Your First Serve

When it comes to work, how conservative do you think you are? Do you work on your ideas and proposals, and develop concepts that are certain to be accepted, or do you go a little bit further and bring ideas to the discussion that will help people stretch?

Most importantly, do you bring your clients your best serve first, in an effort to just “Wow” them with your service, or are you satisfied to meet their needs reliably without fail?

One of the best features of tennis, in my opinion, is the idea that a player has two attempts to put the ball in play at the start of a point. When all the mechanics are just right, she can hit the ball so perfectly that the player on the other side might not even react or try. They were beat by the speed and accuracy of that first serve. A player can use a lot of energy in a match trying to make that first service ace, but you always win the point when the other player makes no return. So it’s worth it.

At work, at least in my experience, every time my customer asks for help is an opportunity to serve an ace. The challenge I find is that sometimes I need to serve something other than what they are expecting.

Frequently leaders turn to HR folks with solutions they want them to implement, or with a request based on a conclusion they have made. A manager makes an observation about an employee, and asks HR to confirm their suspicion about that person (which could be good or bad). You might get asked to look into an employee’s record and see if there is a pattern of a particular behavior. Or a team leader has heard about a safety incentive program that he thinks will work on his team, and he wants the HR group to arrange for bringing the supplier in to talk about it.

When we listen to these types of instructions from our customers, we need to be thinking about the question behind the question, what the customer needs. Sometimes, following their instruction or request is exactly the right thing to do. Other times, we might want to spend a little time getting more detail and offering a solution or course of action that meets the real need, not just the perceived need.

It can take a lot of courage to propose alternatives to a strong leader who asked for something specific. But when you do your job well, and you know there is better potential in other solutions, you owe it to that leader to at least bring awareness to the choices.

That first serve lets people know that you are there to play seriously, not just be the ball boy. Get in there, focus on the mechanics, and show ‘em what you got!


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