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46. My Biggest Pet Peeve as a Manager, and the Story I Use to Help Our Team Understand What We Expect

46. My Biggest Pet Peeve as a Manager, and the Story I Use to Help Our Team Understand What We Expect

What is your greatest pet peeve as a manager? In this episode, I’m going to share my greatest pet peeve as a manager, and I’m going to share with you the story that I tell my team to help them understand our culture, what we expect from great team members, and what it takes to thrive in our organization. 

I feel so blessed to have an amazing team I get to work with. Every single one of them. Entrepreneurship is not an individual sport. I would not have achieved any business successes without talented team members, and I’m so grateful for them.

In the masterpiece book Good to Great, Jim Collins teaches how one of the most important roles of CEOs and entrepreneurs is to first focus on getting the right people on the bus, focusing on the “who” before the “what”. In other words, get the right people on the bus first, and then decide where to drive together. I agree that hiring the right team is one of the most important things CEOs and entrepreneurs can do. 

Most successful entrepreneurs and CEOs surround themselves with great team members who take ownership and responsibility, innovate, pay attention to the details, and help others to be successful. Instead of just complaining to their supervisor about problems, these team members identify, recommend and implement solutions. These individuals don’t just do what we ask them to do, but they find a better way to accomplish our top priorities more effectively. These individuals help drive the company’s success and profitability, and not just their own raises and promotions. I call these the “get-it-done, make-it-happen” team members. These team members are worth their weight in gold, and I’ve been blessed to work with many of these team members during my career. 

I love it when I assign an important task to a team member, and they take care of it, solving any problems they encounter, and reporting back to me when it is done. When team members do this, I can emotionally let go of the task and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.  Do you want to know my biggest pet peeve as a manager? I have a really hard time when I assign a task to a team member, they commit to doing it, but they let it slip through the cracks. Then, later when I follow up with them they tell me they didn’t do it because of some challenge, yet they didn’t try to overcome the challenge or ask for help. 

Unfortunately, sometimes we have a team member who has the potential to be the right person on the bus, but that person is not yet reaching their full potential yet at work. So, what can we do to help them achieve this potential so they can stay on the bus, and help us drive the bus to amazing places? 

One thing I like to do in this situation is to tell a story. I believe that stories are the best way to say something that engages our listeners in a way they can best remember, and that will more effectively drive change. There is a story called the Parable of the Oranges, that has been told and retold in my company over the years, to help team members understand our culture, and the expectation we have for people who take responsibility to get things done and make things happen. 

I’m going to tell the story in my words, as it has evolved over the years, but the original version of the parable came from the book “Living with a Purpose” by Randall L. Ridd. 

An ambitious young man took a job with a company at a lower role and compensation than what he was hoping for. However he liked the company and he felt that if he put in his time, he could work his way up the ladder. Over the next five years, he did what was asked of him and completed his assigned tasks. Then, the position he was hoping for opened, and he applied for the position. However, one morning he arrived at work and discovered that an employee who had only been with the company for a few months had been given the manager position. He was very upset and went to his boss and demanded an explanation. 

The boss said he would answer the question, but first, he had a favor to ask from the employee. The boss asked “My wife needs some oranges. Would you please go buy some oranges?” The young man agreed the boss gave him $30 and a short time later the young man returned with a bag of oranges for his boss. 

The boss thanked him for his help and said he had two questions. First, “What type of oranges did you buy?” The young man replied that he didn’t know. “You just asked me to get oranges, and that’s what I did.”

The boss then asked, “How much did you pay per orange?”  The young man again replied that he didn’t know. He said “You gave me $30 and I bought the biggest bag I could buy for that amount. Here are your receipt and change.” 

The boss thanked the young man again and asked him to have a seat in his office for a moment. Then, the boss called the new manager in his office, asked her to do the same task. She agreed and the boss gave her $30. A while later, the new manager returned and reported back to the boss that the task had been completed. 

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The boss asked her if she could have a seat, and also invited the young man back into his office. The boss then asked the new manager, “What type of oranges did you buy?” The new manager replied, “When I arrived at the store I discovered there were many varieties, and I had no idea what type of orange to buy because I didn’t know what they were going to be used for. You told me that your wife needed them. So, I called your secretary, she gave me your wife’s number, and I called your wife and asked for what purpose she was going to use the oranges. She told me you guys were going to have a party tonight and that she needed the oranges to make orange juice. So, I went to the produce manager at the grocery store and I asked him which oranges make the best orange juice. He told me that the Valencia oranges would be the best, and we looked it up online just to confirm. So, to answer your question, I purchased Valencia oranges.”

The boss then asked the new manager, “How much did you pay per orange?” The new manager replied, “I didn’t know how many oranges I needed to buy. So, I called your wife back and asked her how many people would be attending the party. She told me, and then the produce manager helped me calculate how many oranges we needed to buy to make enough orange juice for that many people. I realized that you didn’t give me enough money to buy enough oranges to make enough orange juice. The oranges were priced at 75 cents each, but because the produce manager and I had become friends, he agreed to sell me enough oranges for 50 cents each. I hope you don’t mind, but your wife told me what time your party starts tonight, and I knew you would not get home with enough time to make the orange juice, so dropped the oranges off at your house on my way back from the grocery store.”

The boss thanked the new manager and then turned to the young man, who slumped his shoulders and said “I understand” as he walked out of the office. 

In our company, we tell this story to illustrate our corporate culture that we expect people to pay attention to the details, to take ownership in their assignments and responsibilities, to get things done and to make things happen. We are not just looking for people to execute what we tell them to do. Even more, we expect people to think and to innovate, and find better ways to accomplish the things that really matter than what we even asked them to do. Also, the best way to be successful is to help others be successful.  We let people know that we don’t give raises and promotions based on how long someone has been with the company, or for “doing their job”. Instead, we give raises and promotions based on how people have exceeded our expectations and helped to drive the growth of the organization. 

Key Takeaways

Here are some of the key takeaways from today’s episode.

1. Focusing on getting the right people on or off the bus first may be more important than figuring out where we’re going to drive the bus.

2. Hiring the right people is one of the most important things we can do as a CEO or entrepreneur.

3. Storytelling can be a very effective way to teach our team in a more engaging and memorable way that can cause longer-lasting change. 

4. We need to hire team members we can trust to take responsibility, get things done, and make things happen. 

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    About the author

    Nathan Gwilliam

    Nathan Gwilliam

    I help organizations navigate tectonic shifts that are transforming the business landscape, so they can optimize marketing, accelerate profits, and make a greater difference for good.

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