It happens to most of us. We start a new job with excitement and see a world of growth and opportunities. We’re excited and can’t wait to get to work.
But over time, for many of us, those feelings go away. Perhaps we find out that the job is not what we thought it was. Or maybe we’ve been in the job for a long time, and don’t feel that we are really doing or learning new things. We start to feel stalled, frustrated, and, perhaps, a bit bored.
In my own experience, and in working with my clients, I’ve found that when we start to feel that way it is because we have decided in our minds that the job we have is “just what it is” and that we have to just deal with it. We may not be learning, growing, or energized, but that it just how it is.
And that may be true.
Or maybe not. I’ve found that we need to challenge our thinking a bit more as we look at our jobs. Sometimes we just haven’t really thought about what our role really is. Our clouded thinking may be holding us back from having greater impact in our organizations and more satisfaction in our jobs.
It’s time for a re-think. Here are three thought-provoking questions to get you started.
Who (really) are my customers?
This sounds like an easy question. Who receives the products or services that I am responsible for? If you are an analyst in the Finance department, perhaps you create weekly sales reports and forecasts that you send to the Sales manager every week. But there are probably other people in your organization that would benefit from that information. Could the Product teams use the information? Or Distribution? Or Operations? Is there information you have access to that would be helpful to the Senior Management Team as they consider strategic decisions?
This question becomes even more interesting if you are in Human Resources, for example. Who really are your customers? Are your customers all the employees in the organization? Or first level managers, to help them lead and support their teams? Or Senior Management, to partner with them to help them accomplish strategic talent objectives?
If you are a leader, who are your customers? Perhaps they are direct, purchasing customers. But they also probably include your direct reports, internal peer colleagues, and your senior management.
One way of thinking about this is thinking about “upstream” and “downstream” customers. For example, as an “upstream” customer of a financial analyst, might the senior leadership team be interested in insights about what is driving current sales? As a “downstream” customer, might there be an operations supervisor who could really use a sales forecast to help plan their staffing levels?
If you dig deeper, you are likely to find that you actually impact a variety of customers, some of which you may not have really thought of. And that leads to the next question.
What problems do my customers need for me to solve for them?
This is more than what’s on your job description. This is identifying, really, what problems your customers have and how you can help solve them.
As a finance analyst, it is not just about sending the sales report. What customers likely need is insight about their business—insight about past sales performance and insight about planned business. And if that is what your customers really need, what can you do to provide more or better insight about the business? Can you provide new information that can help them pinpoint sales opportunities or problems?
In Human Resources, there are a wide range of problems that customers may need help with (pay, benefits, hiring, training, employee issues, etc). However, the core needs that most HR customers have involve feeling valued, being treated fairly, and having the opportunity to grow. Most senior executives care deeply about making sure that their people are aligned, engaged, and skilled to execute business strategy. When HR teams work on solving those type of broader problems, great things happen.
As a leader, there are many potential problems to solve. The key is to focus on the problems that matter most to your most important customers. Our priority lists are full of things that probably don’t ultimately matter that much to our most important customers.
That takes us to the third question.
If my customers had a choice, why would they come to me to solve their problems?
The key idea here is that you should add so much value to what you do that people would come to you even if they did not have to. Do you provide additional, helpful information that no one else does? Are you easy to work with? Are you the most responsive? Do you ask the most insightful questions? Do you meet deadlines, every time? Do you solve the harder problems?
The goal is to be your most important customers’ “preferred provider” due to how well you understand your customer’s problems and how you go about solving those problems.
I’ve found that a good way to helping frame up what really makes you unique is to consider three overlapping circles—what problems you really care about, what problems you are really good at solving, and what problems your customers really need to have solved. The center point of those overlapping circles is likely to be your sweet spot and what would make you the “professional of choice” for your customers when they have problems.
As a finance analyst, you might be the “financial analyst of choice” because you don’t just provide the sales reports, but you get the reports out on time every week, your work is 100% accurate, and that you provide additional insights about the business and future sales opportunities that your customers don’t get elsewhere.
As an HR professional, you might be the “HR professional of choice” because you keep confidences, respond quickly to questions, and provide new ideas to help solve people problems.
As a leader, you might be the “leader of choice” because you are a strong advocate for your team members, you partner well with colleagues, you consistently deliver results, and are known as a strategic thinker who asks the most important questions.
While asking yourself these three questions might not instantly transform a terrible or boring job into a great or exciting one, they will very likely cause you to think about your job differently. You may find that you have customers that you had not thought about before, that there are important problems that you could be addressing that you have not been, and that you can provide unique value in ways that you had not considered.
And that can be just the beginning.