Happy Monday, in the new bizarro world where I go to work every morning.
I’ve been thinking lately about my longer-term career prospects. I think, providing I can maintain it, my current employment should provide a usable path to a lifetime career and decent retirement. What’s more, I do, more often than not, like what I do, and even take pride in my work on occasion. So, it’s not quite “meaningless toil” to me, which I feel is good. However, there are times when I begin to think that I could be just as fulfilled, if perhaps not more, doing any number of alternate jobs. I’ve often thought, for instance, about “running away” to somewhere in the rural Midwest. Maybe driving around through the farm-based heartland until I find a decently populated town which could use a little PC –repair shop. Somewhere where I could buy some land, go to work at my little storefront on Main Street, get to know the populous: who’s courting whom, who’s sister just had a baby, who’s marriage is on the rocks because Henry’s too fond of the sauce, that kind of stuff. When I think about “having money” in terms of “sustaining a happy standard of living” instead of “building a fortune,” these kind of alternative job-lifestyles really seem attractive.
And now I'll totally change the subject. At the risk of talking about work, which, as a policy, I don’t do here – I wanted to write down some thoughts from Dave’s Management Playbook. Here goes:
One of the things I find difficult about being a manager is dealing with peoples’ constant desire to “do something more.” Don’t get me wrong: On the surface, aspiring to the “next big thing” is great. In fact, it’s often what you look for in employees, that yen to land the bigger fish, to take whatever they’re doing to that next level. It’s also, in some regards, the kind of attitude that often gets rewarded in the workplace. However, there are some boundaries to this “moving up the ladder” task-tackling-strategy that some folks don’t seem to understand. The biggest problem I see with people who have this mindset is that they seem to forget the limitations of their present job-role when they ask for “something bigger and better” to work on. As a manager, I’m looking to get you ahead – it’s an integral part of my job to help develop you. If you’re my performer, I’m always trying to get you that “high visibility” thing to work on, I want you to succeed and excel because, when you do, it makes us both look good. There are limits to this, though, and some people seem to understand them – while others don’t. Let me explain.
Here it is in a nutshell: If you want something “bigger, better” than what you’re currently doing, make sure that whatever you choose or suggest fits within the context of what you currently do at the company.
What do you mean, Dave? Well: If I managed a car wash, and all we did at the car wash was wash cars, I wouldn’t expect an employee to come to me and say something like, “Dave, I’ve been washing cars here now for three years. Next year, I don’t want to wash cars anymore; I’m tired of that kind of ‘mundane’ work. Everyone here washes cars. Instead, I’d like to paint cars. As my manager, I expect you to support my career decision.” Yeah. OK. Look buddy, this here business is a car wash. At the car wash, we wash cars. If you want to paint cars, go get a job at the car-painting place. If you work at the car wash, you should expect your job to involve washing cars. Just because everyone else, from the newest new-hire to the most senior car-washer, washes cars, doesn’t mean that work is “mundane.” In fact, at the car wash, washing cars is the most important job there is. There is no job more important, no task more critical, than getting the cars washed. “Everyone” washes cars here because if they didn’t, our business wouldn’t be successful. I fail to see how this is that so difficult to understand.
Now, that being (somewhat sarcastically) said, there is room at the car wash for that three-year veteran to “move ahead” and potentially get to that “next big thing.” How? Well, there are infinite ways, really, but let me dream some up right here. How about coming to me and suggesting some things that might improve our custom? Or, suggesting some process tweaks that may save us time and/or money? You want to do something different? How about coming to me with an idea about offering an interior detailing service for a premium over our basic wash, and offering yourself as the person who’d be in charge, maybe with some supporting projections on the potential financial upside? See, there are plenty of ways you can get yourself noticed, and potentially even shift the bulk of your work away from car washing per se, while still operating within the bounds of our business. As the car wash manager, these ideas will likely impress me, and I’ll be much more willing to bite on them, as they play right back into our core business. I would expect you to remember, however, that, at the heart of things, you still work at a car wash – and, as such, you’d still be expected to wash cars. It is, after all, what we do at the car wash.
Let me clarify that there is nothing wrong with working at the car wash and aspiring to someday paint cars. Heck, if that’s what you want to do, and the car wash is merely a stepping stone on your path there – you can expect me, as a good manager, to support you. I’ll even keep an eye out for car-painting jobs which may be open, and be sure to send you with all the good recommendations I can manager. I’ll do this because, ultimately, I’m primarily concerned with you working hard for me while you work for me – and I know that keeping you happy will also keep you working hard. If you can comprehend this, we’ll do well together. But, if you expect me, as your manager at the car wash, to “reward” you for your service by exempting you from the “everyday” task of washing cars, you’re going to be disappointed. I understand that you want to be set apart from the hired-last-week Armor All guy, I do; I’ve been there. But don’t expect a special job that doesn’t involve washing cars. Once again, this is a car wash – and we need pretty much everyone here to wash cars or we don’t make money.
So, workers, never give up looking for your big break. Never stop “thinking ahead” and looking for your opportunity to excel and make your own way. But, unless you’re willing or wanting to change jobs, make sure to look for these things within the context of what you currently do. I understand that jobs get “comfortable,” and it’s tempting to want to do that next big thing from within the comfort zone you’ve built-up in your current position. If you’re looking to make a career move, then you should make your career move. It’s very difficult to make a successful upward career move while maintaining the comfort level you’ve achieved “doing what you’re good at” currently. In fact, this kind of career “slide” or “shift” is only doable by those with keen networking and political maneuvering skills. If you’re the girl at the car wash who expects her manager to reward her by letting her not was cars with the rest of the troops – you likely don’t have the slickness to negotiate one of these “shifts.” And, since I could write a whole other Playbook entry about making those “slick” moves, I’ll leave it at that.
So, what can you, Mr. Car Wash Worker-Bee, do? Let me leave you with some concrete suggestions which will probably get you ahead within the operational boundaries of your business: First up, why not try to continue kicking butt at the car wash? Do better than the car washers you can do better than. Maintain a good attitude and be friendly. Demonstrate to the boss that you understand how important getting cars washed is to her business. Perhaps help her identify ways to wash more cars, or wash the cars you already wash better in the same amount of time. Make an effort to understand the car wash industry, and relate what you’re doing at your car wash to how others are doing things are their car washes. Make connections with people who work at other car washes, mention to your boss that the Southside Suds is doing a two-for-one promo next week, that you heard it from a buddy you know who works there, convince him it may be a good idea to send out coupons for free waxing with every wash that week – show him your knowledge and connections can help him be competitive. You get the idea. There are millions of way to shine at your job, just don’t make the mistake of forgetting what exactly it is you where hired to do when you shine.
There are millions of ways to “move up” at your current job, but unless you also want to “move out,” make sure you’re appropriately tying your aspirations to your role.