THE HAPPY DISHWASHER
Blog article written by Sébastien Sasseville, leadership speaker, author, athlete.
What I’m about to recount took place just before speaking to a group of executives about employee engagement and building strong workplace cultures, unsurprisingly, in connection with current labour shortage issues.
Before giving my speech, I meet a man during the coffee break. He’s a little dishevelled, not very tidy and I would even go so far as to say a bit dirty. He definitely stands out among the delegates in their nice suits. He asks me if I work here, referring to the restaurant we’re in.
“No, I’m here for the conference.”
I’m going to speak to the attendees in a few minutes and I don’t really feel like chatting.
“I see. I do work here. I’m a dishwasher, and I just love my job!”
He’s piqued my interest. Maybe I judged him too quickly. After all, I’m about to give a talk about employee engagement, and he obviously knows a thing or two about that.
“Just out of curiosity, could you tell me why you love your job so much?”
What he says isn’t something that comes from a book about leadership. It’s straight from the heart of the man I now call the happy dishwasher.
“First, my bosses have a vision. They want to open more restaurants, and they do everything in their power to offer their customers quality products. It’s exciting and I want to be a part of that.”
“Plus, they give me the tools I need to do my job well. I got a new machine last week and it washes like nobody’s business!”
“And finally, I feel like I’m growing here.”
Listening to him expand further, I learn that he is well-educated, that he had been successful but had lost everything because of some personal demons. For him, this work was one of the many steps in his journey toward personal reconstruction. He wasn’t focused on his past; he was looking at how far he’d come.
And what’s better, he explains that he knows that he is doing more than simply washing dishes. His work makes meals, business meetings and birthdays better.
“What’s the point of delicious food if it’s served on a dirty plate?!”
The happy dishwasher reminds us that having a ping-pong table in the company cafeteria won’t result in satisfied, productive and loyal employees. Having a vision and well-defined values is a must, but many companies have already outlined these two core elements. The key is to ensure that all team members are committed to making that vision a reality.
In more concrete terms, the key is going above and beyond not simply offering a product or service and focusing on the impact your offer will have. Your impact is your mission, it is the timeless “why” question that should be guiding you. It unites people, fosters engagement and is used to attract and retain staff.
For example, you don’t simply sell coffee; you bring people together. You don’t sell financial services; you help parents secure their children’s future. You’re not just selling a marathon; you’re helping build people’s self-confidence.
The ultimate objective is also the biggest challenge: achieving unanimity between the business’ vision/values and the individuals’. And being sure that employees have the desire to achieve their fullest potential working within this vision and these values, rather than simply trading their time for a paycheque.
I thanked my counterpart for taking the time to talk to me (and enlighten me). I was even tempted to bring him on stage with me so he could tell his story to the audience. For whatever reason, I didn’t dare ask him to do so. After the conference, I told my client the story and he told me it would have been a great idea.