Dec. 29 2006 11:58 AM

Willie was an employee in Document Technology and Delivery, a department I managed for State Street Corporation in Boston. Working in the Output Control Unit, Willie was responsible for breaking down print jobs from the print room, performing quality checks and preparing the documents for the next step in the process. Willie had also taken some Microsoft Access classes and had backed up a more senior member of his unit. However, it was a mundane job, and Willie received average ratings from his manager and senior manager. I hadn't seen anything in Willie's performance to expect much more.


Of course, that was before Willie came into my office, shut the door, sat down and said, "Let me tell you the story of Willie Jones." A story that would change the way I looked at Willie. A story that would impact my entire department. A story that is still being written today. The story of Willie Jones.


After high school, Willie worked in the mail center of a large Boston bank. He quickly learned how to use all the equipment in the shop. He enjoyed the work. It appeared he'd found a place where his skills and work ethic would help him be successful.


However, what Willie didn't know was that some employees in the shop were dealing drugs. Managers and supervisors of the Boston bank brought the drug problem under control. Willie continued to work at the Boston bank, but the environment he worked in did not improve.


The situation continued to deteriorate, and Willie eventually left. He took a position at State Street in the Benefit Plan Services Depart-ment and then moved into the Output Control Department and became part of my department when we merged several units to create Docu-ment Technology and Delivery. Despite the many changes in the department, Willie's responsibilities remained mundane. He had asked his manager for more responsibilities but was turned down. So he took a chance, and came directly to me. Willie made it clear he could do more and he wanted to do more, a lot more.


I had been thinking about creating a new unit that would be trained to run every piece of equipment in the shop. This special reaction team would be deployed in any area that needed more help. For example, if mail processing was short-handed, the team would work there. If document services were overwhelmed, the team would work there. This team would also handle high-visibility jobs, like a letter from the chairman and follow the jobs through the entire process.


I described the idea to Willie and asked him what he thought. He immediately said, "I'd like that." I pointed out that there was a lot of work involved, and that he wouldn't know what he would face each day. Willie still wanted it. I made it clear that he'd have to perform his current duties while he was training and would continue to back up his unit. Willie was fine with that, too. I told Willie I would discuss this new role with his manager and my manager of operations.  Before moving Willie into the new position, I scheduled a meeting with his manager to discuss Willie's performance and potential. His manager said that Willie was a good worker, but she didn't think he had the desire to do more. When I informed her that Willie did want more responsibilities, she said she was surprised but that she didn't want to hold anyone back. She was concerned about coverage for the workload that was currently assigned to Willie.


After some more discussions and other reassignments, we launched the new unit with Willie as our first member. He would report directly to my manager of operations and then begin training on the equipment. Additionally, Willie would meet with me to discuss how things were going.


Willie took to the new job like a duck to water. His easygoing personality and his ability to learn new concepts quickly were the right combination for working with the different units in the department. Willie was as comfortable in the document center as he was in the production mail area. He thrived on handling multiple responsibilities and enjoyed interacting directly with customers. This "average" employee became an example for others.


Although I've left State Street, I still keep in touch with my former employees. I'm also a client of my old company. When I order print jobs, Willie follows up with me to ensure that I'm satisfied with the work. He e-mails me links to the shipper's Web site so I can track my packages. Although he knows I have this information, he treats me with the same level of care that he treats every customer.


Willie's role has continued to expand. He's now helping the operations manager track all production through the shop, using the latest software to schedule and track jobs in real-time. At the Xplor conference, I spoke with the product manager for the scheduling software, who was excited about Willie's involvement and his ability to really "push the envelope" with the product.


The story of Willie Jones is more than a story about someone who is smart or who works hard. It's about someone who is in the right job for his talents. Recently, Willie was telling me about one of his other passions: singing in his church choir. Willie asked me if I sang. And I told him I may have many talents, but singing isn't one of them. Willie replied, "Every-one can sing. They just have to find their voice. But everyone can sing."


Mark M. Fallon is currently president and CEO of the Berkshire Company. For more information, please visit them on the Web at