Once a team of unemployed people were contracted for day labor. They were told they would be paid $9 per hour.  Taken to a field, they were given shovels and told to begin digging a ditch. They dug from the rosy-skied-early-bird-morning until the blistering heat of noon.  The team ate their lunch with the appetite gained from good hard work.  After lunch the foreman instructed the team to fill in the ditch they had just dug.

“What? Why?” the workers asked.

Digging in

“That is none of your issue.” said the foreman, “You are being paid to follow instructions.” So, the workers began the long task of filling in the ditch that they had just dug.

At the end of the day the ditch was filled in and the laborers were tired. The boss came and told the team that if they would return tomorrow they would be paid $18 per hour, twice what they were hired for that day.  The next morning only half of the original team showed up. Even though they were being paid twice as much.  That day followed the same pattern as the day before.  Dig a ditch until lunch, fill it in after lunch.

“Why are we doing this?” asked the remaining team.

“That is none of your issue.” said the foreman, “You are being paid to follow instructions.” Is all they were told

At the end of the day the ditch was filled in and the laborers were tired. The boss came and told the team that if they would return tomorrow they would be paid $36 per hour four times what they were originally contracted to work for, and far more than normal manual labor. Yet,the next morning only half of the team from the day before showed up. It seems that even for 4 times the going rate you can’t pay most people to do work for which they don’t see a purpose.

Change this story to be a team that digs a ditch and fills it in to lay telephone cable and all the original workers would be on the job day after day for the same pay.  Work without meaning is not worth doing, even for a lot of money.

Leading Teams