Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The best way to be a better employee is to think like your boss

Image credit: Star5112 on Flickr

Mike: After having our first contractor, Alice, for the best part of 2 weeks, I think I've grown not only as a manager but also as an employee. It's really enlightening to see things from the other side of the table, and to reflect on some my own experiences as an employee.

During my career, like most normal people, I've been guilty of being a lazy or otherwise incompetent employee at various times. What do I mean? I'm talking about being late to work, taking longer than allowed lunch breaks, not completing tasks on time, going home early, occasionally handing in sub-par work... that sort of thing. Not every day of course, but now and then. Back then I would have dismissed these incidents as trivial -- "near enough is good enough" -- but now I'm not so convinced.

It turns out that employers DO notice and care about these things. Even small things. They care about how you spend their money. They care if you waste their time, and are inefficient at your job, or take an extra 20 minutes for lunch. They watch everything you do, and process it silently.

It's in this context I've come to appreciate and value what it means to act "professionally." Being professional is really the art of not pissing off your boss and showing him or her that you take your job seriously. Very seriously. Before today, I don't think I fully appreciated this.

Of course, no employee is perfect. As a manager you are making allowances for normal human behavior. However I can see that, over time, these allowances will add up. Probably pretty quickly at that. If your employee isn't delighting you at every interaction, it's very likely that you're not going to go out of your way to advance their career.

(I should clarify that, happily, our contractor, Alice, rocks. She's great at her job, spends money wisely and solves problems proactively. That said, I'm still able to zoom into small details she probably thinks I'm glossing over. This got me thinking about my time as an employee, and how my bosses might have perceived various situations differently. The post was really inspired by the seemly innocuous stuff we've all done as employees from time to time.)

It's a shame that I had to quit my job and become my own boss to have this realization. I wish I could have realized this 5 years ago.

So, if you're an employee and want to become better at your job, my advice is simple.... go get yourself an intern. Only after walking a mile in your boss's shoes will you understand how to move to the next level.

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