What a nice dream, eh? ‘The perfect job.’ Would seem too good to be true, but I thought I’d found it for sure when I was a college sophomore. I had returned to my parents’ home in Williamsburg, VA at the end of my freshman year, and found a summer job in construction. Anheuser Busch was building one of its Busch Gardens theme parks there, alongside a new brewery being built to supply the Southeast with Budweiser and Michelob. A bunch of us college kids got hired as day laborers to fill in, and we took different jobs every week when one of the regulars was out on vacation.
So, the foreman comes in one Monday and asks for a show of hands – who would volunteer to work in the Tasting Room? They were brewing test batches of Budweiser as they brought the facility up, and he needed someone at the end of the production line to verify whether the product met the company standard. ‘Come to work, drink free beer all day, and get paid to do it’ – a college kid’s idea of the perfect job! thought I. Sign me up!
Turned out he was pulling our legs – a cruel joke! Yes, there is actually such a job, but no, no way any of us was going to get it. Beer Taster is actually a highly skilled job. For the Williamsburg facility, they had flown in experts from the home office in St. Louis, veteran specialists – three of them – whose highly refined taste buds allowed them to taste Buds (ha!) and suggest changes to the mix of malted barley and hops that would help the product meet the test.
Get this: they kept them sequestered in a private, air-conditioned Tasting Room the whole summer, as they labored, mightily, to get the mix just right. We watched them enter at 8 and leave at 4 every day, walking at a leisurely, comfortable pace, first one, then a second, then a third, each man preceded by a significant, well-tended beer belly. What a sight to behold! True story.
So, all kidding aside, what is the perfect job? Is there any lesson to be learned from these beer tasters, three literally ‘fat and happy’ guys who had found their dream job and were in their own private heaven?
A recent article in the Wall St. Journal touching on the perfect job caught my eye. Dave Evans and Bill Burnett teach in the design program at Stanford and their article ‘Design Your Way To A Happier Life’ cites a young man named Michael who followed their principles and ‘ended up with a job that he loved – a job that he actually felt some passion for.’
This is new evidence for something I’ve known for a long time: ‘Find a job you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.’ It’s a handy Mark Twain saying that I’ve said over and over in parenting my kids, both of whom are well on the way to finding the jobs they love. It’s a saying that has proven true as I look back on my own career, and yes, it describes those three guys from the Tasting Room as well. Evans and Burnett’s new book, Designing Your Life: How To Build A Well-Lived, Joyful Life looks to be a useful guidebook for the task, especially for those in the Millennial generation’s ‘decade of Odyssey years between adolescence and adulthood’ (cf. David Brooks’ ‘The Odyssey Years.’)
So, what’s this mean for the CEO? Let’s face it: everyone in your company thinks you’ve found that perfect job. This may or may not be true in your mind, but to your employees, it’s beside the point. You’ve reached the pinnacle, you must have found your perfect job. They’re working for you – they want that perfect job for themselves as well. So, what are you doing to help them? If you’re to attract and retain a fully committed workforce, their concerns need to be your concerns. Have you created a culture that provides jobs for them where this maxim is true?
Here’s what it comes down to for the CEO in my view, a corollary of the Mark Twain saying: ‘Build a company where everyone can find their perfect job, and you’ll never have a problem with unwanted turnover again.’
Sounds right; not easy, as there are a number of components to get right. One early stage CEO, growing his 100-person company rapidly and determined to continue that, is building a culture around very high standards for both hiring in and holding onto jobs: ‘adequate performance gets a generous severance package.’ A CEO of a large regional bank with more than 1000 employees makes ‘architecting compelling careers’ a key pillar of his company’s talent management system.
Here are some further thoughts.
- Start with the team at the top, and the leadership challenge of ‘getting others to want what you want.’ See my blog ‘Silent rebellion and the irreducible leadership task’
- Develop a strategy for Unleashing Organizational Energy.See this thoughtful piece (one of the ‘new classics’ I cite in Adair on Leadership) on the central leadership responsibility of ‘ensuring that the company’s vision and strategy capture people’s emotional excitement, engage their intellectual capacities, and produce a sense of urgency for taking action.’
- Explore overt application of ‘design thinking’ to your organization as discussed in these articles. Design Thinking Comes of Age and Bolstering Innovation Through Design Thinking
What creative strategies have you put in place? Let me hear from you; we’ll have more on this in future posts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org