Being a pleasant day I decided to take a few moments and enjoy lunch with a couple of my workshop participants at a picnic table outside the conference center.
During our pleasant conversation I noticed two workers at the edge of the grassy area next to a gentle brook. One was digging a foot deep hole every few feet. The other was following him a short distance behind filling in the fresh holes.
The two had worked up quite a sweat. So I walked over to them to offer a couple of cool bottles of water. Granted, it was more out of curiosity than generosity.
They were extremely grateful for the beverage and were quite pleasant in return.
“I am curious,” I began. “Just as diligently as you are digging the holes he is filling them in. It doesn’t look like you are putting anything in the holes.”
“We aren’t,” said the gentleman filling in the holes.
“So why are you digging the holes just to have them filled in again?”
“Wow, I can see how silly that must look,” one said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “The reason is very simple.”
“Fred is out sick today,” he continued.
“What does that have to do with it,” I asked.
“Fred is supposed to put a small bush in the hole.”
This may sound like a silly story but similar situations occur every day in workplaces throughout the business world. People work diligently to accomplish a task without knowing the desired result. They dig holes, fill in the holes, and never see the hedge that should be present when the work is done.
Let me give you a very real example. One company I worked with had a policy of having employees complete supply requisitions that were then sent to the department manager for a sign-off and then to the financial officer for authorization. Once approved the form would go to purchasing.
Unfortunately the financial officer had a heart attack and was out of the office for two months for bypass surgery. Upper management decided that no one else in financial had the knowledge to endorse the requisitions so only critical supplies could be ordered in the CFO’s absence.
Thankfully the CFO recovered and returned to work. However a shortened work day still resulted in unsigned requisitions. Department heads pleaded with purchasing for supplies arguing almost all supplies were now essential.
Weeks and months passed until someone thought, “how come we don’t have the CFO sign these supply orders like we use to?”
They found out the absence of the previous approval policy had resulted in less stockpiling and the entire line item for supplies was below budget for the first time in years.
The CFO was Fred. Fred’s job had been to put in a hedge, which is a barrier of sorts. Once Fred was absent, the hedge was no longer being built. For a time the other two workers were still acting as they would have had Fred been there. Eventually they would have figured out that the hedge, although well-intended, was actually blocking the peaceful beauty of the river. The CFO’s absence had shown the employees could be responsible when empowered to place their own orders and the rule no longer blocked the vision of the river, representing the flow of profits and productivity.
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About The Author:
Author Rick Weaver is President of Max Impact Corporation, a leadership and strategy development company. He offers more anecdotal leadership lessons in his book, “Life’s Leadership Lessons”, a collection of 53 anecdotes about his life. Rick reveals how the people, events, and things he has encountered in his life taught him valuable leadership lessons. The book is available in paperback, e-book, or a Kindle download. For more information or to download the first chapter to preview, visit “Life’s Leadership Lessons”.