Article Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed

4 Lessons Every Executive Can Learn from Hourly Workers

Nov. 14, 2017 Entrepreneur

My technology career began at an unconventional incubator — the Brewhouse Grill in Hermosa Beach, Calif. Fresh out of college, I worked there as a waitress. And while that profession may seem far removed from my present career as a tech executive, I consistently draw upon the experiences and lessons of that first job.

In fact, I’m now chief operating executive of Snagajob, the nation’s largest marketplace connecting hourly workers and employers in the service industry. And, recently, in honor of Employee Appreciation Day, we strove to expand our company leadership’s internal and professional boundaries by having these leaders walk in the shoes of our customers for a day.

That’s right: Our executive team literally stepped out of our executive roles and into the hourly workforce outside our company (a different spin from Undercover Boss). In our ongoing effort to build meaningful experiences for hourly employees by understanding our customers, we took on hourly shifts right alongside them. Each of us chose a local employer that most resembled the first job each of us had had in order to reconnect — and in some cases relearn — a position that shaped us as people.

That’s how our CEO flipped burgers at a local Five Guys.  I, meanwhile, joined the team at the restaurant/pub chain The Greene Turtle as a bartender and server. I was curious to see if I still had what it takes to keep up with the fast-paced world of restaurant work, and how my experience as a technology executive might help me rise to that challenge.

Instead, I found it was the other way around: Over the course of my shift, I learned exactly how being an hourly worker and waitress prepared me to be a successful product manager and company leader. Here are four key lessons every executive can learn from hourly work and take back to his or her corner office.

1. Get into your customer’s head — and shoes.

I walked into The Greene Turtle a little intimidated by what looked like a pretty packed house, only to learn from my new co-workers that this was nothing compared to when sports events are on. During my shift, I experienced what motivates, frustrates and inspires our core customer, the hourly worker.

My favorite part was getting to connect with each employee and learn about who they were — a full-time student working to complete his business degree, and a mother working to support her 5-year-old daughter. Through their stories, I was able to see firsthand how these people approached their hourly job, what they got from the experience and how they handled challenges. This learning reinforced my own day-to-day mission: to create seamless technology that puts people into the right-fit positions so they can maximize their potential and lead more fulfilling lives.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the needs and behaviors of our customers — the hourly workers and employers who use our software and online platforms. But I rarely have the chance to live their experience, and I was reminded just how important this kind of regular connection is with our customers.

2. Hospitality is important in all aspects of business.

While the “hospitality” industry is a clearly defined sector, my shift at The Greene Turtle illustrated how hospitality underlines all industries. The staff were generous with their time and expertise, training and guiding me through every step of my hourly shift. Even as the line at the bar stretched longer and the customers’ demands grew louder, my crew helped keep me calm under the pressure.

This particular team had a strong rapport with one another, and their warm, welcoming attitude radiated in their interactions both with each other and with their customers — even the demanding ones. Every minute, each team member skillfully observed the restaurant to see if a customer or fellow worker might need special attention — a top hospitality sector skill which optimizes the dining experience for customers, creates a safer environment for workers and vastly improves efficiency.

The conscientious care that The Greene Turtle staff brought to their jobs was incredibly valuable — and transferable — to any sector and across business settings. I returned to my office the next day vowing to bring that same focus on hospitality into my own workplace. Do my product team members have everything they need to succeed? Am I doing everything I can to show my appreciation for my employees, both individually and as a team? Do I offer enough personal training and guidance?

3. Hourly work is hard work.

Hourly work, whether it involves pouring beers as a bartender or driving for Lyft, takes concentration, dedication and skill. I was embarrassed to discover on my shift that, despite my past experience as a waitress, I struggled to properly pour a beer.  As my overly-foamed pint illustrated, restaurant work requires intense concentration, attention to detail and patience.

The hundreds of tasks I saw hourly workers perform simultaneously renewed my appreciation for the collaborative multitasking required of us in all of our jobs. Serving in a restaurant is at its core a human interaction, and the last thing we want technology to do is get in the way of people connecting with one other. Back in my own office, I thought about how I could better guide and encourage collaboration among our engineers and designers as they create new features and products that enhance and simplify our customers’ lives.

Read More on Entrepreneur

Gene Upshaw Player Assistance Trust Fund

Apply Today

All Resources

Tell Me More

How Kevin Hart Went From Being a Comedian to the Guy Who Owns Comedy

It’s what you don’t see that drives Hart’s success.

Read More

How to Actually Start the Task You’ve Been Avoiding

The trick is finding a way to get started. Here’s how.

Read More

What Do NFL Players Do When They Leave the Game? Increasingly, They Open a Franchise. Here's Why.

While certainly not the only option, you may find success down this path.

Read More

Remaining Objective Is Hard, But the Best Leaders Figure Out How to Do It

Read More

Hiding My Depression Almost Destroyed My Job

Help end the stigma: Let’s talk about mental health.

Read More

How to Stay Fit After 40

Listening to your body is very important.

Read More

5 Steps to Successful Budgeting

When was the last time you adjusted your budget?

Read More

The Science of Teamwork

The right mindset is important for team-based success.

Read More