What do a barista, janitor, and CEO have in common?
On the surface, very little. One serves coffee, another takes out trash, and a third runs a company. But if you ask them all the same question, "What is your job?" you may be surprised by their answers. The meaning of their job is so much more than a job title or paycheck. At a deeper level, they share a fundamental human need to find purpose in their work.
This begs the question: What is your job?
Is it about executing tasks at hand or motivating your team to achieve strategic goals? Reducing your purpose to a job description does it a disservice. In this talk, Fred Kofman laid out why your job is not fulfilling a prescribed set of responsibilities but to help your team win.
How can you keep your purpose top of mind?
It's hard to hold a high-level perspective amid the daily grind. Most folks just follow the incentive systems. With an hourly-paid gig, the incentive is to do a good enough job and maintain good relationships with the employer so the job can last for a long time. If the job has a path to promotion, the incentive is to consistently do the "next level job" so you can get promoted. For companies that do not have an explicit career ladder, folks will follow the implicit rules and the crowd.
Who makes sure the team plays to win?
It's the leader's job to figure out what rules best support their team to win. For example, Netflix has a culture that seeks excellence. Basecamp documents how they build a sustainable business. Google has the "Googley" culture and a clearly defined ladder for performance review. Every team has its own rules. If you don't know what success looks like, ask your manager and the top performer in the company.
What if your company culture doesn't motivate you?
You can quit or take ownership of your growth. Feeling frustrated is natural, but at the end of the day, you have to take control of your job satisfaction in a mature way. Some managers will be kind enough to have career conversations with you and help find projects that best match your skillset (or the skills you want to develop). But it's up to you to take that assessment or take time to reflect, finding ways to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. When I was at Google, I knew that I wanted to maximize my writing and sourcing skills, so I began writing memos about startups I loved and shared them with folks who regularly reviewed deals for the head of each product area. A year later, I joined the group to review startup deals every week. Though it was not required by my job as a product manager, it was something I love, so I created a position for myself.
What success do you want to create for yourself?
What “success” do you want to create for yourself? Understand what it means to do a good job so you can know how to do your daily tasks well. Then, identify your unique talents and find more opportunities to use them at work. Even if your job doesn’t bring constant joy, you can develop skills to make yourself more valuable in the long term.
What success do you want to create for “yourself”? Look deeply into yourself. What is important to you? What does your ideal average day look like? How can you bring more of yourself into your job? Reflect on what you want and brainstorm small changes you can bring to your work each day.
Throughout this piece, we've explored what is beyond our job title, how to understand our job’s incentive, and what we can do to change things up. After thinking through these perspectives, how has your answer changed to the question: What is your job?