I think about Jim every labor day. Of the hundreds of people in our organization, few earned less money, while adding more value.
Jim never closed a sale. He never answered a customer call or responded to an email. His office didn’t have a window. When he retired, the institution barely recognized his decades of service. Few took the time to memorize his name. Yet, Jim probably knew more about us than any of our colleagues or bosses. He said little, listened a lot and greased the skids that helped us generate over a billion dollars in revenue.
Jim was the maintenance guy. What we used to call a “janitor.” Five days a week, he showed up at three and went home at eleven. He emptied several hundred wastebaskets, schlepped broken-down shipping boxes to the recycle bin, vacuumed twenty-five thousand square feet of carpet and cleaned six multi-stall bathrooms. When something broke, Jim knew the fastest way to get it fixed, sometimes bypassing our bloated bureaucracy to contact, “I guy I know,” in some other department who could get the job done.
Every time we celebrated a victory, I made sure Jim came to the party. If there were team plaques or mementos distributed for achievement, Jim got one.
He never said much, usually a simple thank-you with an accompanying smile and a thumb touching the bill of his ever present baseball cap, before excusing himself to “get back to work.”
I’ve had Jim’s at every stop along my career path; men and women at every level of the organization who I counted on as competent contributors. A few surprised me with resumes that included advanced degrees, even successful entrepreneurship. Yet they discovered their center in creating a safe, clean environment, the foundational requirement of every worthy workplace.
Jim’s are easy to take for granted. We pay them just enough to keep them from quitting. They are among the first to endure cost cutting measures and the last to benefit from a good financial year. Their tasks are often considered commodities. When they are gone, we instantly feel their absense.
No business can succeed without their contributions.
As I look around my own work-space, I realize that everything from the tools I, to the pictures on the walls has a Jim in its bloodline. The gaffers and grips who get a tiny credit at the far end of a hit film, the invisible machinist who fashions the tiny screws that fit perfectly in technology’s tightest spaces, skilled nurses who know more about a patient than the doctors, the teachers who partner with us to teach our children, the excellent leadership who helps foster winning workplace cultures; every process has it’s crucial tasks. And labor is essential to accomplishment. We celebrate the dreamers, risk-takers and big names. Teams with Jim’s on them make up the shoulders on which the famous ride. As we’ve scene during the pandemic, our world gets inconvenient very fast without them.
This Labor Day week, keep an eye out for Jim. Both male and female versions can be found everywhere. If you’re up for a little bit of extroversion, tell him or her how much you appreciate their contributions.