Who Do You Work For?

Go ahead and answer first. It’s a pretty straightforward question; 5 short words strung together: “Who do you work for?” Your answer is: ____________.

Did you put the name of your boss in the blank space? Possibly you chose the name of the organization or the company itself. Fewer of you might have even put your own name in the blank space.. Well that’s not where I’m going.

Suppose you have a wonderful boss; one who supports you, praises your accomplishments and gives you constructive feedback which accelerates your learning. You love working as a member of their team and you certainly are motivated to do your best because the boss does right by you. All this is wonderful and good, but do you work for them?

What happens when the boss is promoted, goes on extended sick leave, retires or leaves the organization? The purpose you had if you work for them is gone and you’re left wondering who you are working for now even though your job description hasn’t changed whatsoever. So is working for a boss or supervisor the best answer?

Let’s look at the organization as a possibly answer to the same question, “Who do you work for?” “I work for (company name).” The person or people at the top would love nothing better than their employees see themselves as working for the company. So if you gave this as your answer those owners are feeling good that you’ve come around to thinking the way they’d like best.

Yet think about it. To some a company is a building or collection of buildings. If a virtual company I’ll concede it’s not got bricks and mortar; but it is an entity which produces goods and / or services. The company may have a culture, values and principles, an attractive logo and a code of conduct; all of which you may find personally appealing and want to uphold as you go about your work. But seriously, do you want to spend years, possibly decades feeling you work ‘for’ a company? Do so if you wish of course.

Those who said they work for themselves don’t have to be self-employed people to feel this way. Every organization has people who are in it for themselves. They take their salary and benefits and seize moments of pride in the work they do, always getting the most out of the company they can to advance themselves and get more for themselves. When they no longer feel there’s anything to ‘get’ from the company they work for they stop being as productive and leave (a good thing for the company) or become complacent (not good for the individual or the company).

The answer I personally prefer is none of the above. I hope you don’t think it smug of me to differ from you if you answered any one of the above. I’m not some mystical guru who has a never-heard-before-now answer but I do think it could be a better choice and provide lasting motivation benefitting both you and the organization you work for. So who do I work for? I work for the people who use the goods and services I produce.

So as an Employment Counsellor working in a large municipal government organization in the Greater Toronto Area here in Ontario Canada, I work for the unemployed or underemployed social assistance recipients who walk in our doors. In the past I sold clothing and shoes but I never worked for the name on the front of the store but for the people who walked in. These I assisted and knowledgeably advised which in turn led them to make educated decisions with respect to their purchases.

This isn’t semantics and hardly a big deal. In my mind it’s a critical shift in thinking that puts the consumers wants and needs paramount in my own mind and therefore affects how I go about my work on a daily basis. Anytime I am faced with a decision to make, I am guided by the principle thought, “what is in the best interest of the person before me?” That working principle based on a philosophy of knowing who I work for makes it easy to never lose focus.

Look, I love my current boss, but I’ve had others that I didn’t admire as much and I’ve worked for a company that was all about how much money they could extract from their customers and they paid their staff the bare minimum they had to. I still thrived in those environments because I never lost sight of the fact that I didn’t work for them but rather for the consumers of those services; people.

Now you don’t have to share this working philosophy to be successful and it’s not a one-size-fits-all ideal to uphold. It works for me and it might just work for you too. Imagine yourself at a future job interview and the interviewer says, “I see you worked for (name of a company)” only to hear you reply…

“Actually I never worked for (name of the company)” pause for effect… “I certainly was employed by (name of the company) but I actually worked for the people who purchased their products and services.” Will you stand out from every other applicant? Yes, and in a meaningful way that will impress upon them your priorities and your motivation.

Aside from a great interview tactic, it’s just a philosophy of service; one that works for me.




What’s Your Working Philosophy?

How you approach the relationship you have with the people you serve reveals your broader philosophy.  So how does the philosophy you’ve adopted fit with: the organization you work for, other team members and most importantly your target audience? Some employees never reflect on their own working philosophy, which is problematic when it comes to finding the right organizational fit.

When you can articulate a working philosophy, you’ll find it extremely beneficial. It governs how you view the people you serve in terms of whether you call them clients, customers, end-users, people or recipients and guides your decisions. You’ll also interact with these people from a consistent perspective when it comes to planning and delivering service. Do you for example include people you are designing services for in the planning process or do you plan without them in a silo?

Imagine yourself seated at a table designing some program which you’d like to roll out to your target population. You and those assembled want to design this program to respond to the needs of your target audience; it’s got to be attractive, the benefits real, affordable, easy to access, and be perceived as being of value. It also has to be cost-effective and make use of available resources. Now looking around, who else do you see seated around the table?

Most of us will visualize our teammates, perhaps someone in a Management role (which if you included as part of your team good for you!). Did you stop at this point or did you see one or more chairs occupied by the people who are representative of your target audience? If you didn’t see any of these people seated at the table, then your working philosophy is that you and your collective group know your audience well enough that you can plan for them in their absence. If you included them seated at the table in your visualization, then your working philosophy uses a partnership approach, where their voices are heard first-hand, and in addition to their input, they act as checks and balances right from the start.

So if not at this initial starting point, at what stage if any do you include the target population in the planning before the service or program is rolled out in its final form? Some people who work in organizations don’t actually include the client, customer, end-user – the people – in the process whatsoever. There is no partnership; there are no test groups, no sample audience. The program is rolled out seemingly with a, “we know what’s best for you” attitude. Guess right and the people flock to the service or program. Guess wrong, and the people stay away in droves, or the numbers don’t justify the service or program and you’re left wondering why these people seemingly don’t appreciate the value of what you are offering them.

Now imagine some chairs around the table are indeed occupied by the audience your service or program is going to target. So whether they are job seekers and you’re a team of Employment Counsellors and Workshop Facilitators, or they’re bank customers and you’re a team of Investment professionals, how would your conversations change with your target audience sitting right beside you?

One thing you might notice is that some of the assumptions you use as starting places would be challenged. You might take it as a given that your meeting to discuss this new service or program would start at 9:00 a.m. sharp. After all, that’s half an hour or a full hour after you and your fellow employees start your work day. Your target audience however, say a youth population of 17 – 24 year olds, would better attend the meeting if it were at 10:00 a.m.; their bodies work on different time clocks then older adults. So right off the bat, you just learned something and you haven’t even got to the table yet. Your initial assumption about an agreeable meeting time is flawed, so what other assumptions will you make that don’t respond to your target audience? Maybe your target population could also benefit from a working breakfast of bagels and jam?

The importance of having a personal working philosophy can also make your place on the team a harmonious or trying experience. Have different working philosophies from your peers and you might ponder, “Why don’t my team members invest themselves as much as I do?” vs. “I don’t do anything outside my job description” or “I’m the professional with 5 years’ experience so I know what’s best for them” vs. “I’ve never lived your unique experience so teach me.”

Getting into a team discussion about personal and team philosophy isn’t very sexy. Some will roll their eyes and you can observe them mentally disengage from conversations. They aren’t interested in what they may perceive as frivolous, obvious, or maybe they feel the objective is to force everyone on the team to conform to a single perspective. When you work with people on a daily basis, there can be great value in knowing and sharing your personal philosophies, based on what each person has experienced and learned and holds as valued. These insights can help each member understand others points of views, and how these align or are at odds with the organizations philosophy and delivery of service.

Working philosophies are not static either; they evolve over time as we interact with others.

So what’s your working philosophy?


Some Words To Work By

Having worked in the field of Social Services for many years, I can acknowledge quite openly that the way I think and interact with my clients and co-workers has changed over the years. Call it maturity, wisdom, experience, even trial and error, but I like to think it’s a sign of growth and continuous understanding. Many have guided me along.

And so, I would like to pass on some thoughts and advice to anyone interested; whether you are a client, a customer, a seasoned professional or just launching your career, I hope you’d agree that sharing such information might prove a good read and useful. Take what you will, leave the rest, add your own as you choose.

Listen attentively in order to determine exactly where your clients are in this moment.

Don’t assume the goals you’d have in someone else’s place will be theirs.

Be forgiving of those who fall short. Find the positives in what they did and start anew.

Surround yourself with positive people whenever you can; you’ll be happier.

Trust in your Supervisor when you’re asked to. Leave things with them.

Be observant, learn from everyone. Your teacher might be a client with a problem.

Build a personal code of ethics and follow your moral compass. It always points North.

Share what you can with those at any and all levels who are open to learning.

You’re skimming without reflecting. Pause, reflect, consider.

Make sure you only hit, “Reply All” when it’s appropriate.

If you are in a position of influence, do so with the best of others in mind.

Do your best whether you run a corporation or dig ditches. Take pride in your work.

If the job isn’t for you, get out without regret over money or benefits. Save yourself.

Hope is sometimes all people have; you may in their eyes be that Hope. Think on that.

Be consistent with your answers and your actions. That’s your reputation growing.

Work productively when no one is watching and a lesser you could get away with it.

Be a person of integrity; you’ll come to admire the person you see in the mirror.

Humour can lighten many a stressful situation.

Smiles cost nothing to give and often have the power to appear on others when given.

Be a Superhero and discover your super power.

Offer to help a co-worker when you can, learn to ask for help when you should.

If you’re lowest on the hierarchy, you influence the people who matter the most.

Dress yourself not for your current job, but for the job you eventually want.

Be kindest to the people who are most affected by the quality of your work.

Even when you are at the top of an organization, you needn’t look down at people.

Asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.

Being asked for help is acknowledgement of your ability to provide it.

Do what’s right; always.

Be punctual at all times which respects the time of others.

Apologize when you make a mistake. It takes two words; “I’m sorry.” Done.

When you say, “Good morning”, mean it.

If you ask someone, “How are you today?” wait for the answer.

No matter how much you know, you’ll never know it all; keep learning anyhow.

Every now and then, stretch yourself and try something challenging.

Get out into the sun and clear your head. Breathe in some good air. Repeat.

Every so often, “No” is the word you are looking for.

There’s always a way to say, “Yes”. “Is there the will?” is the question.

Re-read your job description at least once a year. Surprise yourself.

Thank the person with a note who cleans your office. Surprise them.

Be considerate of others who share your workspace.

Others have to find their way just as you did. Let them make small mistakes.

People are counting on you; don’t let yourself down.

Be proud of the scars. You survived whatever assaulted you.

Get help before things completely fall apart. Know your limit.

Kind words build good working relationships.

Be someone to look up to even when you’re at the bottom.

Market yourself, promote your skills and abilities.

Your next job interview has already begun. Someone is always watching.

Get over yourself; others can replace you and maybe do things better.

On your very first day, think what they’ll say about you when you retire.

Know when it’s time to move on and have the courage to leap.

Even in bad times, see the bigger picture.

Every so often, get up and watch the day break over you.

There is usually at least one other solution than the one that you know.

People are entitled to hold their own opinion.

As you age, realize things aren’t black and white, right and wrong.

You can make a difference, and it always starts between the ears.

I certainly don’t mean to come across as a philosopher or a preacher. The ideas and thoughts above are just this mornings thoughts passed on for you to take in, think about, possibly act on or share.

You I’m sure have your own intelligence, wisdom, advice and suggestions which are also valuable. And so, I would encourage you to pass that on to your clients, your peers and me. There is much to be said for learning things on your own, trial and error etc., but advice offered is a valued gift.







“I Could Help, But I Choose Not To”

At what point do you tell yourself, “I could help out, but I choose not to”? While it may be presumptuous of me, I imagine that we all pick and choose to help out other people and sometimes we make conscious decisions to pass on the opportunity. Does that make us bad people? I think not.

When we find ourselves avoiding offering help, it can be for many different reasons. Many years ago now I was on a break in a mall where I worked in a retail store. I heard a woman scream and saw a guy running to towards to door behind me with her purse. I tackled him and wrestled with him while a crowd gathered about us. Nobody actually got involved to help me until one woman called the police. We wrestled for a good five minutes. I think the others were afraid to get involved out of fear of what might happen to them.

Sometimes it may be that we are just mentally exhausted too. We come out emotionally drained from a long session in which someone opens up to us, and by reaching back and becoming so engaged in the pain of what we’ve heard, we need time to debrief and recover our balance in order to be useful to others. So when someone say, “Do you have a minute”?, we might just say, “Not right now” and to them perhaps even appear abrupt.

And I’m willing to bet you’ve had the situation where the workload is substantial; breaks are ignored, and you finally get a chance to hydrate, use the washroom and grab a quick bite. The phone rings and the display tells you it’s a person who regularly will consume 20 precious minutes of your time, so you let the phone take a message. Or it’s the person at the counter who doesn’t know you asking for you by name as you’re leaving the building and whisk right past them at quitting time.

These are the situations in which, while we would normally consider ourselves to be helpers, have great patience and be client-centered, we pass on opportunities to help – and we have to allow ourselves this without guilt or beating ourselves up all day.

The thing about passing up chances to help others is that while almost all the time there will be a chance to make it up to that person, or address the situation at a later time, every so often that chance will be lost and the consequences for someone extreme. So perhaps this is where a personal philosophy fits in, or self-preservation. Someone who gives unselfishly of themselves with no regard to maintaining their own balance and recharging their emotional and physical stability eventually won’t be of much use to the very people they feel so empowered to help.

There is a reason workers have breaks, be they 15 minutes, half an hour or one hour. There’s a reason our work days are fixed so we don’t overwork ourselves and become exhausted. Simply put, enough people have gone before us and shown that the optimal amount of energy expended has a limit, and after that limit, most people in our job (whatever it is) become less effective, less productive.

Would you want to be on a travel coach where the driver has exceeded their 10 hour maximum time behind the wheel? Probably not as the level of alertness is diminished severely, and a new driver who is fully rested is the better option. Likewise some Doctor whose about to perform surgery on a loved one had better be well-rested and be able to concentrate fully on the job at hand. But that Doctor, and others like him, has worries and personal issues they are dealing with like anyone else.

So in YOUR daily work, when you pass on the opportunity to rush around helping absolutely everyone that asks for your time, give yourself permission to avoid the guilt in your decision. It is critical to remember that your valuable skills that have escalated you to the position you are in, can best be provided to others when you are at the top of your game. If you’ve just come out of a draining conversation, an intense counselling session, or any situation where you’ve entirely invested yourself, it is not only okay to recharge, it’s imperative.

Of course this is sometimes called, “Compassion Fatigue”; where you give and give and drain your emotional tank and have nothing left, but all born out of your desire to help everyone. Sometimes it takes a walk around the exterior of the building, a de-briefing with another employee, 15 minutes with a book you are really into, some soothing music with your eyes closed, a yoga break at noon, and there are other outlets.

Think of this like a steam whistle. The pressure builds and builds until the water boils in a kettle and the steam whistle blows. The the kettle, letting off some steam through exercise or relaxation can and does avoid a boiling over. Young people and those new to a job often look at seasoned staff who appear to be indifferent at times to clients needs by making them wait or asking them to make an appointment instead of seeing them when they show up. While it can be insensitivity, it can also be a wily veteran knowing that to pace themselves is the best way to ensure that when seeing clients, they give 100%

A Guiding Philosophy

What’s the importance of having a personal philosophy?

A personal philosophy is a brief statement that helps guide the person who has one throughout their life, throughout their day, from one decision to the next, and not only in your professional life, but your personal life as well.

For example, if you believe that the people you work for are your first priority and you’re faced with the dilemma of going for your one hour lunch or helping someone who needs your personal attention, your guiding philosophy will make your decision easier. In this case, you choose to provide the person with your attention, and then adjust your lunch either by shortening it, or speaking with other employees to take your full lunch in a different time slot. This will vary from employer to employer as to what may work in your stituation.

Your philosophy if you live it, will be something others recognize without you necessarily having to voice it either. Not everybody has actually taken the time to put their personal values and beliefs into a nce catchy philosophical statement. Given time though, people can generally tell you what they believe. Most of the time it’s these same people who through long experience, unconciously and conciously behave in ways that are consistant with an interrnal guiding philosophy. It’s so built in and part of them, that the thought of putting it into words is something they have to stop and think about, and will often search for just the right words to accurately express themselves.

Safety is our number one priority. The customer is always right. It’s about the bottom line. What do you believe? What motivates you? What’s important to you in your personal / public life? Answer  some of these questions and you’re on your way to developing your own philosophy.

One of the best things about having a personal philosophy is it helps reduce the stress of being faced with competing solutions to problems. Should I do A or B? What’s my inner voice telling me will sit best with who I am so I make the right decision?

Remember too that your next employer might ask you what your philosophy is at your next interview. If they do….be ready!