Mastery

Have you noticed that every time you go to your bank these days, the faces of the tellers behind the counter are unfamiliar? Every time, new faces. The turnover at banks must be phenomenal. Even baristas and cable installers have more longevity. Probably they get paid more.

The problem with such rapid occupational turnover is that employees don’t remain with one company long enough to really learn their jobs. Which means customers can’t get the service they pay for. Getting what they pay for becomes the customer’s job, rather than the service provider’s, which eventually compels the customer to adopt DIY strategies.

Do any companies reward their employees for superior performance—for mastering a set of tasks? I can’t remember ever working for one that did. Maybe that’s why I appreciate being paid a straight commission now. The more competent and efficient I can become, the higher my compensation should be. No excuses.

Other than self-respect, what incentive for excellent performance does an employee of a big company have?

No wonder it’s become a gig economy.

7 Replies to “Mastery”

  1. What follows is my experience, and my experience only. I’ll probably get jumped for writing about it but since I have little to lose I’ll just bring it to the table.

    My background is in customer service. I’ve taught it, coached it, managed it, followed up on it, rated it, put it in metrics, listened to it, observed it, corrected it, taught it again when it wasn’t learned the first time, commented on it for free on Yelp, etc. I started out learning it in my mother’s business when I was 13, so when I tell employers I have 25 years of experience in it, I’m not kidding.

    I have also worked customer service in a wide variety of fields: agriculture, food service, leather and luggage, books, sporting goods, telecommunications, manufacturing, and facilities management. I have handled customer service in customer-facing, management-reviewed, and management-escalated.

    I have been actively hunting for a job for the last five months and no one has hired me. This would be easier for me to understand if the economy were the factor and everyone I encountered treasured their customers, but I have had to provide my own solution to suggest to the following groups: my doctor’s receptionist in changing an appointment, waiters and waitresses who are out of something, don’t know how to make something, or don’t know how to provide something, baristas who can’t remember what I asked for and won’t clarify (leaving me to watch them work or end up with lactose in my beverage), public transit drivers who drop me farther from my destination than their counterparts on the same route, and staffing agents who don’t know how to research references to the point where I have to set up a conference call between me, the staffing agent, and the reference, with the information in front of the staffing agent.

    Self-respect in my past positions has stemmed from being able to do my job well and from getting feedback that confirmed that. As you can see, I’m no longer in my past jobs, and I probably would have stayed with more feedback. Maybe I didn’t do my job well, but I will never know from my managers. The world being what you describe and I experience tells me that maybe my expectations are entirely too high, even when I balance employee satisfaction with company goals. I don’t know what the answer is, apparently, for I’m not allowed to give it, except on Yelp. I do know what my answer is…I have my hand in the air…and if I ever get called on again, maybe I’ll get to make the world a better place.

  2. I’m embarrassed to say this because I don’t have much of a network to operate on, but the “Contact Us” link on most business websites is where I go first. I don’t do much marketing in the live face-to-face venues due to lack of management (the only manager I’ve encountered on that trick was for a new business in the neighborhood that seemed to be doing everything just fine, but lacking in patrons).
    That’s what I’ve got so far…pointers?

  3. Well, I’m not sure what freelance services you’re offering. The fact that I don’t know should tell you something. (smiling)

    At a minimum, I imagine you’d want to have a website (which could be a blog or even a Facebook page) describing what you do, how much it costs, and how to get in touch with you. It’s a good idea to include on the site plenty of information demonstrating that you know your business. You can offer white papers, informative blogposts, and/or client and employer endorsements. Link to any examples of your freelance work available online. Take a look at your competitors’ websites and see what they include.

    If you already have a website, give me a link here, so I can see what we’re talking about.

    LinkedIn is a good place to network. In addition to completing your profile there, you can join LinkedIn groups engaged in ongoing discussions about your freelance specialty.

    You can join professional associations to expand your network, if the membership fees are reasonable. Sometimes a simple listserv or online group is a good way to make connections with other freelancers who might send work your way when they’re not available to take it.

    Business cards are a must.

    I keep several lists of different types of freelancers, so I can give the lists to people when they’re looking for specific services.

    I’d like to say that the most talented freelancer always gets the gig, but cost is always a factor. That said, you can’t work for nothing, so don’t be tempted to do too much pro bono. Freelancers need to make about twice as much per hour (or work twice as many hours) as their counterparts who are working for companies that provide benefits like health insurance and pension plans. For the same reason, it might not be helpful to bid for jobs online on sites like Craigslist and Elance. If the projects up for bids normally go to the lowest bidders, then freelancers in countries where the cost of living is a lot lower than yours will have a huge advantage. I’m not saying it’s an unfair advantage. It’s merely reality.

    You probably know all of this stuff already. I’ve covered the basics, because I don’t know where you are in this process.

  4. Thank you. This is extremely helpful. As I’ve said, I’ve worked for a lot of companies. That should tell you something as well. :)

    I’m obviously in over my head. A shame, since I have the skills, but I guess I have to start somewhere.

    All I can do is keep trying.

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