To Achieve More, Stop Working for Your Company

A simple shift in perspective can boost the effectiveness of your team efforts

“Hi, ah hello, it’s Robert here,” said the voice in my ear. His whispery and breathy tone made me picture an elderly man.

“Yes, hello Robert, this is Samantha, how can I help you today?” said another voice. This time I didn’t need to form a mental image — Samantha was sitting next to me. I was wearing a headset, listening in to her customer-service calls at Zappo’s call center during three days I spent with the Zappos team in Las Vegas.

Robert went on to explain he was after a pair of Jessica Simpson high-heel shoes for his wife, but they were listed as out of stock on Zappo’s website. As he was explaining this to Samantha, she covered the microphone on her headset and whispered to me, “he always calls and asks for these shoes”.

Intrigued, even confused, I continued listening. Samantha cheerfully and patiently spoke with Robert who listed off at least another two or three models of shoes he was after, all of which were out of stock.

In between looking up the shoes on her computer, she traded friendly banter with Robert — asking about his health, the weather, and details of the day he’d had in his hometown somewhere in Colorado.

Robert, in my estimation, seemed resigned to the fact he wasn't going to get the shoes he wanted today.

“Oh, so not in stock? No problems, I’ll call back and check again sometime soon,” said Robert.

“For sure, and we look forward to helping you again Robert, thanks for calling Zappos,” Samantha replied, ending the call.

My puzzled look prompted Samantha to elaborate: “Robert calls almost every day and asks for shoes he knows are out of stock. He’s never actually bought anything, we’re pretty sure he just likes to call for a chat.” I nodded and she went on to explain he’s even flagged in the Zappos system as a nuisance (or prank) caller.

“Wait,” I said as I pulled off my headset so I could hear her better. “You knew Robert was a prank caller when you answered that call?”

“Yes,” she said, nodding and grinning.

It left me astounded. Samantha knew Robert was wasting her time and had no intention of buying. Despite this, she took the call and treated him more warmly and helpfully than the service I received at the reception desk of my fancy hotel only hours earlier…where I was actually a paying customer!

I’d seen the famous Zappos value in action: Deliver WOW through service.

Yet, it got me thinking: Samantha could only be empowered to act that way by having complete confidence that her peers, colleagues, and management were fully aligned with this service-centric culture.

Who do you work for, really?

We all know a business is really the sum of the people within it. Yet our root perspective often forces us to believe something else: How many times in any given week do you hear someone say “I work for… their company?

Indeed, how many times per week do you say this?

The idea of “working for the man” — the establishment, corporation or some other oppressive higher-power — has always had negative connotations, at least here in Australia. Fighting hard to shift this root perspective — often the autonomous default response we give with little thought or insight — is both personally empowering and impactful on the culture within your team, your business division, and your entire company.

Firstly, nobody really works for their company, do they? We may work in a company, but we really work for our customers. I once had a job at Microsoft. I didn’t go to work to serve Microsoft, I went to work to help Microsoft serve its Partners and Customers. I worked in Microsoft for our customers.

This equally applies even if you’re in a role seemingly not connected directly with end-customers. Maybe you’re the staff payroll admin. Your “customers” are the internal employees you serve — this is who you work for.

Eliminating “us and them” makes a company more people-centric, brings people closer, encourages openness and authenticity and ultimately connects us more as humans.

Having this simple realization creates a more customer-centric culture. Even if, at first, it just starts with you. Decisions begin to be made with the customer first and foremost in mind. It becomes less about what “they” want or what you feel you have to do because of “them” — “them” and “they” being the boss, the management team, or the big wigs in the fancy suits in the corner offices…whatever “them” and “they” happen to represent to you.

Perspective shift creates human connections

In fact, this shift in perspective helps eliminate that whole “us and them” type mentality. I’ve been in companies and teams over the years where the very fabric of the place has been torn apart through this counter-productive mindset. Our default root perspective of working for a company only contributes to it. Shifting that perspective helps everyone understand they’re all on the same side working for the same people: the customers.

Eliminating “us and them” makes a company more people-centric, brings people closer, encourages openness and authenticity and ultimately connects us more as humans.

And that should be the end goal: Recognition by you and your people that you’re not the staff who work for your company, but the Human Beings who make it. This perspective shift drives a raw open and authentic human connection with your colleagues. With this surely comes a stronger bond, greater influence, more passion and superior success than the mere coincidence of people coming together to work for the same company could ever deliver.

It certainly does at Zappos — I witnessed it first hand.

So next time someone asks you “so, what do you do?”, take a breath and tell them all about how you make up a part of your great company and deliver whatever amazing value you deliver to whoever your customers are.

I bet you’ll feel better just for saying it.

Melbourne -> Seattle -> Perth | Experience-based commentary on startups, biz & life | xMicrosoft; xAuth0 | Writer: The Startup, The Ascent + more.

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