The Whole Job

When I started high school, I thought I was pretty tough. Combining that with the fact playing football was the cool thing for guys to do, found me on the freshman football team. As it turned out, it didn’t take too long to figure out that I was too slow to play in the backfield and that I was too slow and too short to play an end.

That left the line. I was soon playing center. If I do say so myself, I was the best of the players at snapping the ball. That was sort of a big deal because we played the single wing offense back then. For those of you who aren’t old enough to know what a single wing offense is, from the center’s perspective, it was sort of like today’s shotgun offense. The emphasis was on running, but each snap went about five yards back to start the play.

While I was the best of the players at snapping ball, my total game time in two years was one time out. That was when the coach felt he needed to chew out the starting center.

You might think I would have been very upset with the coaches for not playing me more. That wasn’t the case at all. I understood the coaches’ decision. You see, while I always got the ball back better than anyone else, I almost always immediately followed the ball back into the backfield on my backside.  While high school boys were smaller back then, at 120 pounds I was still way too small for playing the line. I knew that there was more to playing center than getting the ball back. I understood the coaches’ reluctance to play me. Having a center sitting in the backfield tends to disrupt plays.

I was thinking about that recently and realized how common that is with most people and most jobs. Every job has more than one part to it, and most people do some part of their job better than some other. In my case, I was usually much better at the numbers than I was with the people. On the other hand, a quality manager I work with is great with people but is weaker when it comes to crunching the numbers.

There are some significant differences between what happened to me on the high school football team and what happens in the work place.

The biggest difference is that on the football team, I knew all the parts of the job. The coaches made sure that I knew exactly what was expected. I knew that getting the ball back was only part of the job. Since all of the guys playing center got the ball back reasonably well, keeping the defensive linemen out and/or moving them out of the way was more important.  Most people in management jobs don’t really know what the most important part of their job is. Everyone develops their own picture of their job. They realize there are different parts, but their view of the parts and their importance is frequently different from their bosses.

I had the opportunity to watch a good example of this recently. A company that I was helping had a plant manager who was excellent at problem solving, was a hard worker, and knew most of the processes better than anyone in the shop. He thought he was doing a good job.  The president of the company had a different perspective. He felt the plant manager was doing a very poor job.

From the president’s viewpoint, the plant manager had two significant weaknesses. First, he didn’t like the way the plant manager treated his people. The labor turnover was too high, and the president felt that a significant reason was the plant manager. More importantly, the president was frustrated because the plant manager didn’t appear to want to change things. The impression was that the plant manager thought the plant was running pretty well the day he started and there was no reason not to change. While the shop was once a leader in the industry, the competition had caught and passed them.

It isn’t surprising that the plant manager lost his job. Didn’t the president do a good job describing the parts of the manager’s job that were important? Was the manager unable or unwilling to change? I’m not sure.

If I had to guess, I’d say both were true. I’d say there is a good likelihood the president didn’t do a good job of telling the manager what was expected. I find many are reluctant to define jobs too precisely for fear that something will be forgotten. They don’t want to hear, “I’m doing everything you told me, and you’re still not satisfied.”  

On the other hand, it wouldn’t surprise me that the manager didn’t really want to change. We all think we treat other people just fine. As far as not wanting to change, it wouldn’t surprise me if the manager said to himself, “The president doesn’t really know what he’s talking about. I just suggested we move XYZ machine to improve the work flow.” Unfortunately, the president was looking for the manager to come up with a way of replacing XYZ machine and the cost justification to do so.

Maybe it is time we all look at the parts of our job and make sure we’re doing the important parts of our job, not just the part we enjoy. And, if we have people reporting to us, make sure that they know what’s the important part of their jobs.