Pic by Cristian Newman

I’ve always hated job descriptions. I believe that our role as leaders is to inspire people to be purpose-driven, rather than to provide a list of tasks they need to complete. Unfortunately, many organizations continue this (useless) tradition of writing job descriptions for their employees. What they fail to realize is, that in their pursuit of clarity, most of the times they end up limiting people. Take, for example, these two very different experiences I had.

I spent ten weeks at Stanford, attending an innovation program. On my last day, I headed to the place that meant the most to me: Coupa, the best coffee shop on campus. At first, I thought I was craving a last sip of espresso. As I got closer, I realized I was looking for something else. I wanted to express my gratitude to one of their staff members. This woman, a low-ranking employee there, is a great example of what working with purpose is. Every time I visited Coupa, whether for lunch or an espresso, she was very much aware of who I was. Not only did she remember my name, she also understood the kind of experience I was looking for, when and how I wanted to enjoy my espresso. At one point, the building right in front of the café was being demolished. It was so dusty that they were only offering service to go. By then, she had realized how much I enjoyed coffee in a ceramic cup. (Hey, it’s the Italian in me). She went above and beyond her role to make it happen, without me even requesting it. She was surprised when I gave her a nice tip on that last day yet, deep inside of her, she knew what it meant.

The second story is a bit different. Last night, a couple of colleagues and I were enjoying some delicious food and wine at a fancy restaurant in Palo Alto. We were sitting at the bar and asked the bartender — several times — for some water. He was probably too busy; the truth is that the water never came. After waiting for a while, the bartender gone, we asked a waiter for help. He was right in front of us filling a couple of jugs with water. His response was pretty clear: “Sorry, that’s not my job. Ask your waiter.” And he left. We were still thirsty and, now, also disappointed.

These two stories are clear examples of opposite customer service experiences. You can’t blame the employees, their behaviors are representatives of what their leaders taught them. Ask yourself: What kind of behaviors are you developing within your team? Are you inspiring them to pursue a bigger purpose? Or are you simply telling them what they should (and should not) do? Think about it. As for me, I definitely don’t want to hear: “Sorry, that’s not my job”.

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