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Horton hatches an egg… in your workplace?

September 24, 2015

Horton – the Dr Seuss character in Horton Hatches an Egg – may actually reside in a workplace near you.

Think about Horton for a minute. He graciously offers to sit on Mayzie’s egg for a short time. He never intends this task to be more than few hours. Yet Mayzie is glad to dump this tedious task off on some willful volunteer and literally “flies the coup.” Horton’s committed to caring for the egg and so his famous quip is often repeated while he hatches the egg for Mayzie: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful 100 percent.”

He endures seasonal changes with all their challenges, becomes the interesting site to see, then the object of scorn and ridicule, and eventually a sideshow that travels the world for people to gawk at. The large elephant keeps sitting on the egg and repeating his mantra, seemingly oblivious to the fact that rather than being recognized as faithful he has become a freak. When the egg finally hatches, the result is hardly unexpected – a baby elephant with wings.

In organizDr Seuss Horton hatches eggations across North America, many with busters and increasing numbers of Baby Boomers, Horton is still hatching an egg. There are people who began working with your company 20, 30, or 40 years ago and have never moved up or down or out in the organization. They just do the same job they did (insert ##) years ago – sometimes on the old antiquated equipment they know how to use even though up-to-date technologies are used elsewhere – and they are quite “happy” to do their job and get their paycheck.

Even more troubling, they sincerely believe they are demonstrating the principles of faithfulness and so cannot understand others lack of gratitude and even frustrations (or worse) with their work. Their place in the business has turned into a hardship for the rest of the company. Their initial desire to simply do the job to the best of their abilities has developed into an obsession that is freaky! And no one – not a friend, not a professional development seminar, not even a “kind” boss, or someone who was worked with them for 5, 10 or 15 years – can get them off the egg!

Of course, when the person finally retires (or dies) and someone else gets to pick up the job, it looks much the same as it did years ago, even though no other role in the company looks similar to what it did 5, 10, or 15 years ago. The “faithful” person may have taken the role and sucked the life or creative potential out of it over time because of their unwillingness to learn, grow, or develop their skills or attitude – and so everyone else just worked around the person to get a job done.

As a leader you need to be truly “kind” and deal with Horton’s unwillingness to grow – in their skills, in taking up more responsibilities, or whatever other tasks they simply want to “sit on” – and terminate their employment. It will be hard. You will be accused of mistreating the individual, by the person involved and possibly by others in the organization. But your responsibility is to ensure that all employees are working towards the goals and purpose of your organization, not their own personal comfort. Otherwise, you may have a few more flying elephants in the workplace soon!

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