Responsibility Is Its Own Reward

by Bob Nelson ©

Feb 1, 2002

I've had some interesting jobs in my life. I assembled bicycles. I spent a summer collecting unpaid tickets for a beauty pageant. I was a math tutor, a bookstore receiving clerk, a convenience store cashier, and a camp counselor. They all seemed to be mundane, menial jobs.

An Unspoken Lesson

I later learned that I was wrong. Each of those jobs offered opportunities that I ignored and lessons that I have since learned can be obtained from any job, at any level. And you can teach your employees the same lesson.

Take, for example, my job at the convenience store. I did what I was told and what I thought was expected, something that most employees do. And that seemed to consist primarily of waiting to ring up customer purchases.

One day, however, the regional manager walked in. He glanced around the store, and then motioned for me to walk with him. Without saying a word, he started to move up inventory to replace purchased products. He then walked to the food preparation area, wiped down the counter, and emptied a full trash receptacle.

It slowly dawned on me that he expected me to do the things that he was doing. This came as a complete surprise to me. It was not because the tasks were new to me — I mopped the floor and emptied the trash every day before my shift was done. What was new was the idea that I needed to be doing these tasks all the time.

Any employee can be good, but to be great, he or she needs to learn the same lesson that I did: People need to be responsible for their own work.

By taking a moment to coach your employees, you can teach them to accept a higher level of ownership for their jobs. Show them that they need to focus on what needs to be done and not wait to be told what to do. Once they understand this, they may find their “mundane” job becomes much more exciting. And reward them when they discover that the more focused they are on what they can do in the job, the more they will be able to accomplish.

Help Them Take Charge

By showing your employees how to take charge, you help them shape their lives and careers. Help them move from being a bystander to acting and reacting. Even entry-level positions will become portals for opportunity and growth — not only for your employee, but for you and your business.

Ask your employees to take to heart this fundamental message: You can make a difference today in your job. All you have to do is be responsible for your own work.