Okay, Lencioni has done it again.
My favorite business author has written another winner in “The Three Signs Of A Miserable Job.”
As normal, what can summarized in basically two pages, Lencioni weaves into a longer story, or parable, to drive the message home.
The book is worth your time, not because it teaches you anything new. It teaches you what you already know.
The book features a mythological figure named “Brian Bailey.” A man, who recently sold the company that he is running, and has retired to Lake Tahoe with his wife. However, he finds little comfort in his retirement, as he feels something is missing. Although he and his wife plan to spend the winter skiing, an end of the day accident keeps him off the slopes. Once off the slopes, with plenty of time on his hands, he finds that he is looking, or really he is driven, to find something else.
During this down time, he finds himself pulled into being a small partner in a restaurant that is barely hanging on. The owner makes a little money, just enough to ski when the owner wants to. Brian comes in and offers him money to buy a small part of the diner, and he runs the weekend shifts.
Lencioni takes us through his struggles to get the place working on an even keel. As in so much of his work, Lencioni points out that the problem is normally not with the capability of the worker, but with the situation that they find themselves in. In this case, he discovers that in everyway, the employees are miserable.
Thus we go off on a journey to find some meaning in employment. In terms of the common vernacular the employees are not engaged, which means that they are bored. When the employees don’t care, we find that they don’t do a good job and the place of business suffers.
Into this situation, Brian discovers some new principles. Principles that perhaps he has used before, but certainly nothing on a cognitive level. He discovers a system that allows his employees to get engaged.
So, what is this mystical formula? What removes misery from a job?
There are three things, and although I encourage you to buy the book, I’ll list them here. However, I actually believe that you’ll learn them better by reading the book and returning here. So, if you want to do this, I know the book is on Amazon Prime, and can be downloaded.
Okay, done with the book?
The thing to recognize is that humans do their best work when they are totally absorbed by the work. That is, they feel attracted to what they are doing. I’m sure we all know somebody that is good at something. In almost all cases, we’ll find out that the person is truly passionate about the situation and maybe is even a little obsessive. This does not mean that you need to be “happy” because some of the best experts in any areas may be unhappy. (It actually turns out that our happiness seems to be set by our genetics regardless of our circumstances, within some reasonable level.)
So if “job happiness” is not a good way of thinking about things, what do we call it?
The better term is “engagement.” That is a person that is thinking and willing to jump into their job on a regular basis because there is something that draws them in. It also is highly correlated with companies that do well in their area. You almost always find that the successful companies or orgs have highly engaged people.
As normal, Lencioni jumps to the opposite extreme to find the way out. Rather than saying “what makes you engaged?” he asks “What makes a job miserable?” By removing the bad situation, he creates a good situation. So he seeks to answer, “What makes a miserable job?”
Then lets dive into the first of the three principles.
Principle 1: Measurability
Actually, this hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew this was true, but I didn’t recognize the importance. If there is one thing that is easy to overlook, it is this principle, so it is worth digging into.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” is the principle that is often subscribed to Peter Drucker, the management guru. However, Lencioni goes a lot further than this. What he calls out is that any job without clear measurement is a job of irrelevance.
“I get measured by the bonus,” you might say.
“Really?” I would reply.
I doubt that your life has been all that much different than mine. In reality, I have found out that in most jobs it is all about luck and the person above you. I have seen over and over again that where these two factors rule in most environments for the bonus.
It is important to realize that we often discount and don’t understand the issue of good and bad luck.
Luck is present in many different circumstances. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written all about luck in “Fooled by Randomness,” and I’m not going to repeat his lessons. However, he clearly points out, and proves in my mind, that most people cannot distinguish luck from skills. I have seen many times where a lucky person (because of the job or the customer base) gets a bunch of positive reinforcement, while and unlucky person is blamed for the unluck of the situation. In reality, most people try and take credit for more than they deserve because of a principle called fundamental attribution error. (And generally, they won’t give others the same breaks.)
If your boss likes you, you’ll find that you get a lot more perks and better bonuses. In the best case, you show a personal commitment to each other. In the worst case, this turns into a favoritism that substitutes politics for performance. Don’t get me wrong, I actually believe that friendship is very important, but it only comes after being measured in a clear way.
So to get away from this, you need to focus on things that you can clearly deliver. If you can do this, you can remove the attribute of luck away from the job. This restores your own power, and gets you more engaged. So, you need to be able to measure something that you can influence.
In the book, he does a great job of manufacturing ways of measuring for things that don’t seem measurable. With one person who takes orders, in the book, he asks them to measure smiles. Simply getting them to track and seeing progress of a very simple thing such as this starts to drive change. The point is that he calls out that you need to measure something you clearly control and is important to job success. The more you do this, the more engaged your employee will be.
I think this principle is found in every video game. Video games have no meaning, except that they furnish you a score for doing nothing productive. Yet, a good video game is addictive. If we can find a score, we can find engagement, then success.
Principle 2: Irrelevance
This one is much more of a mindset. If you have a job that does not leave an impression, then you have no job at all. Everybody that works wants to build or make something. The problem is not understanding how your product or your service changes somebody’s life.
The search for relevance is something that needs to be found within. Or, if you are lucky enough, a good manager should be able to help sort it through. If you read my personal blog, you will find that I spend a lot of time talking about things that we do around my property in Los Gatos. The nice thing about physical labor is that you can see something happening. You can see the changes taking place.
For myself, I am changing my property for three reasons:
a. It teaches my boys life skills. Knowing how to build something that you can live in, touch, or use is tremendously fulfilling.
b. I provide a cool environment for our renters to live in. One of the high compliments is that one of my renters came to me to say, “I can tell how much thought and work you put into this. It is really impressive.” I carried these words with me strongly even now.
c. I hope to leave my property to my kids because it is unique, and will give them cheap living in a economically prosperous area.
I find much of this in my job also, but not as clear as my personal life. After reading the book, I am going to meditate more on how to make my job even more like my home life.
Principle 3: A Place Where People Know Your Name
While this is a line from an old TV show, it resonates because it is true. The point is that we are needing community. The best of all workplaces is where we care about each other more than just inside of the work environment. There are many problems with this, because I talk about it above. If not appropriately managed, it can turn into nepotism.
However, it is also tempting not to get too close to people because it opens us up to hurt. Maybe they will leave. Or perhaps it will be painful for us to confront bad behavior. However, the benefits are more than worth it. When people know you name and your background, it turns out better.
As a matter of fact, Gallup has been doing polls of high performance workplaces for years. One of the key factors in high performance places is if you answer “yes” to the question, “Do you have a best friend at work.”
He builds up a triangle at the end of the book so you have a simple visual of the three items.
As mentioned earlier, there is a tremendous amount of research on engagement. In the end, a team and individuals that are engaged in a job is the hallmark of a high performance organizations and high performance teams.
The challenge has been crossing the bridge between “what we know” and “how to get there.”
As his normal process, Lencioni lays this out by virtue of a short story or parable. It is the same device that Jesus used in the Bible. The power is in the tale. While you may recognize my summary as true, I don’t think that you will learn the true lesson until you read the story.
I highly encourage you to get the book..