I was at a sold-out sporting event recently. The sport, as it turns out, doesn’t matter. Neither does the team. Heck, even the players are unimportant. I learned something great from a woman selling burgers and beer. I was reminded that you don’t need to love your company or its mission to be an incredibly valuable employee. I was also reminded, once again, that our lowest paid staff members are not simply interchangeable parts. Every one of them can make just as big an impact as our highest paid “stars”.
I left my seat during the action to grab a quick bite to eat. All the lines at the closest food stand were about the same length accept one, which was about 50% longer. I jumped into one of the short lines and watched as the longer line moved faster while every person walked away smiling or laughing. I had to change lines.
When I got to the counter a cheerful woman, with smile so genuine it made me smile back, asked what I would like. I ordered my beer and burger and she said something like, “Honey, you’ve gotta get the garlic fries with that.” She then turned around, sang out my order, complimented the person in the next line while she grabbed a drink for the counterperson on her other side.
I asked her if she was tired and she responded that as long as people were in line she didn’t have time for being tired. As it turned out, they were shutting down in ten minutes, as the game would end in about twenty. As we waited for my order, I asked if they got seats for the end of the game. She laughed and told me that she had never watched even part of a game. She didn’t like the sport, didn’t know the players and always left before finding out whether the team won or lost.
Yet, she loved the organization and valued the job she held for the past fifteen years. She looked forward to work every day and made sure that, “those people who pay so much for tickets got their money’s worth when they ordered their food from her.” She meant it. I believed it. Then I walked away with a smile and watched my team win the game.
I am sure away from the game you would have little idea who she worked for. It’s unlikely she comes across as a fan or wears any team clothing other than her work uniform. Here’s the amazing thing. I can’t remember what team was visiting, but I do remember that wonderful employee at the food counter. I am certain there are tons of people like her in jobs everywhere. I know I have met many over the years. It’s unlikely that any compensation program I can design or communicate will ever create another version of her. I can only work to make sure that I never screw up and ruin an attitude like that.
Dan Walter is the President and CEO of Performensation an independent compensation consultant focused on the needs of small and mid-sized public and private companies. Dan’s unique perspective and expertise includes equity compensation, executive compensation, performance-based pay and talent management issues. Dan is a co-author of “The Decision Makers Guide to Equity Compensation”, “If I’d Only Know That”, “GEOnomics 2011” and “Equity Alternatives.” Dan is on the board of the National Center for Employee Ownership, a partner in the ShareComp virtual conferences and the founder of Equity Compensation Experts, a free networking group. Dan is frequently requested as a dynamic and humorous speaker covering compensation and motivation topics. Connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Performensation and @SayOnPay.