One way to change your experience of work | Mike Cook

By Mike Cook
Contributing writer 

Maybe you’ve heard this story, I heard it today.

A hunter walks into a field one autumn morning. Alongside him is his newly acquired, full-pedigree retrieving dog. This is their first hunt together.

Within minutes he arrives at his duck blind and takes his position. Soon a small flock appears. The hunter rises up and quickly dispatches a single duck.

His retriever leaps from the blind and bounds across the surface of the water and returns with the fallen duck. The hunter, not believing his eyes, shakes his head and decides that he was just seeing incorrectly in the early morning haze. Again he takes his position in the blind and within minutes another flock approaches.

The hunter fires his gun and his aim is once more true. The young hound leaps from the blind and again dashes across the water’s surface to retrieve the fallen fowl.

Now in complete amazement, the hunter calls over a comrade from a nearby blind and asks him to watch with him as yet another flock approaches. Again he fires and again his aim is true. Yet again the young dog dashes across the water’s surface to retrieve the fallen duck.

The hunter turns to his friend and asks him to explain what they have now both just seen.

“Well”, the other hunter replies, “It looks like your dog doesn’t know how to swim!”

Each day we arrive at our places of work and each and every day our colleagues dance across the water’s surface and we fail to see the miraculous in their actions, as well as our own.

Webster’s has this to offer as one definition of the term “miracle”: an accomplishment or occurrence so outstanding or unusual as to seem beyond any capability.

A few years back one of my employees asked why I always said “thank you” when she turned over an assignment as requested. I asked her in return why she thought it was so unusual. She said the only time she was used to hearing a “thank you” was when she did something unusual, and here I was thanking her for doing her job as expected.

How sad I thought.

My response surprised her, because she, like many in our places of work, was used to walking on water and having it be taken for granted.

“First off” I asked, “Do you like hearing the thank you?” She said she did, and each time she heard it, she was reminded that I was counting on her to get done what had been asked of her.

“I do depend on you”, I said, “And I never take for granted that you get done what has been asked of you. You have commitments to more than just me; you balance those commitments and manage your time so that everyone gets what has been promised as it has been promised. In my view, that’s a big deal and worth noting.”

She asked that since that was what she was being paid for, then why the added expression of gratitude? That was an interesting question, and I had to think for a moment.

“Your salary is for the results you produce, I am thanking you for what it takes for you to deliver those results. I know you are not a machine. From the time you say yes to something I have asked for to the time it gets delivered, you have no control over what else will take place that you’ll have to deal with.”

“Honestly I am amazed that you make it to work virtually every day, on time, without regard for the weather or whatever else you may have to deal with between the time you leave here each evening until you return in the morning. If I step back for a moment and consider that same equation for everyone else that works here in our small company, I’d say that what goes on every day we are in business is miraculous, a daily miracle, and mostly we act like it is normal. I’d say it is anything but normal.”

Statistics complied by Bloomberg BNA in 2011 for employers employing nearly 750,000 people showed an average daily absenteeism running between 0.6 percent and 1 percent for the 12-month period. You might say, “Well what would you expect in such an economy? I’m surprised it was that high.”

Or like me, you can stand in amazement at the accomplishment of those nearly 750,000 people managing the complexity of their lives and being more than 99.4 percent successful at delivering themselves to their places of work everyday for an entire year.

I wonder if you said ‘thank you” more often, would you need that fancy, high-tech recognition system you’ve considered installing?

Mike Cook is a management developer who lives in Anacortes, Wash. His columns appear on BBJToday.com every other Tuesday. He also publishes a weekly blog at www.heartofengagement.com.

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