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Your Best Effort?

“In gratitude for years of long term service to this company, its employees and its customers, we are gathered to thank..,” While the sentiment that drives this statement is known and understood throughout the annals of organizational history, much of its meaning goes unstated. At a time when forced retirements take the joy out of amiable closure between an individual and the organization, it is nice to have the rare opportunity to attend a retirement that, still, adheres to the ceremonial ritual long since weeded out of the current organizational landscape. Having, recently, witnessed this long held tradition for a friend and colleague, I thought about one of the meanings and wondered if he and thousands of others who have heard the phrase, “In gratitude for years of long term service..,” really understood that serving an organization for a long time doesn’t, necessarily, mean that you have served the organization very well.

My friend and I can pinpoint that start of our relationship to 20th century, Michigan State University antics. How we made it from freshman year to graduation is one of the great Spartan stories that takes on legendary status when told by the few witnesses whose intermittent chuckling rarely allow them to finish the stories. Needless to say, our paths took us to different experiences in different states, but we always kept in touch and loved sharing organizational war stories. When I flashed forward to seeing him standing at the podium, talking about his thirty plus years with that one organization, I recalled the youthful, anything-is-possible, enthusiasm he brought into his first, full time, professional job. During that time, he let me know, in no uncertain terms, that he his eye on an executive leadership position with the organization and in twenty years, he would realize that dream. I watched, over the years, as his unwavering loyalty was viewed as a standard by which all employees should set their gauge. I listened as he discussed the starts and stops along his career path and wondered why his ‘unwavering loyalty’ did not ease his journey out of middle management and into the higher ranks. Though he did not make his irritation with being stuck in middle management a part of his retirement speech, we did talk about it later on, as we sat out on his patio laughing about the trials and tribulations of his adult children and the scroll like ‘Honey-do’ list his wife was, gleefully, compiling.

He, genuinely, looked forward to retirement, so our reflective conversation was not laced with bitterness or any deep levels of regret. Age and wisdom does tend to broaden a narrowly focused lens and bring into focus those things that were not clear. “I did what I was asked to do, rarely delivered a project late, went the extra mile and could never be classified as a troublesome employee. So, why didn’t I make it out of middle management and into an executive position?” Realizing that he wasn’t seeking an answer from me, I sipped my beverage and waited. “I gave the organization my best effort, but maybe I did not give my best work. I think that somewhere along the way, I confused long term service with serving the organization well. Maybe it’s not enough to just show up and serve, but to make sure that what you are doing is more than just meeting expectations.”

“If you had it to do all over again, I asked. “What would you do different?”

He replied. “I would do a better job of balancing the tasks of my job description with the unstated initiatives the organization needs to accomplish.”

I mentioned that I thought there were a number of lessons embedded in his story.

“I’m retired, now,” he said. “Feel free to share it with anyone who wants to listen.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I will.”


© 2013 Lee E. Meadows
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