My parents were born in the 1920s. I was raised by two very mature people who had grown up very poor, so my dad had a very strong work ethic and attached very high importance to work. Sunday was for church and family, Saturday night was for play, and the rest of the week was for work. He was not a harsh taskmaster. He just thought, ‘If you've got the ability and you've got a job, wow! You should do something with it – don't take it for granted.’
So I came up in a house where work was seen as something really important, not just something you do to earn a paycheck, but something really special.
When I was six or seven years old I had a vegetable garden at our family house that I worked in with my mom and dad. I sold vegetables in our neighborhood; I had a little red wagon and made the rounds. In high school I had a lawn mowing business … I guess I always had a job.
Then I got out of college and I went to work for a Fortune 500 company. It was really strange, because people asked me to do things that didn't make sense. When I had my own business, I only did things that made sense – I didn't engage in activities that didn't serve my customer needs. Working in a large corporation I was going to all these meetings, attending some training for something I never did, some software system nobody understood why we even had. It was a strange training ground, because I felt like I was learning to do things that served a process, as opposed to the company's purpose.
I've worked for four different corporations. What they all have in common is this propensity to put things in place that take away from people's ability to do something important every day. It's never anyone's intention; it just happens. So I spent the first 20 years of my career learning how to work in these big companies -- navigating the maze -- because I had this sense that's kind of what you do.
But I've always had a passion for asking: how do you make work better? How can you make it so that people's work is not futile – but actually enjoyable! So that you see the result of what you're doing and people are excited to come to work?
I'm no workaholic. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that. I believe in living a full life, but I do believe that if we're going to spend the majority of our waking hours at our job, that job should be awesome.
Here are three things that I think help us do that for people:
Making a contribution: First, I sense that the strongest predictor of a healthy and productive relationship between people, their company and their work is the ability to make progress on something meaningful every day. The thrill of achievement and the sense of accomplishment are really energising to people. If people finish work every day and say, ‘wow, I did something important today. I can see how it helped somebody,’ to me, that's huge.
Opportunities to grow: The second thing is that people want to grow. As humans we have an infinite capacity for learning and it's been my observation over the years that if we don't give people opportunities to challenge themselves and grow at our company, they'll do it somewhere else. I don't mean they'll leave – many people will stay, but they’ll find some other way to grow and learn. If we're really honest, most large companies don't sufficiently challenge people in terms of giving them opportunities to grow. So people become expert chefs or musicians. I'm all for growing somewhere else, too. But it shouldn't be that I go to work to earn a paycheck and I do something else to grow. To me, a fundamental thing we have to offer is big challenges for people that allow them to grow and exercise that uniquely human potential.
A powerful community: The third thing we have to provide, if we really want to be an awesome company – not just another big corporation – is a powerful community. I have found Roche has a very supportive culture; and a supportive culture is necessary, but it's not sufficient. We need a community that also challenges people. I want my colleagues to accept me the way I am, but I also want my colleagues to challenge me to be better. Beyond the acceptance and empathy of a supportive culture, I also want people to come alongside me and say, ‘Hey Bill, you know, you can do better at this. Let's go!’ That's what great communities do.
We all have choices. I'm doing the job I'm doing, and I work at Roche, because this is what motivates me – the opportunity to achieve these three things I described for the people of Roche. If I couldn't do that, or if I didn't think I could make a contribution in that direction, then I would probably do something else.
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