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Want Employees to Get Serious about Work? Try This

Want Employees to Get Serious about Work? Try This

“Creating seriousness in work”

— Quality Lead

Just a few posts ago we were talking about creating fun because fun in the workplace seemed to be rather scarce. You couldn’t just count on it being there when you arrived. You had to bring out good feelings and bonding between coworkers from the hidden reserves of their hearts.

But what about seriousness?

I bet the thoughtful, responsible behavior this Quality Lead has in mind is lacking in many workplaces. It requires more than going through the motions of your daily to-do. To be serious about the outcome of your work takes a personal connection. It requires taking pride in your job.

If fun at work comes from bonding with your team, seriousness comes from a sense of purpose. Which comes from bonding with another group of stakeholders—your customers.

Fun is mostly for you. Seriousness is mostly for them. Even if your customers are not part of your daily job duties. Even if they don’t understand what quality means in your work. You’re still doing it for them because you’re the only one who can deliver it on your projects. There’s your purpose. And there’s your pride.

Taking care of customers is always serious business because there are promises and expectations to be met. As they say in entertainment, the show must go on. Here’s a quick story about that.

One day a patient came to see a psychiatrist.

“Doctor,” he said, “I am terribly depressed. I don’t think I can keep going like this. I just don’t see the point anymore.”

“I believe you’re suffering from stress,” replied the psychiatrist. “Why don’t you rest for a few days? There’s a famous clown in town tonight. Go have a laugh. It’ll do you a world of good. Matter of fact, I’m going to see him myself.”

The patient melted into tears. “But, doctor," he said, “I am the clown.”

This story happened a long time ago, before the invention of prescription-strength antidepressants and health insurance. It’s a tragic twist on the burden of responsibility that comes with any job. But there’s another, more subtle point to it.

Maybe, the patient did get what he came to the doctor for. Perhaps, as the tears dried, the despair lifted and contentment set in. How is that possible? You see, the psychiatrist was a customer of the patient’s. What if this was the first time the famous clown came face-to-face with his audience? It may have never occurred to him before that many sad and depressed people came to see his show to get a fresh start on life. Maybe it helped him realize how much faith his fans had in the healing power of his art. Would that be reason enough to keep going? I can’t imagine otherwise.

These days, all sorts of companies are waking up to the importance of getting to know their customers. And none are more serious about it than pharmaceuticals. A Danish company, LEO Pharma, was recently profiled in McKinsey Quarterly.

“We need to remember that patients are people like you and me, who get up in the morning, go to work, and pick up their kids after school,” said LEO Pharma CEO Gitte Aabo. “So if we come up with a treatment, like an ointment, that takes patients a long time to apply every day, they most likely won’t. We want to respond to this.”

So, how does Gitte Aabo get his employees to be serious about serving patients? For one thing, every new hire gets to meet a patient during the orientation period. Not all jobs at LEO Pharma are directly involved with patients. Someone running clinical trials may be around patients all the time, while someone developing an app for people with psoriasis may not. Introducing every employee to at least one patient gives the company an emotional common ground. I bet it helps with the seriousness factor, too.

LEO Pharma goes beyond the superficial contact with the end customer. They also study the populations they serve. One example is working with anthropologists who study psoriasis patients in various parts of the world. The anthropologists understood the unmet needs of these patients better than the patients themselves. Their insights led the company to create a new treatment applicator. Now people with psoriasis all over the world use this product.

To keep things serious starting at the top, LEO Pharma ties executive compensation to patient outcomes. The company evaluates its senior managers in three areas: patients, people, and performance—with patients having the most impact on incentive pay.

What can our Quality Lead learn from these guys? One takeaway is that “serious,” first of all, means “consistent.” LEO Pharma doesn’t just talk about being patient-centric. They hire world’s leading scientists to help them understand their patients. They also hired the world’s most expensive management consultants to help them redesign the entire strategy around serving patients.

Our Quality Lead may not be in a position to single-handedly produce a similar shift. But he could look into ways of making it clear to folks that he means business. What changes can he make in his daily routine to put quality first? What standard process can he put in place to make sure no one skips the critical steps?

The second takeaway is that “serious” means “important.” It’s hard to be dead-serious about something you do day in and day out unless you know it’s important. Important to whom? To the customer, of course. The end customer—but also the internal customer. The more connected people feel to the reason their job exists and the more they see the difference it makes in someone else’s life, the more serious they will be.

I hope these ideas help create some seriousness in the minds of working adults. We all get cynical sometimes. But it’s easy to see why your work matters and why you should do the best job you can. Just put yourself in the customer’s shoes.
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If you are serious about your job, you might like my book, because it helps you rally others to your cause.

Tim Eisenhauer
Written by Tim Eisenhauer

Tim is president and co-founder of Axero Solutions, a leading intranet software vendor. He's also a bestselling author of Who the Hell Wants to Work for You? Mastering Employee Engagement. Tim’s been featured in Fortune, Forbes, TIME, Inc Magazine, Entrepreneur, CNBC, Today, and other leading publications.

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