The Queen and Colonel Sanders: What a lilac tells us about employee engagement.

A Bush

How about some blatant photos of spring beauty? This is where I grew up:

Don’t tell my mom she ended up online.

That patch of grass used to have a single-wide trailer on it. We moved there when I was a baby and moved out when I was 10. So many good memories.

Besides my mom, there is something precious to me in that picture. I’ll zoom in:

No, not the gas meter.

That lilac bush is where the corner of the trailer used to be. I remember when we transplanted it from the bush at Grandad’s house. We also divided it a couple times.

We took good care of that lilac.

Here’s one of those transplants, where we moved after the trailer.
Yes, the Queen of England.

I’m in the process of transplanting a part of this bush yet again. Why?

Because this is a special lilac.

We got it from Grandad

… who got it from Wilson Evans, a pillar of the Berea, Ky. community

… who got it from Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken

… who got it from the Queen of England.

This plant has been worth all the effort to us, because it connects us to so much local, state and world history. It’s a little piece of a larger world.

If you see a connection to something bigger, you’ll put in more effort.

A Cathedral

Sir Christopher Wren was the architect behind St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. (It’s the church you see during “Feed the Birds” in the Mary Poppins film.) The story goes that Wren disguised himself to visit the construction site. He found three stonecutters and asked them what they were doing.

The first one moved slowly, putting forth little effort. “I am cutting a piece of stone,” he said.

The second moved perhaps a bit faster. His answer: “I am earning five pence a day.”

The third was visibly sweating, vigorously chopping away at a piece of stone that would not even be visible from the sanctuary. When Wren approached him, his answer told the story:

“I am helping Sir Christopher Wren build a

magnificent cathedral to the glory of God!” 

Something Greater

Employee engagement–people working with not just their hands and heads, but their hearts–is easier when people connect their efforts to something greater than themselves.

  • Some organizations have that great purpose baked in: schools nurturing the next generation, or hospitals saving lives, or churches pointing souls to God.
  • Some organizations connect their business work to charitable efforts: Bombas donating socks to the homeless for every pair purchased, or my local coffee shop donating their black gold to local fundraising efforts.
  • Some organizations think through how the products or services themselves are a value to those they serve. My best sales floors think about how they guide an employee through the dizzying array of options so they arrive at the purchase that’s right for them. I work with automotive service departments that have literally saved lives (and wallets!) by taking multi-point inspections seriously.

Those bullets barely scratch the surface. Steve Jobs famously wooed away PepsiCo’s John Sculley by asking, “Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Jobs told his team they were going to “put a dent in the universe.”

St. Paul’s Cathedral: Sebastiandoe5, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I have often wondered how it might have been different if Sculley had stayed. The relationship was an unhappy one, and surely there were many higher purposes to see at Pepsi–funding employees’ families and countless charities at the very least.

We could also talk about individuals working to support their own families, or even Christians who receive the charge to, in all things “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (By most measurements I’ve found, God scores greater than companies, bosses or customers.)

Whatever the case, Hip Socket has a handout to help you improve the connection between employees’ efforts and greatness. May it bless you and your employees as you contemplate your impact in our wider world.

Go plant some lilacs.