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Posted by on Dec 31, 2013

An Impossible Situation, and Yet …

fastfoodMost people reflect at year’s end. In thinking about 2013 — and realizing this is the last day of it — I realized I had to write about something extraordinary that happened during the autumn, which I will never forget.

If you are interested in what it takes to elicit full-out commitment and dedication from employees, read on.

Loretta is a supervisor of blue-collar employees. Their jobs are monotonous, boring and low-paid. The career itself is pretty dead-end.
Upon taking her position, Loretta saw all the signs of dispiritedness, and it troubled her.

The way most organizations deal with such uncomfortable things is to set metrics and make sure people perform, no matter what, with most leaders not losing a lot of sleep over the mental and emotional conditions of this front-line work. It pretty much begins and ends with “Just get the work done.”

This mindset breeds all kinds of bad things, including dependency, passivity, aggression, game-playing, calling in sick, even sabotage.
Loretta wanted something better, but her hands were pretty much tied. There was very little she could do to alter the actual conditions of the work. So she did something outside of the work.

Here’s what she did.

Near the end of the year, she called the employees together and said she wanted to thank them for their work. In addition to saying the words, she also wanted to buy them a nice lunch. (In the hands-tied department, she had been told she could not take employees outside the building for a holiday lunch.)

So she brought it inside the building. She asked people where they would like to have food catered from, thinking they would identify some nice restaurants for a special occasion.

But that wasn’t their world. They didn’t really know much about restaurants besides the fast-food chains.

So Loretta went to the restaurants, got copies of the menus, brought them back, and asked the employees what struck their fancy.
They picked one, and Loretta placed the order.

But here’s the three parts of the story that get me every time.

First, she brought from home white linen table cloths, china, nice cutlery and glassware.

Second, people walking by the room where the lunch was held could see something unusual was going on. It was usually PowerPoint slides and flipcharts, not Lennox. They stared. They had never seen anything like this in the building.

Third, one of the employees wrote Loretta poem of thanks. I have a copy of it somewhere here in the office, but the last line reads:
“Someone noticed. Someone cared.”

People will do a lot for a boss like Loretta. A gesture of appreciation, a note of thanks, a simple recognition . . . they all go miles in creating reciprocity.

People respond to how they are treated. If you really think about how you really treat others (and one option is always that you can simply ask them), that’s a pretty good takeaway for 2013.

Happy New Year.


  1. What an employee focused, neat caring way to say thank you and demonstrate by example an expectation of going above-and-beyond.

    Christine Comaford’s December 4th Forbes Blog post has an approach for sustaining work team productivity. It parallels discipline 4 “Create a Cadence of Accountability” described in The 4 Disciplines of Execution.

    • More and more research — and it’s actually not such a new concept — is showing that the better you treat employees, the better they treat customers.
      So there’s a business case for you, on top of the principle of being a good human being.

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