Meet Jaron. And how he owns his career.

[tweetmeme source=”JanineMoon” only_single=false]Dinner tonight with a friend at The Old Bag of Nails Pub in Upper Arlington was probably the last place where I expected to run into a career owner. But that was before I met Jaron.

Jaron was our waiter, and a most memorable one at that. So memorable that after he brought us water, reviewed the evening’s specials and left us to ponder the selections, I asked my guest if he thought the waiter was an owner of the restaurant or an employee. He was that good!

Jaron is one of those people who provides such great service that you can’t help but comment, especially when you have to search your memory for any comparable experience. He was a most gracious host, friendly and energetic and very obviously wanting his customers to have a terrific dining experience in his pub! He reeked of “genuineness” and you somehow knew that he was for real. Nothing phony about this guy.

So during one of his “just checking to see what else I can get you” stops where he dropped this hint: “Hope you left room for a piece of Snickers pie,” I just had to ask. “This might sound a little strange, but are you an owner here or an employee?”

He grinned and said he was an employee, and I explained what had prompted my question. His smile widened like he got it immediately, and went on to say (with gusto, I might add), ” I really like what I do!” Telling him that it truly shows in his work prompted a little more background. He had been in the army for a few years and when he got out, he grew his beard (that really delighted him!) and looked for work. He tried a few things but wasn’t finding any that he really enjoyed. “I always told my guys that you have to like what you do, even if you don’t.” One of his friends worked at The Old Bag, so he decided to give it a try.

And he said, several more times in several different ways, that he really likes what he does. Jaron has talents that come through in his words, his body language, and his respect for his customers. I expect that the Strengthsfinder assessment would say he has a talent in “Woo,” Winning others over, and talent in “positivity” where the world looks better when you hang around people who have it.

I don’t know if Jaron’s work as a waiter is his career, but I also know that it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that his attitude and approach display his worth right up front. Whether in food service, sales or another business endeavor, most any good hiring manager would recognize the value of making an immediate emotional connection with the customer. It’s what draws customers in and keeps them coming back.

So I told Jaron that I was going to write a blog post about him because he owns his career and that my work is about helping people find the work ownership and enjoyment he obviously has. But the other reason is to tell you to head to The Old Bag in U.A., and ask for Jaron. Tell him I sent you.

When you do, post a comment below to let everyone know what they’re missing if they don’t go visit Jaron. I promise that I’ll collect the comments and see that his manager gets them. How cool would it be to take a stack of your comments in to Jaron’s employer to acknowledge his great work!

By the way, the food is great–I heartily recommend a crab cake on the Caesar salad!

4 Baby Steps Toward Security

As I read two articles in Sunday’s paper with bleak news for job seekers, I found myself thinking once again about how fortunate I am to be in charge of my own career direction. I made the leap to self-employment a bit ahead of the curve (1997), and even with all its challenges, I never worry about someone else running my business. Or making decisions for me. Or going in to work on a Monday morning to be met with a pink slip. Or living in fear that one might be there next week.

What's your value?

Can you state your value?

Over the years I learned–often the hard way–that I needed to be very clear with statements of my value. My business is intangible and some still mislabel the content “soft skills.” [As though anything about relationships could be anything other than hard!] But value can always be measured, sometimes in the words of clients or sometimes in the visible results.

I learned that a paycheck doesn’t automatically appear every other Friday unless I focus on the Important rather than the Urgent. The discipline needed to put the big rocks in first came in a series of difficult lessons; and I’m not really sure I’m done learning!

I learned that marketing myself and my services never really stops; I can take a break, if I choose, but business follows only when potential clients hear my messages. And the clients are there; it’s just up to me to find them and be consistent in messaging.

I learned that I had a lot to learn and that I had to stay ahead or fall behind.

Navigating changes

Navigating changes

And in any business environment, customers always have choices. So staying ahead rather than “resting on laurels” always kept me intrigued with new approaches and new ideas. So I tried new ways of doing things that I might not have been certain of—learning from thought leaders’ and the success of others.

As I learned these lessons (and I’m not done yet!) I saw results that gave me confidence to move forward and try again, try something a bit different, and build on even small developments. I moved ahead a step at a time over the last dozen years. The small steps add up, and it’s important to just start.

Hungering for security?

Take these same 4 baby steps, especially if you’re in an organization and want to stay, or if you’re going after your next position. Each one will work to your advantage, and you can begin today.

1. What’s your value?

Define it, describe it, get clear on it and start talking about it. Letting others know your value isn’t bragging, it’s educating them about how you contribute. Strategic organizations keep people who contribute. Managers depend upon performers who contribute because they know you can be counted on. Learn how to talk about your value in the language of the listener, so there’s no question that you belong. Action item: take 20 minutes and write 5 statements of your value. If you get stuck, ask your coach or trusted peer. Put at least 2 of them in your conversations this week.

2. Work on Important first.

If you’re searching for a position, it’s easy to kid yourself into thinking that lots of activity is effective, especially if it entails sitting at a desk cranking out paper–just like you’re used to doing in the office. rocksThe Important stuff is usually the hard stuff; in this case, it’s maintaining your network contacts. If you have an office and want to keep it, then prioritize your tasks based upon the organization’s priorities. Save your emails for after 5 o’clock…if they’re that important, you’ll get a call. Action item: re-prioritize your work activities, putting the hardest ones on top. Stay focused on the Important tasks, even if you’re tempted by other people’s urgencies.

3. Be aware of your customer messages: make them count.

Even if you’re not in direct contact with external customers, you have internal ones. Every word you speak, every facial expression and gesture you make, every note you send is plainly marked with one of two messages: ‘I’m glad to be of service;’ or ‘I’m doing this because I’m supposed to.’ Every contact you have is important, so put a smile in your voice and become intent on serving your current, potential, new or returning customers. Action item: Select 3 ‘customers’ today who you can serve: perhaps another job seeker; a co-worker to whom you can offer assistance before s/he asks; or a member at your service club lunch who needs cheering or encouragement.

4. Keep on learning!

Whatever you’re doing, there’s something new to learn. And if you’re not doing what you love, there’s lots new to try! Take responsibility for your own learning, for staying or getting up to speed in your industry, profession or skill sets. Check out community college, continuing education offerings and professional association seminars; and identify mentors who can give you informal opportunities to learn. Define new competencies that can help you take on new and challenging responsibilities, then arrange to master them. Action item: Determine one new area you would like to learn about and find two people who have expertise. Ask at least one of them to be your mentor and get you started.

4 small baby steps!

4 small baby steps!

Your challenge: 4 baby steps

Wherever you are, whatever your work, you will be stronger and more secure in your being by taking these 4 steps and beginning today. Each is a small but significant one toward taking responsibility for your own career direction and stability. Whether you work for a larger organization or a smaller business or you’re looking for your best work fit, your future really is yours to ensure. “Cradle to grave” security begins with these smallest of steps.

Career Owners in the Customer Space

I’ve had several recent encounters with customer service people and each of them made clear how their job ‘fit’ them: as a renter or an owner.

My first was with my personal trainer, Tami, who is always fully focused on each client. She has the ability to walk that fine line between making me sweat and making me whine. No complaints, always a positive thing…I don’t like the work, necessarily, but I do appreciate her awareness of where I am both physically and mentally. (She’s with Equivita, a terrific place by the way!) Tami owns her client focus and tailors it beautifully.

Customer service for captive customers!

Customer service for captive customers!

My second encounter was in the McDonald’s drive through. I know what I’m in for at most fast-food places, and I often find the “window” folks to be personable and engaging. This one was an exception— the employee never made eye contact. Normally I wouldn’t think much of it, especially when the transaction is bolstered by conversation, but this one wasn’t. She said 3 words to me: $3.86, and thank you. She wasn’t rushed and she wasn’t taking another order…she just looked away and didn’t respond to me at all. My sense was that the sooner I left, the sooner she could be anywhere else. Definitely renting the space behind the cash register.

And then, back in my office, I took a call from Staples—don’t know why because I was juggling 3 or 4 things—and 23 minutes later we were finally finished.

I spent that time with Victoria who not only did her “job,” but she raised the level of Staples’ credibility and customer know-how by about 120%! Her first order of business was to give me, as a Premier Customer, my choice of a 4th category in which to save 10% on all purchases…and, of course, an appreciation call is a fine thing. [In the interests of total disclosure, I expect that I’m a premier customer because my trips to Staples are like many people’s trips to ice cream shops—fun in the short haul, but we’re caught in the end! For me that ‘end’ is paying for the cart full of goodies that I couldn’t pass up.]

She gave me the name of the manager at my local store and told me about him. She gave me her name and contact number and repeated how important getting to know customers was to the Staples culture. She asked me about my company, CompassPoint Coaching. And, through the whole conversation, I never once felt that she wanted to be talking to the next customer on her list—and I expect she had a long one.

When I asked her how Staples does training and leadership development, she said a most interesting thing. She said that before training comes hiring—and that Staples wants to make sure they do the best hiring and get the right people on board. They look for quality and don’t hire a body to replace a body, or to fill a spot—it’s important to Staples that their employees connect with their customers to establish ongoing relationships.

And then, after hiring, they teach and reinforce their culture. She mentioned that she was reading about emotional intelligence and how important the emotional connection of employees is in order to develop the relationships that create the emotional connections with customers. She told me about her background, that she’s been with Staples for several years and that the culture is one focused on coaching employees to improved skills and competencies. I didn’t have to ask her if she liked her job—she was doing work she loved!

We talked about using social media for hiring, research, and other great things, and that while computers are said to take away the personal connection, intentionally-used social sites actually allow for an often more-personal connection…kind of a counter intuitive thing.

While we were talking she went to my websites, and asked about how I found my clients and if the economy was having any effect on that. We discussed coaching results and the coaching environment of Staples. She never once sounded forced, bored, phony or like she was “just doing her job.” It was probably the most “fun” I’ve ever had with a cold customer call from a supplier. I’m still not sure why I answered the phone when the caller ID registered Staples, but I’m glad I did. What great observations I’ve had on the scope of customer service and how refreshing to know that I do business with several—Equivita and Staples—that do it right!

Within 15 minutes of finishing my call with Victoria I had an email follow-up from her with the details of the “business” part of our conversation, and a second email with an invitation from her to connect on Linked In! A few days later she helped me navigate my research into a new pc.

How refreshing to work with someone who believes that customers are indeed a critical part of the business model and treats them as such. Career owners see the long term, and recognize its importance. In this quantum physics (v. Neutonian) world, that long-time connection creates a very comfortable place to return.