Doing what you are told is the easy part, being willing to understand the reason behind it and consequences of your actions takes a bit more effort and courage.
In what feels like another lifetime, I used to work at a large chain department store. You know the ones, they sell everything from toothpaste to large screen TVs, they are also full of happy smiling people ready to help you with any question you have. And those happy smiling people are nice enough to wear name badges so you know who you are talking to.
In one evolution of our name badges the company decided to include the words ’We Care’. We never really gave it a thought, it was just there. That is until the day I was speaking to one of the managers after we had assisted a customer with an issue they were having. During the conversation the manager asked me if I knew what CARE actually stood for?
I had no idea where it was leading so said no. The response was CARE stands for Cover Arse Remain Employed. Never really thought about it until then, but it does make sense!
For me, the care factor is all about understanding what each task you do actually means, what are the possible consequences of the actions and how it could affect your employment.
But we are just there to do a job, right?
Yes we are, but that doesn’t mean we have no control over how it is done. My two favourite quotes around this theory actually come from very different sources, but I think they fit together quite nicely –
“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking’” – Henry Ford
“There is a difference between orders and purpose” – Lawson (TV character – Angel, Season 5 Episode 13 – Why We Fight)
There are some places where, as an employee, you can always tell when there is going to be a visit from an auditor or even a higher level of management. Not only is everyone on edge, things are being done differently. Everyone is trying to be the best they can be for that day.
But that really isn’t providing a true picture, and it is also not setting a good quality culture. You should be wanting your business to be its best every day. If staff are being asked to cut corners on things like quality and safety issues it won’t be long before your business may not be there. Mr Ford was spot on, just because no one is watching right at that moment doesn’t mean that you put less effort into the role or let things slide because hey, no one will know.
In addition to this, while Lawson may be a fictional character, his response to a soldier being told to not ask questions, he just had to follow orders and the reasons behind those orders were none of his concern, does echo where some employees feel they are.
Ever been asked to do something and ended up thinking it doesn’t feel right? That is your gut instinct kicking in, and it is usually right! Following orders is easy, someone else makes all the decisions. Being willing to understand the purpose of those orders, what it means to you and what the consequences are is what brings your care factor in – you want to make sure that what you are doing is not going to come back on you in a negative way, and more importantly doesn’t compromise the quality or safety of the product or service you are providing.
And a little news flash for you – just because you were following orders doesn’t take away any of your responsibility, regardless of how far up the chain the order came from if you were the one that carried it out then you take on both the responsibility and the consequences of your actions.
Also how do you know that the person giving the order has the authority to do so? Maybe senior management don’t actually know you have been asked to do something that goes against their standards and procedures?
Sometimes people forget that it is ok to ask questions, or feel it is not their place. Asking questions doesn’t mean that you are less intelligent or that you don’t want to do the job, I would say it is actually the opposite – you want to do the job to the best of your ability, you just want to check some details first. If something goes against your training, values or ethical beliefs then you should feel comfortable discussing it, if you can’t it usually says more about their values than yours!
I am not saying that things will always work out sunshine and roses if you ask the questions, as I said it always comes back to the culture of the business. And the CARE factor sometimes doesn’t actually keep you employed, but at least you know that if there is an issue with you wanting to understand the purpose behind your role or task, it is probably not somewhere you want to remain employed!
Two classic examples from my own employment history – I ask questions, it is not only part of what I need to do as an auditor it is also who I am, I am curious by nature and always like to look deeper into things. In one role I was complimented and told they knew they had the right person for the job because not only did I ask questions, I asked the right ones. Flip it around to another role, a casual position, one where my compliance brain wasn’t happy with what I was seeing and being told, so I had a lot of questions about how things were being done. One day at the end of my shift I was called into the office and told that they didn’t really think I was the right fit for what they were looking for.
Questions are not always welcome, but that should never stop you from understanding the reasons behind why you are doing something and feeling that you are able to voice an opinion. Or even being able to say no if you feel the outcome could be dangerous, it isn’t within your authority to complete or sign off on, if it goes against any external standard or regulation or even if it is not in line with your values. You should always CARE and be willing to stand up for good quality and safety practices.