Trudy was no Joe Dimaggio, gifted with amazing talent, but yet she had something in common with Joe D. Trudy, like Joe D, wanted to make sure she provided the best experience---in her own unique way---to shoppers that came to Costco.
Trudy was a middle aged woman who---as far as I could tell---did only two jobs at Costco: Checking Costco membership card when people entered the store and checking receipts when people exited the store. This sounds like a very simple job that anyone could do without requiring much education or experience. In a sense you can't get a job that is more commoditized than what Trudy was doing..
Then why do most people I talk to a year after she retired still remember her? Trudy was simply different. If she were like other Costco employees, I would not take time to write about her. She taught me something very interesting that we can all learn from: She provided a unique experience that cheered you up with her personality and the custom head gear she made it herself to fit an occasion. She stood out. You may not talk to her, but you rarely failed to notice her and sometimes even talk about her.
We all covet high paying job for all its benefits such as power, money, and autonomy. But it's a long path to get near the top of any organization, and when you get there you still have to serve somebody and be unique. We should never let any job (no matter how high or low) become just a job. If it becomes that than others can easily copy it and replace you. Why expose yourself? The only insurance we have to immunize us is by being differrent in providing unique experience to people. This belongs to only you and no one else can do it like you.
Jesse Jackson, Civil Rights Activist and a Baptist preacher, once said that just because you are born in the slum does not mean that the slum is born in you. Similarly, Just because a job is deemed low-level and unsophisticated does not mean you can't provide high-level, memorable customer experience. Providing a memorable experience has nothing to with the job level grade; it has a lot to do with initiative, creativity and passion you bring to the job. If you do this, then you are no longer a commodity. You become memorable. You become indispensable.
People do all kinds of crazy things to be memorable at work. Some, unfortunately, in a bad ways like that soccer player (Luis Suarez) from Uruguay who bit an Italian player at the World Cup. He was different but he also hurt his team from advancing. But I am talking about being memorable in a good way that helps the company you work for in a way they had very little to do with. This is your value add that belongs to you.
There are so many people that did what Trudy did at Costco, so why do I only know Trudy?
Others all did this job real well but I don't know their names.
They just did their job, whereas Trudy provided a unique experience. I have no way of knowing whether she was a good performer according to Costco's metrics, but as far as my metric is concerned, she was a stellar employee.
Trudy did one thing that differentiated her from others. Trudy created amazing experiences for the patrons of Costco with her amazing, colorful, custom made head gear for a particular occasion. For Thanksgiving she would have a turkey head gear; for the earth day, she would have a garden head gear, etc. It was always interesting to take a few seconds when you entered the store to try to guess what occasion was coming based on Trudy's head gear.
One day I stopped and talked to Trudy when the crowd was light and she explained that she does this as part of her hobby. And she was planning to retire soon and go into a business of making these head gears since a lot of people have been asking about it. Trudy turned an ordinary job into something memorable.
Seth Godin (author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker) makes a very good point in his book "Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?" on why some people can take an ordinary job and make it very special. He writes that you get paid to do your job and add value in your unique way, but also "your job is also a platform for generosity, for expression, for art. Every interaction you have with a coworker or customer is an opportunity to practice the art of interaction." When I read this, I immediately thought of Trudy and others who don't just do a job and even add value, but create memorable experience such that you think that is what they are hired to do, like they were at Disney.
The question we all must ask is what are we doing that is memorable to our colleagues, boss, partners, customers, etc.? Do we even think of being an "experience manager" or just do our job exactly like we are told? Are we reluctant to since we just don't like taking risks?
Well, today everyone's job is commoditized due to cheap labor, outsourcing and automation. The only thing that others can not copy is the unique experience you can provide. This is what Seth Godin calls in "Linchpin" as your art. Trudy's art as Godin would say was "the engagement with each person, a chance to change her outlook or brighten his day. Not everyone can do this, and many who can, choose not to."
The biggest risk you take as an employee is by working harder to be a little better. The problem is that customers don't notice when you are little better; they notice when you are different. Being better is a table stakes that may buy you some time today, but being different in creating memorable experience makes you special; it makes you indispensable; it makes you highly marketable; it makes you employable till whenever you decide to retire, if ever since you enjoy what you do. It is more than a job to you; it is your calling.