corrosive his impact will be on more junior workers.
Enter Tony Soprano and the quote at the top of this page.
In our business, our explicit goal is to make our clients’ or customers’ jobs easier. Our objective is to make their business, their product, and them, individually in their own careers, more successful. To do this, we take on some obstacle in their world, and we get it out of their way. This seems almost obvious in the abstract, but in the moment it is helpful to ask ourselves “does this make Bob’s job easier?” This is a great question to ask when discussing a project, preparing a quote, getting the job done, or designing and selling a product.
This mindset isn’t just limited to businesses, though. Employees at all levels, individually, can benefit from this approach and apply it to helping their bosses and coworkers.
The easiest way to develop this mindset is to care, genuinely care, about what happens to that person. From time to time, project yourself into the mind of your supervisor (or a difficult co-worker), and get a feel for what his day is like. You might find that some of the walls which existed before begin crumbling, allowing a better mutual understanding to emerge. Even if your particular situation seems to be a hopeless case, challenge yourself to diligently apply empathy, even when it is hard to do. You don’t have to sit in a drum circle and hug everyone, just flip a mental switch in your own head. Worst case, it is good practice for the future when dealing with people who are more cooperative. Or less cooperative, as the case may be.
In the morning each day, ask yourself the question, “how can I make my boss’s job easier today?”, and in the evening, evaluate whether you succeeded in this objective. Sometimes, not letting that brain bubble pop in his face could help more than you can imagine. We’ll address brain bubbles in a future article; technical types of all kinds will benefit from showing that article to their bosses also. Or, teach yourself to not demand technical precision or expertise in his questions, but instead focus on his needs behind the question. He already knows you are an expert, which is why he’s asking you in the first place.
If you work in a small business, even if you have no intention of starting your own, our small business articles will help you better understand the owners of your business. Just reading the tax articles alone will give you a better understanding of the day-to-day issues, and quarterly and annual potential nightmares, that a small business owner has to handle, and how you can proactively ease those burdens. The same goes for upcoming articles on regulatory compliance. Our marketing and sales articles will give you a better understanding of the feast and famine ruts many businesses fall into, and the project management articles will show you what your bosses need to consider to make your clients happy and thus able to pay you. The technical articles will help you explain what you need to do so that your boss can appreciate the benefits of your plans for the business as a whole. If you are a small business owner yourself, consider having your staff read these articles as professional development. A small investment here can reap huge rewards for everyone.
To me, this simple tip of explicitly making the job of your boss, coworkers, or clients easier is the key to everything else. All of these other topics are merely skills which enable you to do this one simple thing, a mindset which is within the reach of everyone.