Wait, My Boss Wants Me to Do What?!

I hate making copies!I was sitting in a meeting today and the subject of service-level agreements came up. I’d heard about service-level agreements before. When I worked in a production department, I’d been briefed on what type of service our customers were expecting: so many days to complete a project at a certain level of quality, using certain words in any outward-facing messaging. These were contractual, legally-binding agreements that our company had agreed to fill. Sounded reasonable enough to me. When I choose overnight shipping from the postal-service, I expect to receive my package the next day, undamaged–not whenever the shipping clerk, package handlers and delivery drivers decide to deliver it, half-opened and smashed.

However, what interested me about this particular discussion of service-level agreements was that we were discussing defining and implementing service-level agreements between internal departments—essentially making a contract between each department and employee outlining what services, projects, problems a specific team covered; the process for interdepartmental communication; and to what degree each department will handle said services, projects, or problems.

What a novel idea! Make expectations clear so that everyone understands what role they play in the company.

It seems like common sense, but it amazes me at how many companies fail to set even basic boundaries and expectations for each of its employees.

This method of setting clear expectations and then training people on how to meet those expectations has been put into practice with very successful results. At Webster Elementary in San Diego, principal Jennifer White was appalled at the violence, suspensions, and absenteeism occurring at the school when she arrived in 2000. By implementing a program that actively taught students proper student behavior, principal White turned the school into a happy, thriving learning environment.

Building on Buguey’s initial efforts to improve discipline, Jennifer White and her teachers crafted the Webster Way, which teaches “scholarly behaviors” such as eye contact, cleaning up your trash, and greeting teachers by name. Such skills are usually expected but not actively taught, White said…

It sounds elementary, and hardly radical. Yet the results have been dramatic. Webster has seen suspensions plummet and test scores surge since instilling the Webster Way. Only 10 students were suspended last year. Test scores ranked Webster in the top echelon of demographically similar schools statewide.

“Schools assume that a student will come in, and just know what to do,” school psychologist Steve Franklin said. “At Webster, teaching a student how to be a student is really important. We don’t expect them to already know how to read, to do math or write. So why aren’t we teaching these things, too?”

I often hear a lot of griping about how young workers are “incompetent” and “don’t know how to do even basic things.” Frankly, I don’t know too many universities that offer classes on how to work a fax machine, operate an espresso machine, or how to make 2-sided copies collated and stapled. Companies just assume that since you’re over 18, you must know how to do those things.

I doubt that most baby boomers entered their first jobs knowing anything more than how to answer a phone and type on a typewriter. As newer technologies were introduced, they were probably given formal training by their employers on how to use that new technology since, obviously, no one had ever used it before. Now, however, faxes, copiers, and multi-line phones are staples in most offices and very few companies take the time to train new employees on how to use them.

I’m not arguing that we need better training on office technology (although most people do), but rather that by combining a clear set of job expectations (it’s Suzie’s job to make copies, Rob’s to deliver the CEO’s daily latte) and giving each person the right training and tools to do their job successfully (Suzie spends an hour reading through the copier manual, Rob is shown how to grind the coffee beans and gently stir in 1% skim milk), employees will be happier, confident, and more productive since they know exactly what is expected of them, how to accomplish it, and don’t spend wasted time and energy squabbling over who jammed the copy machine or forgot to put the coffee filter in the machine.

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3 responses »

  1. I agree 100%. I love knowing what’s expected of me in a job.

    When my wife first started her job at a law firm, she asked her boss to go to the bathroom. That’s actually expected at some pizza shops, but it is funny at a law firm.

    My favorite part of the article is the suggestion that one learn how to operate an expresso machine at college. Yes! If I learned one useful thing in college this would have been it. Also, putting “company expresso” machine as a must have is also a sign of things to come. I am usually against all forms of technology, but I break this rule when it comes to automated expresso!

  2. I have heard the term service level agreement from working in call centers. I do think it’s good to know what is expected and I think employers should be hontest about what they expect and not mislead employees.

  3. employers, for the most part, expect a certain level of competence and initiative, and a pro-active mindset when they hire someone…as opposed to employees they have to teach step by step…if you find an employer who simply wants you to be a yes-man and not use your brain, it may not be a great place to be…

    to put yourself in a good situation, prospective employees should seek out the information you talk about, at least at a high level, during the interview process to ensure they are capable and interested in the realities of the opportunity v. the generic job description…

    as you negotiate (yes employers expect candidates to negotiate) your employment agreement you should attain as much detail regarding what is expected of you, how it will be measured, when it will be measured, and what can be expected based on a range of results…before day 1 you should know what the critical success factors are for doing well in your job…

    within 30 days of starting the job you and your boss should finalize detailed objectives sometimes referred to as SMART objectives and timelines for review…keep a spreadsheet of all your accomplishments, keep any emails that praise your work – these things prove your value come review time and 3-6 months out you may forget them so keep notes

    if you are in a position that doesn’t have detailed guidelines, training or SLA’s (most internal positions won’t have SLA’s as the resources to develop, communicate & maintain at a contractual level are cost prohibitive), don’t blame it on your employer…take the initiative to develop a draft for your team – get input from the team and explain why your doing it – in the process seek to improve the process, streamline it, and prove your value…again, during review time this will show you are pro-active and went beyond what was expected…

    ps: none of this was learned in a classroom, but try them…

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