This year has been a learning experience for me on every level. One piece of this experience has been being an employer instead of an employee for the first time in my life. A lot of things remain the same, but in many ways it’s a different point of view. TPM has employed five people on long terms bases and dozens of others for quick jobs and day labor. Especially with the five people who have worked longer periods I have learned a lot about what makes good, bad, and great employees. A great employee is a beautiful thing. Mary and I will both agree that the best employee we have had so far on the garden project – and probably the best we will ever have – is Jonny. Unfortunately for us Jonny had to leave to help his uncle run a hardware store in Kigoma. His presence has been greatly missed, but after a month of searching for a good replacement I have put together a list of what I think makes a truly great employee. I feel lucky to have met Jonny and watched him work because I know these lessons will transfer to work in my own life in years to come. These lessons transcend culture, specific jobs, and pay level and I will always have Jonny in my mind as a role model. Jonny was a quiet, hard worker and I realized I didn’t actually get any good pictures of him. Fortunately he looks almost identical to his mom and all of his brothers and I did get a good picture of his younger brother (left). Just add about 10 years.
One point I think is important to make is that I think there is a difference between someone who would make a good employee and someone who would make a good employer. This isn’t a leader vs. follower thing because good employees lead by example for all the other employees. I also don’t attach any value to employee vs. employer. Both are critical. Any busy professional will tell you that having a good secretary is priceless, but they wouldn’t be a good partner at the firm. Some people can excel in both roles, others do better in one or the other. Both are needed to make the world go round.
So now to my lessons from Jonny:
1. Don’t tell me about your problem, tell me about your solution.
I have often thought that telling my boss about various problems I have identified will make me seem like an alert critical thinker (or something like that). I’m now realizing that, as an employer, my first thought when someone tells me about a problem is usually something like, okay, so why aren’t you doing anything about it? For sure, I’d rather have someone tell me about a problem than just do nothing. But what I would love is for someone to just fix the problem. Jonny was great about this. When he saw something he knew he could fix he just did it without anyone saying anything about it. It’s the kind of thing you don’t fully appreciate until it’s not there. Thus, when I have a boss again I’ll make sure to send them a quick email letting them know what I did, “just to keep them in the loop.”
2. If you have to ask me what to do, you don’t get it.
Again, I always thought asking my boss what I could do would make me look flexible and eager to help. What I’m now realizing is it is just another thing for someone to think about and a diversion from whatever strain of thought they were on. Jonny always knew what he could be doing and was always doing something productive. He knew that if Mary or I needed something specific we would tell him, otherwise he just made sure he was constantly doing something that added value to the project. If you have a good understanding of what’s going on, you will always know something you can do.
3. Get there before the boss.
Maybe not all employers are like this, but I loved that Jonny was always at work before me. It didn’t have to be by much, but even if he was able to achieve just one small task before I arrived it made me feel like we were off to a good start. Even if it’s just five minutes before your boss arrives and all you do is empty the trash can, your boss has no idea if it was five minutes early or an hour and they show up to a workplace that is better than they expected.
4. Trust is invaluable.
Mary and I both felt we could really trust Jonny. We could give him the keys to the shop to open up early, money to purchase supplies, or a list of tasks to do on a day we weren’t around and we knew he would do what was asked with no problems. Having employees you can trust takes so much stress and second guessing out of life. I’m not sure anyone knows the secret to building trust, but if you can build it with your boss you’re instantly more valuable.
So thanks Jonny, And I’m sure my next employer thanks you, too.