COMMENTARY 780.4: Digging and Filling Holes

Charlie, a road crew supervisor for highway landscapers, came upon a pair of workers from one of his crews seemingly hard at work. He watched one fellow dig a hole while his partner waited a few minutes and then filled the hole. After a few repetitions, Charlie demanded an explanation. The hole-filler was offended: “We’ve been doing this job for 10 years. What’s your problem?”

Charlie sputtered: “You’ve been digging and filling empty holes for 10 years? That makes no sense.”

“Not exactly,” the worker replied. “Until a few months ago, there was another guy who would put a bush in the hole. He retired and when management failed to replace him we figured they wanted us carry on as best we could.”

Obviously, these fellows didn’t think much of their management and the fact that they were digging and filling holes without planting bushes for months seems to justify their cynicism. Still, the incompetence of a manager doesn’t justify the indifference of employees.

There is a moral dimension to work, an obligation to be both engaged and accountable. Being engaged means being involved, pursuing excellence and taking personal pride in your work.

Being accountable means accepting personal responsibility to make things better. Outdated or foolish procedures are common in lots of organizations, but they shouldn’t be perpetuated by a mindless “I’m just doing my job” mentality.

It’s the employer’s job to produce a culture where employees take responsibility for and experience pride in what they do. But employees have an independent responsibility to demonstrate personal integrity and take responsibility to do their job in a way that justifies their pride.

Remember, if you don’t take pride in what you do, you can’t take pride in what you are.

Revised 7/1/12


Comments 4

  1. Hi Michael;
    I have always enjoyed the way you convey your messages.
    This was and old Joke, but your message is conveyed clearly. Only if, we could get our new generations to read and pay attention to these wise words!
    I have a few good stories that I could share it with you, if you like.

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  2. Dear Mr. Josephson,

    I have listened to and read your commentaries for many years and I value the point that you are trying to convey.
    I have always heard this old joke applied to government workers and I work for the government. Up until the last two months I have worked my hardest always striving for excellence in my over 10 years of service. I have consistently come against the obstacles of management. Lately, I have finally given in to the idea that excellence is not what management envisions. Now, I do only what I am told, when I am told to do it as I have feel I have been worn down by the “system.” Do you have any advice for me?

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