The worst job I ever had was working for my own company. But it was also one of the most insightful and helpful experiences I’ve ever had as a business owner. Let me explain.
Most entrepreneurs will end up working dozens of jobs within their own business. But as our companies begin to grow, we usually shed or outsource the jobs we don’t want to do as soon as we can.
It may sound strange, but as the head of a video production company, operating the camera is one of my least favorite things to do. I only ever did it to save money (camera operators were one of our most expensive roles to fill), so, as soon as we had enough cash, I left that post and never looked back.
Recently, though, I returned to the role during our busy season. Working as a camera operator at a figure skating competition, and spending five 14-hour days inside a freezing cold ice rink was grueling.
Two hours into the job, I was ready to quit. My coffee chilled completely in under two minutes. My fingers were numb. My feet hurt. I didn’t have time to eat all day. And while adrenaline kept me going, I couldn’t help but feel guilty for the dozens of other people that had endured the same job under my lead.
Have you ever seen the TV show Undercover Boss? CEOs of huge companies work in disguise amongst their employees to get the same sort of revelations that I was experiencing. In a large company, a field employee may have no idea who the people at the top of the organization are, but in a small company that’s pretty unlikely. In my case, however, we hired subcontract camera operators to work events for us around the country, and I had no direct relationship with them, so to them I was just another hired hand.
I saw how difficult it was to assemble a camera from the assortment of bags and bins that shipped with the production. I understood the frustrations of the customers as they waited for footage to process after the event ended. I saw the exhaustion that the rest of the crew faced.
The candid feedback from my employees and the things I experienced working as a camera operator made me realize that, by avoiding the role, I had fallen out of touch with the demands of the position. I wasn’t as adept at spotting ways to make the work more enjoyable for my employees, more efficient for my clients, or even more cost effective for the business. The experience led to a lot of positive change in my company.
For instance, we revamped everything a camera operator needed into one single box, and included laminated setup instructions. We purchased hardware encoders that processed footage live, cutting our turnaround time from about 60 minutes to under 10 minutes. We invested in logo fleece jackets, and bought hand-warmers in bulk to make the temperatures more tolerable.
As entrepreneurs, we’re hardwired to solve problems—your company probably started as a result of one that you found. But as you remove yourself from the direct source of those problems, you lose the ability to quickly adapt as those problems evolve, or new ones arise.
Even though the worst job I ever had was working for my own company, it was a powerful experience that I would recommend to every business owner. Take the time to work in different roles within your company. Answer the phones, deal directly with clients, make deliveries... Your company, your employees, and maybe even your bottom line, will be better for it.
Chris Ronzio helps entrepreneurs organize chaos and get things done. Download a free copy of his latest ebook, 100 Productivity Hacks to Improve Your Business, here.