How does an employee know if s/he fits into a company? In all the jobs, I have had, I always thought about how what I did fit into the company’s as well as my goals. Lately, I have read about employers in a variety of fields complaining that they cannot find good employees. I say to myself, maybe the employee is not the problem; perhaps it is the employer, the hiring and/or training process.
I believe that most employees don’t know how their skills and expertise fit into an organization’s mission statement, product, service or core values. Without knowing that, how can an employee make sure that the job is the best fit for everyone involved? I have read about creating culture and hiring for culture within organizations. At the beginning it may be about the hours, pay, benefits and culture of the company that keeps people. As time goes on, I believe finding and keeping employees vested in an organization is vital. New hires and long-term employees need to know not only “where they fit in”, but also “how what they do fits in” to serving the organization’s clients, guests, customers or vision/mission.
For example, years ago I went from working for a regional pharmaceutical wholesaler as a salaried customer service supervisor, to working for a national pharmaceutical wholesaler as an hourly order filler. After a few months at the national wholesaler, my mother would frequently ask me “when are you going to stop schlepping boxes for a living?” Schlepping is the Yiddish word for hauling or carrying something. I said “I do not just schlep boxes for a living. I fill orders that go to hospitals in the five-state area and when I do my job properly those patients get the medications they need.” Like only a mother can do, she raised an eyebrow at me and the conversation was over.
About two weeks later, we went and visited one of her friends at the hospital, which happened to be one of my company’s customers. As soon as I walked in Joanie said “Cece, look I have my Duragesic patch and my morphine pump.” I smiled at her and said “I noticed and you know they came from my company.” We continued with the visit. When my mother and I were driving out of the hospital’s parking lot, I said “those drugs she mentioned, my hands touched. I received them into my area of the warehouse, I put them away, and when the hospital made its daily order, I filled it. I do not schlep boxes for a living. I make sure that the hospital has the medications that it needs to treat patients, people who are someone’s parent, relative, child, friend, or co-worker. She never asked me again when I was going to stop schlepping boxes for a living. I knew how what I did mattered and how I fit in. I was never just an order filler. I considered myself an important part of helping someone get well, live better or die easier.
It was the essence of what we did as a wholesaler: put the right pharmaceuticals, in the right box, in the time allotted and get them delivered to the right hospital. I think businesses have trouble finding and keeping employees after the basics of compensation and benefits are taken care of, because they do not distill it down to how each action of the employee has an impact. It is the collective action of all those employees each day, repeatedly, which makes for successful companies.
Companies spend millions of dollars training employees and it is usually good training. What I am suggesting is taking it deeper and showing the employees how what they do fits in. Using the pharmaceutical wholesaler as an example, if I had been the warehouse supervisor, I would have taken every hourly order filler to the hospitals and to the people who ordered the pharmaceuticals. I would have walked them through the different wings of the hospital. I would have shown them the Pyxis drug distribution systems within the hospital where the product s/he put in the box went and were distributed from.
Let me give you another extreme example of I knew “how what I did fit in” while working at a restaurant. I took a call from a woman who wanted her brother to be part of her wedding and wanted it to be through her cake. Little did I know that her brother had died; all I knew was that she wanted some of his doodles on her cake. When she told me about his death, at first shock and awe hit. How can I do this and not disappoint? After a few conversations, I felt I understood her need. The night of the wedding the server took the cake out to all the guests and I never heard a word, good or bad from him or her. A few weeks later, an email arrived thanking me for bringing her brother’s doodles into the wedding. She said it was exactly what she had hoped for. I still have that email.
As a pastry chef, I was always in the kitchen and rarely spoke with the guests or ever heard from them. It did not matter. I knew “how what I did fit in.” Every day when I went to work, knowing each item I baked was going to be part of a celebration, a business event, a wedding, a birthday, and even a break from work mattered. I did not need to meet these guests because I knew if I did my job they would become repeat customers.
In both those fields being on one’s feet all day, working under pressure, having the ability to prioritize, and time management are critical skills necessary to complete the work. Knowing how what I do fits in requires those skills and more: compassion, patience, attention to detail, and valuing one’s work for its connection to others. The next time I hear someone complain about being unable to find good employees, I am going to ask: Do you train and hire employees in how what they do fits in to the company’s vision and mission? If not, maybe now is the time to start.