What Is Your Job Responsibility?

Serving the needs of your customers and fellow employees should be high on your list.

By Tom Dossenbach


Before reading any further, stop and write down your answer to the title question in the space below:

My job is ______________________

The question posed in the title of this month's column seems quite simple at first glance, but actually demands more serious reflection than most are willing to give. After all, we know what business we are in and what our jobs are. Most of us can easily recite what we do without hesitation. Maybe we don't quote the company's mission statement as it appears in the annual report, but we know how to describe what our company does.

It's pretty much the same with our jobs. Job descriptions are necessary to define our responsibilities and those of our colleagues so that individually and collectively the vital functions of every member of the team support the goals and objectives of the company. Herein lies an area in which many companies fail: Many wood products companies have never clearly defined their overriding goals and objectives in such a manner that all employee associates understand them. More critically, members of a company seldom understand how these goals relate to their own specific areas of responsibility.

Importance of Company Core Values

Back in July 2001, I wrote about company core values in a column entitled, "What Is Your Company Core Spirit?" Since then, I have become even more convinced that the core values of a company not only indicate the spirit within, but also its very success.

As stated in that earlier writing, the core spirit is set through the attitudes and beliefs of the top six or eight managers in a company. What they think, say and do become an integral part of the core values of the company and every individual in it. Thus, it is important for the leadership of a company to have a common vision and the dedicated mission to see that vision manifested through the efforts of every employee of the company.

In our wood products industries today, competition has become more complex and fierce with the rapid globalization that has taken place during the past five years. Companies must distinguish themselves from the competition, whether it is across town or across the Pacific. One important way is to do this through its core values.

The Lost Focus

I am concerned that many woodworking companies are losing their competitiveness by limiting their focus to what they think is the only strategy for success - lower costs and prices. To accomplish these goals, many are implementing a strategy of offshoring, lean manufacturing or both in an effort to drive down their costs to compete with imports. While this may well suit the needs of the company, this strategy alone may not position the company for long-term success.

Those who rely on the cost/price strategy too heavily risk losing the most critical and essential point of focus for the company - the customer.

One of the most powerful competitive strategies is to transform the company into one where its core values truly affirm that the customer comes first. The degree of overall customer satisfaction and resulting loyalty is what makes a company successful -not just its products, costs or prices.

Any company of any size that manufactures its products in North America would do well to implement a customer-first core value as the foundation of its competitive strategy. The building blocks of a successful company must include a quality product that is value priced to generate a fair level of profitability, but must be supported by superior service as its cornerstone.

Company or Customer First?

A client tried to nail me in a corner one day by asking an interesting question: If there comes a time to make a choice between the company and the customer, which one should come first?

Dedication to the customer is as essential as dedication to the company. Where would any company be without those it serves? What is good for the customer is good for the company. If the customer takes second place in the decision-making process, where will that eventually take the company?

Actually, if a conflict ever arises in choosing whether to put the company or the customer first, there is a serious flaw in the core values of the company.

Servanthood as a Core Value

Success today depends on the genuine attitude or core value of a company being one of servanthood. If every employee has serving the customer in mind throughout the day in everything they do, what a dynamic company it would be!

This attitude would manifest itself in many different ways, including:

* Putting excellence in every task;

* Going the extra mile;

* Thinking from the customer's point of view;

* Giving others no less than you would expect yourself; and

* Helping empower others to do all of the above.

It takes many different skills applied in a woodworking plant to produce a product that is acceptable in the marketplace. If it were necessary to combine all of these skills into one job title, I would choose "Customer Representa- tive." Having an attitude of dedication and service to the customer transforms a company from ordinary to excellent and one to be reckoned with - globally.

So, is your answer to the opening question like any of these responses?

- My job is to represent (or please) our customers by drying our lumber uniformly to 6-8% EMC with no defects.

- My job is to represent our customers by training and providing leadership in the machine department to produce the highest quality components.

- My job is to represent our customers by applying finishing stain to create a beautiful piece of furniture.

- My job is to represent our customers as I answer the telephone, and direct calls politely and efficiently.

- My job is to represent our customers as I clean our factory and provide an excellent working environment for my fellow employees.

- My job is to represent our customers by leading this firm as CEO.

Do you get the point?

What Made Marriott Great

The Marriott story is a great study in the importance of customer service. Only by researching what hotel guests really wanted and providing it to them, did Marriott become a leader in the hospitality industry.

It was as simple as finding out that business travelers wanted easy access to electrical outlets for their laptop computers and re-designing rooms and furniture to provide customers this service. There is a multitude of other little things that when added up, make for a significantly better customer experience.

The product was not the distinguishing characteristic that set Marriott above its competition. It was the dedication to serving the customer and making this the foundation of its core spirit. Putting the customer first is what made this company great. Ask any Marriott manager, "Who should come first, the company or the customer?" You can guess the answer.

Distinguishing yourself from competition is critical in our industry. Genuine dedication to the customer - if manifested throughout your company - can be a powerful competitive advantage. Most of your competition will not put this 'theory' into practice by developing a core spirit of service to the customer as J.W. Marriott did almost 40 years ago.

You know the needs of your market and customers better than any overseas competitor because you are closer to them. Capitalize on this advantage.


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