Do Your Employees Have A Sense of Purpose?

Or are they just sorta doing stuff? What an unfortunate phone call with a disengaged customer service rep reminds us about passion.

The other day I was chatting with a customer service rep to confirm the cancellation of a subscription service. I kept waiting for him to ask me why I was unsubscribing, but alas that conversation never took place. Instead, he told me that my account would be terminated as of a certain date and then asked if there was anything else I needed. I quickly disengaged while shaking my head in dismay.

This representative may work for your company.

Most likely you don’t even know we had this conversation, nor do you know why your revenues are in decline or why you aren’t undergoing the kind of growth your competitors are experiencing.

This employee had no sense of purpose. By that I mean, he had no idea how his role in the organization fit into the larger scheme of things. Nor did he care enough to ask. (The not caring part is a whole other issue.)

Here are a few ways lack of purpose shows up in organizations like yours and what you can do to create a more purposeful team of employees.

The “It’s not my job” syndrome

It’s hard to know where your job begins and ends when you don’t have a clear sense of what it is you are supposed to be doing. This is particularly true in startups, where the next Mark Zuckerberg wannabe is doing everything to avoid putting people into tiny boxes that he believes will stifle innovation. (These “boxes” are often referred to as job descriptions.) So instead, employees roam throughout the organization without any purpose until they eventually tire of going on a walkabout with no end in sight. Some drop to their knees and take up space, while others leave for greener pastures.

I’m all for encouraging free thinkers. However, I also recognize the need for balance. You can encourage people to think outside the box and provide them with a sense of purpose without going Corporate. In my forthcoming book, Talent Magnetism, I talk about the many benefits of exchanging job descriptions for results descriptions. These types of descriptions focus on results, not activities and tasks. By describing what the person in a particular role is expected to accomplish (results), you provide them with the outcome you expect. They then have the freedom to achieve the results as they see fit. They also have a better sense of purpose.

In a workplace where people are free to stretch beyond their boundaries, you rarely encounter the “it’s not my job” syndrome. That’s because everyone knows the ultimate purpose of his or her job is to improve the customer’s condition, regardless of whose job it is to make this happen.

Confusion in the cubicle

You may have the best employees in the world, but no one reads minds. Yet employers operate as if their employees do. I imagine this customer service representative thought his job was that of an order taker. Perhaps this was how the job was described to him during the interview process, or this was the role of customer service reps in his previous job.

Employers need to clearly define the expectations and purpose of each position prior to beginning the hiring process to ensure they get the right person in place for the job at hand. For example, suppose customer service representatives in your company are also expected to upsell. Candidates who are not comfortable selling would not be a good fit for this job even if they possess strong customer service skills. If you fail to clarify the type of person that will be best suited for this role, you’ll most likely hire the wrong person for the job. He or she will operate as a customer service rep and nothing more, and you will constantly be frustrated with their inability to recognize an opportunity that’s right in front of them.

Unexceptional service

Let’s be fair here. It’s hard to get excited about your job when most days you aren’t quite sure if you are even needed at work. You can’t help but think that it’s okay to do your thing and nothing more. Unexceptional service becomes the rule.

It doesn’t have to be this way if you pay attention and make it a point to include staff members in conversations that are directly related to their jobs. Go one step further and occasionally invite them to a client meeting. You’ll certainly see an improvement in service levels as well as profits. And you may even have customers like me signing up for your services again, and singing your praises throughout the business community.

--Roberta Matuson can be reached on Twitter and via her website Matuson Consulting.

[Cut Cord: Eskay via Shutterstock]

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6 Comments

  • Toby Ruckert

    Interesting and timely post. Imagine sense of purpose and leadership when you're a totally distributed team :) yet, some companies have policies to make cancellations as easy and painless as possible for the customer. It's a matter of different view points and I don't personally agree with such policies. However why did you think that worker had no sense of purpose? Purely because he didn't ask why you cancelled or was there another reason as well?

  • Roberta

     The customer service rep never attempted to engage me in conversation nor did he ask why I was leaving or what the company might have done to retain my business. For him, it was purely a transaction. NEXT!

  • Lia

    I work in customer service, and I know that asking a person to explain why they are canceling, is typically seen as an open invitation to yell into the phone about a terrible experience (often times a customer will blame me personally).  Customer service is not a place to vent frustration.  Customer Service is also not a company's suggestion box, it might be useful to do this, but if the representative doesn't ask, then the company doesn't care enough about the customers, not the other way around where an employee obviously has no sense of purpose.  I completely agree with you Roberta, that companies should care about their customers and their employees, but in order for that to happen, customer service should be seen as a resource, not seen as a drawback.  Before saying that this person has no sense of purpose, please put yourself in their shoes and consider that they didn't ask you a question for a reason and not assume that they just weren't interested.

  • Roberta

    If the role of customer service isn't to ask these questions and try to retain a customer then quite frankly I'm not sure why you'd even have customer service.

    By the way, I have worked in customer service at IBM and our job was to do whatever needed to be done to delight our customers. Maybe that's asking a lot, but it certainly didn't seem that way at the time nor in retrospect.

  • Dan Auito

    Nicely stated Roberta, direction, appreciation and the freedom to think on the fly are great starting points! :-)