As someone who is continually looking at numbers, specs, contracts, prospectuses, etc, it is easy to forget about the people who buy our products. Focusing singularly on the technical aspects of one’s job tends to create a clinical environment. Somewhere in the discussion of “ROI”, “pattern of cash flows”, “interest rate sensitivity” and “asset/liability matching” we lose touch with our emotions.
I’ve written about the importance of feeling something at work and how I believe it’s important to be “emotional” – even – no, especially – when you work in a technical field. Being “emotional” has a negative connotation, but I believe being an “emotional” employee will help you to become more engaged and innovative.
Your company exists because of its customers. Customers are the reason that any business exists. And spreadsheets, contracts, processes, KPI targets all serve as a buffer from the messiness of people’s lives. But why is it that we create, or allow this separation?
I believe this separation mindset was made popular during the industrial revolution, where management believed that employees were interchangeable parts. Managers only cared about the work force being as efficient as possible and most workers were happy to have a job that paid them much more than they could have made farming or continuing the family craft. Empathizing with the customers didn’t seem necessary.
But as we have moved from an industrialist society to a post-industrialist connection economy, empathy and connections matter. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t care if their work has impact.
Isn’t it time to change how we view our work?
Part of my personal journey involves a transformation of a worker who lacked empathy, to one who saw the life changing impact of knowing the customer intimately. Here are a couple of huge benefits of being closer connected to your customers:
- Better engagement – most workers net worth does not increase $1MM for every $1 increase in the stock price. Your record quarter doesn’t mean much to 95% of the company. What matters are the lives that you are able to impact through your work.
- Innovation – the magic of design thinking depends upon empathy. When I truly feel what it is like to have a particular problem, I see the real needs. The real problem. And I will develop more innovative solutions.
So, why aren’t more workers connected to the customers? I think the language we use plays a large part in removing the emotion from work. Here is an example from the actuarial field:
This symbol stands for “the probability that a life aged 33 will not be living at the end of 15 years.” In other words, what are the chances that a guy aged 33, would die before 48? We would run a model and I could tell you that out of a 1000 lives, 21.297 people are not alive at the end of the 15 years.
While this may be technically accurate, it misses all the emotion. What if you thought of this symbol standing for:
- A father not being there to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day
- A mother not being there to see her son graduate high school
- A middle school aged girl who isn’t sure who will take her to a father-daughter dance
How much more motivating and rich would your work become if you felt more connected to the impact your business has on its customers? Start by imaging the peoples lives that are represented by the spreadsheet. Your customers are more than just points in a model or a series of cashflows. They are real people.
There’s nothing wrong with using technical language to describe a calculation, or spending time in a spreadsheet. But don’t lose sight of your customers. Literally. Place their pictures on your walls, know their stories, go and talk to them.
You’ll find yourself more engaged and you’ll find yourself thinking more creatively about solving their problems.