I’ve always loved decorating Christmas trees. So when the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce announced a “Deck the Poles” holiday event, I was all over it. I mean, I’ve never decorated a lamp post, but wouldn’t it be just like decorating a tree?
Nope. I learned that a lamp post is not a tree.
This project started out easy enough. My theme idea came to me almost immediately. Grace would be running up the lamp post, chasing a squirrel. It’s become her most enjoyable daily activity, now that the squirrels are frequenting our bird feeders. She smells them outside through closed windows and whines to go out and play. Even the squirrels seem to enjoy the exchange, as Grace dashes out and races them to a nearby tree where they smugly escape into thin air.
It was the perfect metaphor for how employees do their best work when they are doing things they enjoy, tapping into their talents, pursuing their interests, and relishing in the challenge. Chasing dreams. Like we all want to do. Like we all should do.
I enlisted the help of a designer to help me with the art. My drawing abilities are really bad, so I knew I needed someone else on that job. But where I really dropped the ball was how the art would hang from the lamp post. Rose and I talked about it, and we had some ideas, but neither one of us had those carpentry-kind of skills to really execute effectively, and it was my responsibility to make it happen.
There were other key details I glossed over, such as the height of the lamp post and how that might impact the height of the banner I ordered. Or how to get a banner with cut-out borders to stay rigid in winter New England conditions. It’s ok that I didn’t know how to do it, what was not so cool is that I didn’t take action to get the right people involved — at the right time.
Days went by; it got closer to the day I would have to figure out how to get Grace on the post, and I started to realize that I was not going to be able to just ‘wing it.’ I’d awaken in the middle of each night, going back and forth between thoughts of “I could do …. this or that ….” and thoughts of “I’ll figure it out” and then finally, “I really don’t have a clue what to do!” Panic started to settle it, thankfully, because it drove me to figure out I needed technical expertise to make it happen.
Lucky for me, a very talented and kind neighbor, Charlie, accepted the last-minute challenge I presented. Despite how far down the road I had gone, he was able to recover and make it seem as if all was perfectly planned all along. Just like in many workplaces, star employees rise to the occasion and fix the goofs of others, even when presented with an unnecessary debacle.
The irony is that things would have gone smoother for me, as well as Charlie, if I had involved him earlier in the process. This experience is proof that people don’t go into projects with intent to make others work harder and fail. They just get caught up in the activities that are more familiar, more enjoyable, and procrastinate (or totally avoid) other tasks, hoping that they will somehow fall into place.
The advantage I had working alone is that it quickly became (painfully) obvious that no one else could pick up the slack. In a larger work group, it’s a bit easier to lose track of who is doing what and the gaps can get big. A good project leader will shepherd that process but it can run amok when functional work groups (like production, engineering, design) are more interested to work on their singular piece as opposed to thinking of the larger goal (such as profitability or customer satisfaction).
So, once again, Grace has provided an opportunity for me to learn. Through some miracle, I ordered the right size banner and she’s now sitting pretty on the lamp post in downtown Peterborough.
Next time you’re faced with a new project, remember that a lamp post is not the same as a tree. It’s ok that you can’t do everything well. But bring in help, and do it early!