When asked what you do, don’t forget the “why”

by

Why

I’ve been asked this question countless times over the course of my career.  Whether it’s on a phone call, at a dinner party, or while meeting someone new at a networking event, the question of “what do you do?” is inevitable.

So, how do you answer this question?  I have personally refined my response quite a bit over the years and now being with Thought Ensemble I believe I have a quick, concise and concrete “elevator pitch” version of my response.  It’s about motivation.  When you know what you do, it’s great because you can explain it to others, but when you know why you do what you do it tells others a lot more about who you are.  Just after graduating from college I was presented with an opportunity to manage a group of engineering and fabrication technicians at TYCO Healthcare.  Being an engineer, it was a great opportunity and a chance to work with some really interesting people.

The group was very skilled, but was having ongoing quality issues with their products that needed to be addressed.  I called everyone together and started a dialogue by trying to be inspirational.  Well, a 22-year-old boss sometimes sounds more naive than inspirational, no matter the intent.  So, quickly course correcting, I picked one of the more senior technicians and asked her “Why do you work here?”  Her response, and I recall it vividly, was “Because I have to work.”  I said, “Okay, well, let me present you with a hypothetical situation (mind you, as I have progressed, I’m certain I may have set myself up for a conversation with HR, but it all worked out and that did not happen!).  Imagine that you or a close family member or friend had a health concern, which placed them in a medical facility.  Now, if that individual needed breathing support and was hooked up to one of our devices what would your initial reaction be? Would it be a reaction of confidence knowing that you work here and knowing that it’s a good product or would you be scared as you’re unsure if it will read and respond correctly because of its quality?”  She answered with just a blank face and a look of “Oh my goodness – I’ve never thought about it that way”.  She followed by saying, “Not even if it were someone I knew, but even for a stranger you would never want them to have that product fail while in use in that situation.”

Not only her, but most of her fellow co-workers had an epiphany that day – “I work because I have to work, but I work here because I want to help save lives and provide products to help doctors do just that”.  Mind you, that didn’t solve all of the quality problems, but it solved some major issues and definitely improved the overall moral and productivity.

So, with that, have your elevator speech ready, but make sure you know why you do what you do, as it will be apparent that there is a lack of passion if you don’t…

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