Of Mice and Men

I’m an engineer and I like having plans and processes. A road map to guide and facilitate execution and ensure the desired outcome.
Being a business owner, I’ve also learned that as the saying goes, “the best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry.” How you deal with these setbacks sets an example for everyone.

One Saturday, we had multiple flagpole installations lined up. The first one went very quickly and easily and we headed to our second job, which was a larger, more complicated project. The first thing to go wrong was an insufficiently precise address – there were two roads in the town with similar names. Once that was sorted (this was pre-GPS and took a little time), we proceeded only to find the road closed for construction. Needless to say, we were late to the job. My colleague Pat – who was fairly new to the company — was getting upset, and I was a bit anxious as well, as we needed to get the job completed that day.
When we finally got on site and began the excavation for the flagpole base, it became clear that we needed more concrete than we had brought, so I decided to leave Pat to continue the excavation work while I got more. When I returned, I found that the jackhammer had become stuck, and Pat could not extricate it himself. Did I mention that it was 90+ degrees, and humid? I set up the hose for mixing the concrete and turned to help Pat free the jackhammer.

After several minutes of very hard, sweaty labor, we freed it, finished the excavation and turned our attention to the last task, mixing the concrete. “Almost the finish line, Pat,” I said, turning to go fetch the hose, which at that moment burst in a fountain of water that drenched everything. I had forgotten to open the valve and the pressure blew the line. Pat and I stared at each other. He was mortified; we had just joked that nothing else could possibly go wrong. I knew he felt awful, so I burst myself – in laughter. I could see the tension in him ease: “Mike, I will never let that happen again.” We finished up, laughing at our follies, and I knew that he had learned a valuable lesson about being prepared for both the routine as well as the unexpected – without finger-pointing or blame. Pat is a great employee, who has contributed greatly to our company.

The lesson? Process and procedures matter, but sometimes stuff happens anyway. Make the times when things go wrong teachable moments that you can use to create better outcomes. Then laugh and move on. And you will grow a tighter team in the process.

Leave a Reply