What Eggs and Employees Have in Common

Sometimes connections show up in the most unlikely of places.
This past Saturday, my family played the chore game for the first time in a very long time.

The chore game works like this:

  1. All of the household chores are written up on strips of paper.

  2. All the strips are put in a bucket.

  3. Each member of the family draws a strip.

  4. The chore you draw is the one that you do.

I got kitchen counters.

By our house rules, the counters also include the gas oven range-top.

Those grates and burners have been untouched by human hands for a long time.I couldn’t name the splattering of foodstuffs that were now caked on as a hardened, molten crust on the range-top.  All I can tell you is that it was a pain to clean.

Three types of sponges and four scouring agents were needed to do get the job done.  The range gleamed, it shined, it sparkled.  I was proud of my work.

On Sunday morning, I fried up some eggs on the resurrected stovetop.

A bit of yolk managed to sneak its way onto the metal burner cover.

Remembering my labors from the previous day, I instantly grabbed a sponge and wiped it up.Easy as a no-bake pie.So what do eggs have to do with employees?

This week I spent time working with two executive teams at two different companies, in two different industries.

In completely different settings and meetings, both teams brought up a common pain point:  both companies have a culture where many leaders just don’t deal with the performance and behavioral issues of their direct reports. There’s a collective denial going on.

I suddenly thought of the eggs, and then it hit me:  the leaders avoid cleaning up their own mess.

When you deal with your mess early and quickly, it’s a breeze to clean.  Just like my eggs.

But when messes sit and fester, they calcify in the absence of attention.  Then, you need a host of tools to deal with it:  HR interventions, written PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans), outside coaching, to name a few.

All of which are a costly pain.

The easy answer here is prescriptive: just roll up your sleeves and clean up your mess when it’s small. That’s the obvious solution.

So why don’t more leaders do exactly that?

Because you can’t clean something if you’ve never seen anyone else do it and you’ve never learned how to.

Let’s face it:  interpersonal “messes” are hard for many people to deal with.  Many leaders lack skill in participating in or facilitating a difficult conversation.

So instead of prescribing “just roll up your sleeves and clean up your mess”, better advice might be “reach out and ask for help on learning how to do this”.

Whichever path you take, letting stuff sit now is a recipe for a lot of work later:  whether it’s eggs or employees.

What ways have you broached a difficult conversation?  What resources do you recommend to those wanting to grow their skill in this area?  Join the conversation by leaving a comment below. 

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