Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

What is a “True Believer?”

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I met Zack at an Albertsons. The post explains the rest.

This isn’t about interviewing, although it could’ve been. The subject is probably near and dear to at least 150 million Americans. Maybe next time I’ll talk interviews.

True believers come in many forms. There are religious true believers. Sports true believers. Political true believers. There are true believers in family. True believers in our system of Capitalism. And, there are true believers in the United States of America.

What about employees who are true believers? I’m not talking about employees who are coerced into being true believers at the threat of losing their job if they’re not. And I’m not talking about employees who are the movers who shake everyone below them in an organization either. They can afford to be true believers and cheerleaders if they’re making the big bucks or have been given the power to push other people around.

I’m talking about true believers like Zack. Zack works for Coke, and I took his picture because I noticed something special about him. Look closely. See anything, unique? Zack isn’t a big wig. He didn’t ask me to take his picture. And it was Sunday, so it’s not like he had the luxury I did of being off work. .

What I noticed was that he was wearing shoes that exactly matched the colors in his shirt, the colors of his truck, the colors of every box of Coke product from the Pacific Ocean east to the Sea of Japan. I’ve seen lots of Coke delivery guys. They all wear the shirt but the shoes are always different. I guess Coke lets them pick they’re own shoes for comfort since they’re on all kinds of surfaces, all day long – jumping down, climbing up, huffing and hauling. Issuing shoes is probably an expense the company doesn’t want to have to bear.  Then again, for all I know, they do issue shoes. But this employee chose to pick these shoes for an extra reason.

They’re just shoes, right? Nope. They’re a small, spontaneous expression of loyalty by an employee that is trying to say how much he likes his job. He’s not sucking up to anybody. He’s not trying to get noticed. He’s just telling himself, “I’m in.”

This is the kind of thing every company, every federal agency, every non profit organization is dying to have; employees that care from the bottom up, from the inside out. This is the kind of thing they pay consultants millions of dollars to conduct months long studies to find.

But for many organizations, it’s elusive, like hunting for snipe. For many organizations, it doesn’t seem to exist at all and for some of them, it’s absent for a reason although they just can’t figure out why.  But maybe they should try opening an issue of Forbes, or Inc. or Harvard Business Review or Psychology Today, or practically any business tome between now and the 19th century and they might get a clue.

If bureaucracies beat workers down with policy letters and punitive actions, if they passive aggressively punish passion and initiative, if they use HR like a cudgel to compensate for their managerial cowardice and inadequacy, then they won’t see stuff like this. What they’ll see instead is employees that are “retiring in place.” They’ll see employees who would rather run through the door when their time is up than suffer fake supervisory appreciation that is less felt and more farce.  What they’ll get, year after year, are employee satisfaction surveys that put them squarely below average … surveys that say, they as bosses, suck. And they’ll deserve it.

Because, the thing is, lots of organizations have employees who are true believers.  And they kill them.

Zack is a Coke man down to his kicks. Coke, this is your public face. It got my attention. Whatever you’re doing, keep it up.  I might drink your cola, but I’ll definitely notice your workers.

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Written by Interviewer

March 9, 2013 at 11:55

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