An Aesop’s fable retold to drive home a corporate performance message

Imagine the hare and the tortoise are again in a match-up — this time on a corporate playing field. Here goes...

If it had stretched any further, the nap would have cost the hare the title. When she was in the land of nod, the tortoise gained on her and overtook her, and walked and walked till the sleeping hare was just a speck behind her.

Along the line, the hare shook herself out of the deep slumber, ran at a clip, overtook the tortoise on the last leg and won the race. The tortoise lost, but became a poster-girl for near-victories, especially of the kind that are hardly noticed though managed in unusual circumstances, especially in an unequal playing field such as the one the tortoise found herself in.

The organisers declared the hare and the tortoise joint-winners, and so, that day, many tortoises among the spectators were fired with a new hope.

With due deference to Aesop, the corporate world certainly needs newer hare-and-tortoise race stories that focus as much on efforts as on success.

As they celebrate small and usually less-evident victories, such stories will do much more for morale and motivation than the freakish tortoise-trounces-hare fable.

Growth mindset

“Organisations that have a growth mindset will focus more on learning than on success,” organisational psychologist Aarti Shyamsunder has this to say, in response when we present the idea behind the tweaked fable to her.

Aarti adds that such organisations will have a broader narrative that recognises and celebrates near-successful efforts as well as what the outliers — tortoises, in this case — have to bring to the table.

This attitude comes with a commitment to promoting inclusivity, one aimed at motivating under-represented sections to aim for higher than what they previously thought they were capable of.

“Organisations have to be deliberately inclusive. When the achievements of someone from an under-represented group are highlighted and rewarded, it will help others from that group aspire and work towards achieving the same level of recognition. The principle “you can’t be what you can’t see” is at work here. It is all about the optics. If you want your workforce to be characterised by inclusion and diversity, you have to promote the idea wherever you can, in your rewards programme and even in what you choose to display on your website,” explains Aarti

Many winners

When we present this reworked Aesop fable to Debleena Majumdar, who focusses on story-telling in the context of organisational development, this is her response:

“The original Aesop story proves the ‘small commitments’ theory, which is that keeping at doing the small things over a sustained period is the best bet to achieve long-term goals. It takes focussed short-term actions to meet a long-term goal — something teams and organisations can easily lose sight of. The hare lost sight of that, and lost the race.”

Debleena continues, “On the other hand, the message from this reworked story that is worth keeping is: Performance management will be more aligned with realistic expectations and more potential-focussed than result-oriented when it is approached with contextual intelligence. It is necessary to assess performance in the light of the circumstances that brought it about. It is also necessary to measure what has been achieved against the individual’s capabilities. In this scenario, there will always be winners to be found in the very bowels of defeat. In this reworked story, we see this principle at work. The hare wakes up to a rude shock, and is trying to make up for lost time; considering that she is pitted against the tortoise, she manages it successfully, sailing over the finish line ahead of the tortoise. However, in a less-obvious and deeper level, the race is already over. By giving her utmost and almost making it, the tortoise has already won the race; and to their credit, the organisers recognise the imaginary finish line the tortoise has crossed. By rewarding both hare and tortoise, they are promoting a culture that acknowledges not only results, but also efforts that are impressive but don’t cover the entire ground. More importantly, the recognition that comes the tortoise’s way encourages the other tortoises — the slow-movers — to give it their best shot too.”

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 7:17:07 AM |

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