How to Like Your Job Or Be a Better Manager: Book Review of The Three Signs of a Miserable Job

Thanks to the glorious public library, I recently finished The Three Signs of a Miserable Job. The book should really be a pamphlet, and the title should be “3 Things That Make People Do Good Work.” The ideas are that simple, and the majority of the book is that fluffy. I found the fable Lencioni uses to convey the ideas long-winded and cutesy, but I’ve also experienced good management, so maybe for neophytes it’s a good way to grasp the ideas.

Without further ado, here are the 3 things:

1. Know the people you work with.

The book calls this the problem of “anonymity” and suggests managers ask, “Do I really know my people? Their interests? How they spend their spare time? Where they are in their lives?”

It’s not just about knowing work-y things about each other; on the contrary, actually it’s the non-work things that are most important. Knowing what makes someone tick, what makes them excited or worried – those are the things that help you navigate the relationship, that help you conspire to work better, to produce better results. It’s knowing the person’s other commitments, being understanding and supportive of them, making a connection beyond the workplace, so you can communicate better.

I’m not suggesting managers start watching the same TV shows as their employees, or following them to the gym. Rather, finding some commonality to talk about makes work more pleasant for everyone, especially if the commonality is something deeper than a favorite sports team. Even if there’s nothing in common between you, knowing how the other person is doing, showing that you care about them as a person, that helps build empathy and trust, which makes someone be a better worker.

2. Know why your work matters.

The book calls this the problem of “irrelevance” and suggests managers ask, “Do  my employees know who their work impacts, and how?”

Sometimes it’s easy to see why the work matters. When I was a camp counselor, when I was a teacher, whenever I was around young people, I thought I had the most important job in the world. Maybe because that is the most important job in the world. Or maybe I just always think that my work is important.

Not everyone has that luxury. It’s pretty basic though: why does your work matter? Maybe it’s not so dramatic as saving someone from a fire or doing surgery. Life isn’t all made up of big events like that. It’s the simple acts, of repeatedly making someone else’s work easier, of brightening someone’s day, of teaching someone a skill over time. Creating meaning, sometimes out of very little things.

3. Know how to evaluate your work.

The book calls this the problem of “immeasurement” and suggests managers ask, “Do  my employees know how to assess their own progress or success?”

“Immeasurement” is not a word, obvi. If it were though, lots of professors might use it to describe two common problems among research students: how are you measuring and is that a good measure?

Hint: productivity isn’t related to meetings. It’s about deciding what best reflects what you’re doing day-to-day, counting it and reflecting about the numbers. If you’re a server in the restaurant business, it might be as obvious as tips and the time it takes to turn around a table. Not everything is so easy to quantify though. And I’m a mixed-methods devotee anyway. You have to pick a variable that makes sense for the work you do. One you can define and count by yourself.


In summary: No need to read the book. If you want people to do good work, you have to know them, care about them, show them why they matter and help them measure, on their own, how they’re doing.


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