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Ordinary People Taking Action
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Tom has been in his role for only two months when what is referred to as a “fire drill” lands in his lap. In other words, management requires “all hands on deck” and starts tossing around phrases like “priority one, it’s going to be a late one, better clear the schedule”. Of course, the executive team is involved, making vaguely conflicting demands that employees find a solution immediately, while keeping the best interest of the customer top of mind, and of course, not losing sight of profitability. Although it’s left unsaid, the team is painfully aware that failure means someone is probably going to be fired. Because there is no tolerance for human error in the workplace.
Tom has adopted a very low-key approach to onboarding into this new role, starting by reading a book offering tips on success in the first 90 days of a new job. The advice? Listen, a lot. Don’t be overly confident. And finally, remember that no one wants the “new guy” pointing out what is broken.
For the first time in his career, his direct manager is younger than him and Tom has a hard time connecting with her. She looks like she should be a millennial, but apparently, she was recently planning her 38th birthday. If Tom did the math right, she is really a Gen Xer, same as him. Tom just turned 45 but for some reason feels about ten years older than he really is. According to HR, the average age of the team is 35. Tom would have thought 25. He knows age shouldn’t matter but he wonders why he feels so much older with this team.
The urgency of solving the project is intense. After about 10 minutes of conversation, he realizes he knows the answer. He can see the solution right in front of him; it seems so obvious. At first, he questions himself. “How can it be so obvious to me and not to them?” He looks around the room and realizes out of the 10 people in the office, he is indeed the newest member of the team and he’s certain he’s also the oldest, by far.
“I see a solution,” Tom states not as confidently as he should have. He is ignored as the group continues to talk over each other.
He states again, louder, with more confidence, “I see the solution. A solution.”
The room goes quiet, almost too quiet, everyone staring silently at Tom.
He explains his idea.
“Tom, are you sure this the right solution? Because …. you, um, you’ve only been here for a month,” someone says.
Tom wants to correct him and state that it’s really been two months, but he figures that isn’t the way to win over the new colleague. “Yes, I am sure. I’ve seen this before. I know this is a solution.” He continues to explain himself and share the steps of his idea, and in the discussion that follows, the entire group is listening and nodding. Nodding in agreement. He takes a moment to realize that the entire team is really listening to what he has to say.
“Tom, that’s a great idea. Let’s do it,” states one of the executive leaders.
To Tom’s surprise, there isn’t much push back and before long, they are implementing his idea. Just like that, Tom makes his mark in his new role. He is feeling pretty good. Really good actually.
As the team was packs up for the night, Tom’s manager walks over. “Great job today. That is why we hired you. We knew you were sharp. A go-getter. And, someone who would bring a different perspective, possibly the most obvious perspective, to the team. See, we’ve been working on this so long that we need someone to see it differently.”
Tom smiled and says, “Great, glad to be a part of the team. Looking forward to continuing to bring a different perspective.” Driving home, Tom reflects that these “kids” he is working with really are smart – and, very open to hearing the ideas of others. It hits him that with a change in his own perspective, he could really learn from these “kids”.
Tom walks into his house feeling proud for having spoken up that day. Suddenly he doesn’t feel like an outsider, but part of the team. He’s excited to go to work tomorrow.
Tom really does become an “old timer” in the company, his career there spanning 17 years when he finally retires at the age of 62.
“As I stand here today to celebrate my retirement. I am proud to be a part of a company that, from day one, always welcomed the “newbie” and listened to their ideas. They might not always be right, but right isn’t always what matters – what matters is that we embrace diversity of thought, stay open to the possibilities, allow people to be heard and ensure everyone knows they are empowered.”
The group claps enthusiastically and then laughs at a couple of his jokes. Tom then turns his head and says, “Mary, 17 years ago, I thought you were a ‘know-it-all’ millennial manager who would be a difficult person to work with. Today, I am grateful to call you my friend, my business partner. We’ve come a long way and I owe it to you. So, thank you.”