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The question on my whiteboard is, "What is the job we are being
hired to do?" I look at this daily, and mention it often to
the folks I work with in order to make sure we are asking the right
questions each time we interact with our customers, which are both
professional healthcare project managers and the hospitals who need
I'm certainly not the originator of this idea. I have
borrowed heavily from Clayton Christensen's seminal piece on
Malpractice," and I've had that reinforced by a mentor I have
the luxury of meeting with regularly who steers me forward.
Ask yourself what you're being hired to do, he said. Then
keep asking it every day. When I finally realized he was way
ahead of me, I got my wife to bake him a pound cake. I may be
a slow learner but I've got good manners.
Christensen's brilliant point is stated with simple
elegance: when people need to get a job done, they hire a
product or service to do it for them. As he writes, that job
could be providing a milkshake, which is comforting and makes a
commute to work tolerable. Because, as he paraphrases from
another Harvard instructor, people don't want a quarter inch drill,
they want a quarter inch hole.
"What is the job we are being hired to do?" gets me to the
quarter inch hole someone needs. It helps me remember each
day to try to ask good questions and then simply listen
carefully. I have "Listen!" written on a post it note and
stuck to the stapler on my desk as a result.
In high school I worked at an independent grocery store named
"Thriftown" in Clarkston, Georgia. I was a bag boy, and I had
to wear a long sleeve shirt with a tie every day, and we had to
take the groceries out to peoples' cars. As a significant
side benefit, we were allowed to accept tips, which helped fund all
of my activities in high school.
That tie you're wearing shows you're serious about your job, Mr.
Merlin the owner told me once. People can buy groceries
anywhere, but they buy them here because we care about them.
As a teenager I thought that was a lot of weight to stick on a
simple tie, but looking back from a great distance, I think Mr.
Merlin knew what he was talking about.
I may get around to erasing this if a big need arises, but for
the foreseeable future I think I'll leave my whiteboard a little
crowded. What is the job we are being hired to
do? strikes me as an open-ended question I need to
keep on asking.