Lessons from The Little Red Hen
by Jack Guarnieri, Jersey Jack Pinball & PinballSales.com
Little Golden Books publishes what I believe to be a great book on some simple life lessons. I’ve thought about this story and how it applies to different situations today.
From Wikipedia: “The Little Red Hen is an American fable first collected by Mary Mapes Dodge in St. Nicholas Magazine in 1874. The story is meant to teach children the importance of hard work and personal initiative.”
A hen on a farm finds some seeds and asks her friends to help her plant them. They all turn her down so she plants them herself. Wheat grows from the seeds and when she asks for help, they again refuse. The hen then harvests and mills the wheat into flour before baking it into bread, and at each stage, she asks the other animals for help only to be turned down. Finally with her task complete, the hen asks who will help her eat the bread. This time the animals accept eagerly, but the hen refuses them saying that since no one helped her with her work she will eat the bread herself.
We can relate to this story at times when we feel we are doing all the work, without much – or any – cooperation from others. And when the job is complete, those same people are there to share in the credit. I hear this frustration from many people today in business or at jobs where colleagues are not engaged in their work. I also hear it about family relationships though that’s different. None of us are ever 100%, 100% of the time. In business, letting others do the work that you should be doing can be costly in more ways than one. Bosses may finally ask, “If I have to do your job, why do I need you?”
The lesson of The Little Red Hen is timeless and simple. If you have a job to do, just do it. I want to believe that most people have the best intentions to do their job. They certainly want the paycheck but do they put the time and effort into doing the best job they can? That’s the hope when management makes a hire.
Hope is good for church on Sunday but there needs to be benchmarks with rewards and consequences when tasks are late or incomplete. That’s the job of management and sometimes peers on teams with low-performing or non-productive workers. Do people stay late, or come in on a Saturday or a Sunday to get the task complete?
If you have people who are not engaged, don’t give up on them yet. Communicate and find out why they won’t help plant the seeds or mill the wheat. What changed in their attitude, situation or drive to be a productive team member? You will find that it’s not always bread (money) but some slight or small issue that has grown bigger. It may be a job title or lack thereof. It may be that this person does not like a person on the team for some reason. Help them overcome whatever issues are in the way so they can do what they know how to do.
So, who gets the credit? Who gets to sit down at the table and eat the bread after all the hard work was done that made the bread possible? It’s usually obvious who put the effort in and who did not. It’s just a matter of time until the non-productive party either picks up the pace, changes their ways or is tossed off the farm.
Years ago, when I hired a lot of people, I would try to find the ones motivated by the work, the challenge and the fun of the journey. I only asked that they do their very best as often as they could. Most of the time, I chose well. It gives me great satisfaction when everyone can sit at the table and share in the loaf of bread.
P.S. If you want to share this classic tale with a youngster in your life, the Little Golden Books version is on Amazon at amzn.to/3Mm2eIp.
Jack Guarnieri started servicing electro-mechanical pinball machines in 1975 and has been involved in every phase of the amusement game business since then. He was an operator in NYC, then began a distributorship in 1999, PinballSales.com, selling coin-op to the consumer market. In January of 2011, he founded Jersey Jack Pinball (named after his RePlay Magazine pen name), which builds award-winning, full-featured, coin-op pinball machines. Email Jack at [email protected].