Three Odd Questions

number-three-mdHow often have you heard a CEO pronounce that “everyone here is a salesperson”? As an actual sales executive for 30 years I take a little offense. After all, no one ever says “everyone in the company is a network engineer” or “everyone is a cost accountant” even though I have been in enterprises that would have benefited by more attention to both. But everyone should be a salesperson…as if it is so simple that absolutely anyone can do it.

I know what is meant, of course. Everyone should consider themselves an active positive representation of his or her company no matter if their actual job title is salesperson, accountant, lawyer, assembly worker, IT manager, etc. It is a good reminder to me that what we do is usually much more subtle and complex than what we are called.

There are a number of very healthy ways of exploring that notion; I’d like to suggest, for instance, three odd questions that you might pose about your job. Answer them for yourself or answer them as part of a work team, a civic or charitable organization, even an extended family. You may be surprised at the novel perspective you get:

1) Whom do I connect?

Most all of us are conduits of some sort, structurally it is often between your superior and your subordinates, your customers to your business, etc. But forget about the organization chart and think of specific individuals you connect in your business, organization, or extended family. Every human structure has a web of informal connections that grow up around the need for sharing information and activity. You likely play a role in that web and the larger and more complex the organization the more important the network of individual conduits is.

Think about where you help make connections happen and then ask whether those connections are speeded or slowed because of you.

2) Where is my time arbitraged?

When I was a very young manager I spent a year as the executive assistant to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Much of the job was not very glamorous nor did it seem important: drafting remarks for a charitable luncheon, following up on customer issues on his behalf, setting his staff meeting agenda. But what I was really doing was arbitraging time. Every minute of work that I, an inexperienced (and inexpensive) young manager could perform in his place allowed the CEO to spend his experienced and expensive minutes on the most difficult and crucial problems.

So whose time are we freeing? If by doing our jobs we are liberating other more senior, or skilled, or specialized talent to tackle more vital or difficult issues then our organization has benefitted, and if that is happening from the top to the bottom of the enterprise then it is efficient indeed. If, on the other hand, we are doing work that could easily be done by someone less trained and experienced then, well…uh-oh.

3) What workflow do I direct or redirect?

Think of the great goals of your organization as a waterwheel which turns through the force of the current that flows past it. We all create flow intensity or reduce it. When we reduce the force of the stream’s flow it is most often by actions that divert resources to smaller tributaries or streams that, though seemingly important, nonetheless reduce the power of the river downstream to turn the wheel. We can be diversions that siphon flow or we can be barriers that redirect flow back toward the water wheel; often we are both at different times. But it helps to think of tasks in that simple little metaphor of a flowing river since its confluence is not indifferent to our influence.

Many years ago the Japanese manufacturer I was working for sent a new manager from Kyoto to be the head of our offices in the U.S. It was my job to take him around and introduce him to his American staff which I did by giving him their name and job title as we met each one. Invariably, as we were walking away from meeting someone he would tug my shoulder and say “what does he do, anyway?”

Only later in life have I realized how very profound that question can be.


2 thoughts on “Three Odd Questions

  1. John, I hope all is going well! I heard you were in town of late and hope the trip was well! Talk with you soon! Vince

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