In Praise of Grinders: They Get The Job Done

In a lot of workplaces, there is an idea that the best employees are the ones that climb the ladder. The expectation seems to be that the people who are best at their jobs are the ones who would be best suited to run the company someday, and the underlying assumption is that those people are the same people who seek increasing responsibility and get promoted.

I think something is missing from this picture. First of all, if you’ve ever been part of a process where people self-nominate for promotion, you can personally vouch that the people who seek promotion, the people who are great at their jobs, and the people who should run the company someday are NOT all the same people. There is overlap between the groups, but the only real common factor among people who seek promotion is that they want to be promoted.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be promoted! But there are a LOT of reasons people seek promotion. Some people want more money. Some want to be in charge. Some want to change their duties. Some people want to manage people. Some want to manage budgets. Some have a particular idea they’re trying to accomplish. My personal reason is usually scope of influence – every time I find what I want to do stymied by the position I hold, I look for a path to promotion.

But not all people want more money or to be in charge or to learn new duties or to manage people. Some people are quite happy right where they are. I had a coworker once tell me her perfect job would be a small office with two boxes on the desk, and every day she would come in and sit in her office and move everything from her inbox to her outbox and then go home.

I’ve thought of those people as Grinders – after the concept in video games of level grinding or doing the same things over and over again to get yourself leveled up to the point you can continue the Main Story (see, even here we see the concept that you should be leveling up!)

Why does everyone have to move up constantly? What is wrong with staying in a place where you’re happy, and doing good work every day? Why does someone’s Purpose need to have a capital P? Doing a good day’s work – fixing these air conditioners, emptying this customer service queue, editing these four articles, reading this chapter and writing the response – is a perfectly good purpose. Grinders are people who find satisfaction not in climbing but in accomplishing what that day gives them to do.

There is a real tendency to see Grinders as somehow failing or lesser—which is not only flawed, it’s ridiculous. Grinders get stuff done. A world with only Ideas and Grand Plans and Climbing the Ladder is missing the main component of work – work.

If your business is the kind that makes its money when you accomplish work for clients, your Grinders get the most bang for your buck. They show up, they do good work, they’re not gunning for promotions or trying to get onto more lucrative contracts or getting distracted doing internal projects. If you have a hand in designing your workplace, do you have a structure in place to identify and “promote” your Grinders? Not by removing them from their jobs – but perhaps by giving them raises, recognition, or perks to show them you value their work ethic and dedication. Can you take non-work responsibilities off their plates? Observe their methods to build processes? Give them training opportunities?

What do your Grinders want? Don’t assume it’s the same thing your Climbers want. Don’t reward them with things they don’t want or need.

What about you? Are you a Grinder? What could your workplace offer you to reward your great work?

Mel Kepler
Mel Kepler

Founder and Coach