The power of service

Service doesn’t have to be selfless. In fact, service gives us the opportunity to validate our own expertise by creating genuine value for others.

Are you in the service business? Turns out that most of us are. A World Bank study showed that in high-income countries, services represent 66% of GDP compared with only 35% in low-income countries. In Australia, services employ more than 8.6 million people, representing 76% of all employment nationally.

Service underpins every interaction we have with another human being. To work in service of others is to build cities, make things happen and change lives. As a purpose statement for the world of work, this is a pretty compelling one.

A recent study by the American Psychological Association, which surveyed more than 1200 full and part-time workers aged 18 or older, found that 51% of workers stayed in their current job because it “gives them the opportunity to make a difference”.

The difference we make to others isn’t always visible, but it can be profound.

For example, this time last year my family and I were in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston is built below sea level. Unfortunately, our visit coincided with hurricane season, and on the last day of our stay the downtown area had flooded. It was a Saturday, and we needed to get to the car hire place by lunchtime or we would be stuck for the next two days. Uber had called it quits, and a taxi stalled on its way to get to us. After a fraught couple of hours, we were lucky to be offered a ride by the front desk manager at the hotel who had just finished his shift.

As we gratefully unloaded our bags at the car hire place in the pouring rain, the rental manager gave us a choice of two completely unfamiliar cars we could choose to take. In our frazzled state, we were ill equipped to make any kind of choice.

As our lizard brains tried to switch off ‘fight or flight’ mode to take in what he was saying, my partner asked him: "Which one would you choose?"

The manager didn’t hesitate. "The Kia Soul" he said. "It's newer, higher and will give you more clearance if you hit any flooding on the way to Georgia."

Sold. Emboldened by his confidence, we made it out of South Carolina - and into Savannah, Georgia - successfully navigating several flooded roads.

The real power of service is for the service provider. When customers value your expertise, it validates why you do what you do, and has the potential to turn routine, margin and painful work into aspirational work that serves your purpose on the planet.

It’s not always easy to be in service. But it’s worthwhile when you have a day like this; a day when you get to use your expertise, and this really helps someone.

I hope you have that kind of day today.