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Success tip: Do the job you were hired to do, as well as possible

Posted 4 April 2015. Video recorded 13 February 2015.

As with many success tips, the advice to “Do the job you were hired to do, as well as possible” may appear incredibly trite. However my experience is that many people fail to follow it.

How many people go wrong

There are two basic ways of going wrong in a job, beyond the obvious one of not doing the job at all due to laziness or going "Absent without leave (AWOL)."

Trying to perform a different role, because the engaged role appears too mundane

Especially in the early part of one’s career, many tasks may appear too mundane for the education and skills that you possess. However if you start performing a different task because you find that more interesting, you will not be performing the job that you were engaged for. That is not the way to impress your boss.

This can be illustrated by the role of being Master of Ceremonies (MC) at political events. Most people who go into politics like making speeches. However the role of an MC is to introduce the speakers, and to get them to stop on time. It is not the MC's role to make speeches.

When the MC decides to make his own speeches, it is very frustrating for the event organiser. More importantly, it is frustrating for the audience, who have come to hear the event's named speakers, not the MC.

Switching off your brain because the task is too mundane

The other temptation with a mundane task is to do the bare minimum to satisfy your boss, and without the active application of thought.

The reality is that any task is capable of being performed well, badly, or “just average.” A good example is the task of putting paper onto files in a professional services firm. (Today most filing is electronic, but the examples below date from some time ago!)

I would like to illustrate this with two examples of the apparently mundane task of filing being done exceptionally well:

My undertaking some filing at Arthur Andersen

About 35 years ago, I was a qualified chartered accountant and qualified tax advisor working at Arthur Andersen. My largest client group consisted of the UK subsidiaries of a large US multinational.

I decided that the structure of the existing files was unsatisfactory, and “got my hands dirty” by reorganising the files completely, splitting the existing files into more logical groupings and moving the papers from the old files to the new. I did this task myself because it needed the application of my professional tax knowledge to decide where each item of filing should go in the new system.

The partner for that client was delighted with the end result.

The performance of a file clerk I hired at Price Waterhouse

In the early 1990’s due to the recession many graduates had difficulty finding good jobs. At Price Waterhouse, one of my roles was partner in charge of the personal tax department. We need a new file clerk and advertised. I was intrigued by the CV of one of the applicants, as he had a good honours degree in philosophy from Manchester University so I invited him to come for an interview.

In the interview, my key question was "Why with an honours degree in philosophy are you applying for a job as a file clerk?" The candidate explained that due to the recession, he had found getting an appropriate job impossible. Instead, he had taken a series of temporary clerical roles in offices of various kinds, but nothing that offered a career path. His reason for applying for the file clerk job was that if he could get a permanent position with Price Waterhouse, even as a file clerk, he would eventually be able to move upwards.

I explained that given the way Price Waterhouse handled its recruitment, I would not be able to get him onto the chartered accountancy training route no matter how well he performed as a file clerk. However I would be able to transfer him to being a trainee member of the professional staff in the personal tax department, studying for the Chartered Institute of Taxation examinations. (I had previously confirmed this with Human Resources!)

The deal was that he had to perform well as a file clerk.

He did that job for six months, and was the best file clerk I have ever seen, proving that any job can be performed better if the person carrying it out is intelligent and highly motivated. I kept my undertaking about a transfer to the professional staff, and the individual concerned is today a tax partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers specialising in international corporate tax.

The trigger for writing this page

Everything I write on this website has some kind of specific trigger that prompted me to write it.

Video of a Conservative Muslim Forum event

In this case the trigger was receiving the video lower down on this page which records an event organised by the Conservative Muslim Forum which I chair.

The speakers were:

  1. Salah Al-Ansari, Visiting Lecturer in Islamic Studies at Heythrop College, University of London giving the recitation from Quran 42:36-38.
  2. Syed Kamall MEP
  3. David Burrowes MP
  4. Councillor Peter Fleming
  5. Cllr Halimah Khaled

I recommend finding the hour it takes to watch the video. The speakers make some very good points.

Syed Kamall MEP speaks movingly of the way his parents had instilled a belief in him that in this country he could achieve anything he wanted if he worked hard. Syed goes on to explain his challenging road to becoming an MEP (Member of the European Parliament), and his present role as Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists, which is the third largest group in the European Parliament. He is the only individual from an ethnic minority to chair a group within the European Parliament.

The next speaker is David Burrowes MP. Until the dissolution of Parliament, he was the Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate, the constituency in which the venue is located. He speaks about how much the Conservative Party, and indeed other political parties, welcome people from all ethnic and religious backgrounds who want to make a difference in their local communities.

Councillor Peter Fleming from Sevenoaks Council (he was the Council Leader 2011-2015) speaks in more detail about the role of a local councillor and the impact one can have.

The final speaker Cllr Halimah Khaled of Broxtowe District Council is perhaps the most moving of all the speakers. After explaining how she is the only Muslim woman on the Council, she gives a special example of the things she has been able to do for her constituents. An elderly constituent was dying of a terminal illness, and his greatest concern was to get a disabled parking badge which his widow would need after his death. Cllr Khaled was able to expedite that.

Why the video is relevant to this page

My role at the event was the relatively mundane one of being the MC. While I like giving speeches, the MC role required me to not do so.

However the role of MC can be performed better if you use the very limited time that the MC has to speak to convey messages which are consistent with the purpose of the event and with what the speakers themselves are saying.

I recommend watching the video and in particular observing how briefly I speak as MC but how I use that limited time to give some additional messages. I do this without deviating from my assigned MC role of introducing the speakers and handling the transitions between them.

If you wish the time control can be used to go to those precise points, which are listed below:


What I was required to do

The extra point I manage to make


Provide the English translation of the Quran reading.

Connect the Quran text “take counsel among themselves”, “Shura” in Arabic, to modern democracy.


Thank the mosque for hosting us.

Stress that although the speakers were all Conservatives, the event was politically neutral and that the mosque was doing no more for us than it would do for any other mainstream political party. Also I conveyed my view that Muslims in Britain have both rights and responsibilities.


Introduce Syed Kamall MEP

Nothing added.


Thank Syed Kamall and introduce David Burrowes MP

Illustrate Syed’s point “There is no limit to what you can achieve” by very briefly mentioning my own journey from having poor and illiterate parents to attending Cambridge University and becoming a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Remind the audience that David Burrowes was the MP for every single one of his constituents, regardless of how they voted. Link from David’s chairmanship of the Conservative Christian Fellowship to remind the audience that non-Muslims can, and do, join the Conservative Muslim Forum.


Introduce Cllr Peter Fleming

Nothing added.


Introduce Cllr Halimah Khaled

Nothing added.



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