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The Cobbler’s Child in the Workforce: Why Employee Happiness Is Everybody’s Job

The U.S. work force is comprised of highly trained, highly skilled and highly dissatisfied people; many work at jobs they hate just to stay employed, with just 14% who say they are “very satisfied.” Happiness is not a metric managers typically address, yet the country’s unhappy work force is taking a toll on American competitiveness.

American Management Association’s (AMA) 2006 Innovation Survey shows American companies are losing ground to global competitors in innovation. Hand-in-hand with this finding is another AMA survey, “Magnifying Customer Focus,” which shows that American firms have difficulty becoming customer-centric. There is a connection between these two statistics. Customer-centric companies tend to be more innovative, because they respond most quickly to customer demands and deliver the highest quality of service.

Why the Cobblers’ Children Remain Barefoot

Many professionals deliver a high quality of strategic, analytical and marketing service to customers but cannot apply this expertise to managing their own careers. The result is excellent strategists who are not planning the next step in their careers, strong tacticians who have trouble adding value to their own careers and talented marketers who don’t know how to promote themselves. This is more than simply a case of the cobbler’s children going barefoot. In this case, the children do not even realize they should be wearing shoes!

To be sure, most professionals have developed the core skills they need to create a cycle of continuous professional improvement, which, in turn, will lead to greater job satisfaction and a more productive company. They just do not know how to apply those skills.

Whose Job Is Job Satisfaction?

If we think back on our own customer service experiences, it is clear that worker satisfaction is linked to customer focus. Unhappy people in “dead end” jobs do not focus on customer needs.

If you ask most managers what they do to ensure professional development for employees, some may point to innovative human resource department programs. But most would argue that career development is the job of the employee.

I happen to agree: each of us has responsibility for managing our own career. Still, while our education system helps prepare graduates for the work force, it does not prepare them to build a career. By default, managers need to consider steps to help their work force manage their careers to increase job satisfaction and productivity.

Applying a Structure

My executive coaching practice is built upon a foundational principle called “career intensity.” This is a three-step cycle of continuous improvement that gives executives the ability to take control of their careers:

1. Self-awareness: A personal situation analysis where employees identify their innate talents and the things they are passionate about. Self-awareness is a deceptively difficult step toward continuous self-improvement. People know what they like, but if you ask many employees what they like about their jobs, they might not be as quick to answer. For many, activities they enjoy are totally outside of the realm of work.

Many executives with whom I work say they are passionate about the game of golf. I challenge these executives to take a closer look at golf and see what it is about it they truly enjoy. Is it the competition with others or with themselves? Is it the strategic aspects of planning the next shot?

Our coaching work begins by linking underlying talent to the passionate drive that draws these executives to the activity. We then work to harness this incredible drive in a productive way back in the office. In the case of the avid golfers, we apply the strategy and the competitive nature of the game back to their performance back at work. When they begin to view their job (and ultimately their career) from the perspective of their behavioral drivers, they unlock the secret to creative ability.

2.Value creation: The identification of activities in the workplace where employees can add clear value in areas that overlap their strengths and desires. For an executive first starting the process of continuous self-improvement, finding ways to create value can be challenging.

An executive can have an instant impact by focusing on three principles that are often overlooked. The three principles to create big value are:

  • Helping others fulfill their potential. Helping others work more effectively brings up the value of the workgroup and creates allies and supporters for the organization.
  • Fixing things that are broken. Most executives know there are processes that are “broken” in their organization, but no one is willing to address them. By handling these dirty jobs, the executive builds a reputation as an expert troubleshooter and an overall asset to the firm.
  • Getting things started. Executives can add value by volunteering for new projects. Following the “80/20 rule” – an economic principle that asserts 80% of the results are attributable to the 20% of the effort—those who start projects will make the most impact and help profoundly shape the outcome.

3. Value demonstration: The practice of personal marketing, where employees demonstrate their value to colleagues, supervisors and customers. Executives need to consider how supervisors, colleagues and customers, perceive their work and then develop a plan to create the right perception with these audiences. This sounds complicated, but a big part of demonstrating value is accomplished simply by advertising one’s expertise.

Even executives with a firm grasp of marketing and public relations often do a poor job of managing their own personal “brand.” Modesty keeps executives from marketing themselves effectively. One safe way to demonstrate expertise is simply by relating anecdotes that are relevant to workplace issues. The story allows the executive to communicate how he or she affected key outcomes without appearing arrogant or intimidating.

Taking Control

American workers are the best trained and best educated in the world. They have the foundation, but need structure and strategy to create their own path to career success.
The three steps outlined above help executives and managers become more productive, more customer-focused and more innovative individuals, improvements that carry over to the firms that employ them.

Executives need to start taking control of their careers, because this process is too important to be left to someone else. Organizational leadership (starting with the CEOs) needs to help executives focus on continuous individual improvement, because a satisfied, motivated work force is too important to be left to chance.

It is time for the cobblers’ children to start making their own shoes. But first, the shoemakers may need to show them how.