How do you know when you’re doing a good job?

It has been a remarkable truth over the years that most people don’t know when they are doing a good job.

And why don’t people know when they are doing a good job? Well, it’s actually quite simple. No one has told them.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Businesses in America fail to implement their strategy at an obscenely high level—more than 90% of businesses in this country fail to do so. The primary reason is because the employees don’t know the strategy of the company. How can this be? Communications. And that is also the reason why employees don’t know when they are doing a good job.

I am an example of this. When I was working at a dealership, I asked for but never received a performance review. I remember one of my bosses asking me indignantly, “Did you get a raise?” When I replied that I had, he said that was the only performance review I needed. I told him I didn’t agree. I felt a performance review was a significant tool for the employee to learn what was necessary for their growth such that they could earn more money and opportunity. I guess the ultimate review was that this was a boss whom I eventually told, “I quit.”

Sense of Pride

But let’s go to the simple truth that most employees don’t know when they are doing a good job. This is truly a shame. There should be a sense of pride about a job well done. On a daily basis the employees, you and I, should know whether or not we are doing a good job.

In Pat Lencioni’s book The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, he talks about “immeasureability.” He created this word because he couldn’t find an appropriate one to describe how an employee cannot measure their own performance. That idea by itself is interesting. Everyone should know at the end of every day whether or not they did a good job. I think most do, but I am talking about the formal measures for a job.

What do you do? This is an interesting question and one that John Jenson discusses in The Clarity Imperative. Too often we do too many things—so many things that in fact nothing is memorable.

You want your customers to know you for something important. You want a reputation for great customer service, providing solutions to problems, possessing good skills, having high parts availability, or owning good technical knowledge.

You need to share with each employee what it is they do that is important to the customer, to the company, or their peers and coworkers. They need to know. When that is known, they also need told what the standard of performance might be for each and every requirement and function of their jobs.

Metrics of a Job

And there we go—standards of performance. These are the metrics for a job function or for a department. They are what we all strive to accomplish. Let’s step back a moment and deal with a few truths.

  • Everyone wants to do a good job
  • Everyone can do more than they think they can
  • Everyone is fundamentally lazy.

So if everyone wants to do a good job, don’t you think the boss would figure out what good performance looks like for each job? Perhaps it’s a measure of gross profit, expense management, or customer retention. These are rather significant performance elements, aren’t they?

That means these are some of the standards you should share with employees, depending on your type of business:

  • Gross profit
  • Sales per employee
  • Freight recovery
  • Labor efficiency
  • Inventory turnover
  • Order service level
  • Stock order efficiency with vendors.

I believe strongly one of the responsibilities of management is to help people develop and get better at their jobs. This is made much easier if we can develop performance standards for each job and share these standards with each employee for their particular job. Then we should provide the training and tools necessary to make them better. This is a management responsibility in my mind.

Forge a Path

So start on a new path. Develop a job description for each function in the company. Determine what the key result areas are for each job. Develop performance standards for each of these key result areas for each job function. Then you can communicate to each employee these truths and work with them to determine what is standing in the way of them doing a better job—delivering better results. This will typically be training or tooling. Then it’s up to you to provide that.

Management is really an interesting career. We manage processes, but we lead people. I believe we can lead people much more effectively if each and every employee knows what is expected from them, which means each employee knows when they go home at the end of a workday if they can say, “I did a good job today.”

I hope this is something you can accomplish for your workers. The better they are at doing their jobs, the happier your customers will be. And the happier your customers are with your business, the more business they will give you.

by Ron Slee
June, 2012
Water Well Journal


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The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.