Would You Pass the Dorothy Test?

Posted by: eric_garner in General

Tagged in: blogs

Every now and then, someone gives me a good kicking. I don't mean that in the literal sense but in the professional, "knowing-my-place" sense.

It happened the other day when one of my team produced some outstanding work that I would never have credited her with. I was delighted but also a little shocked. All my assumptions about her and her abilities went flying out the window.

It made me think. How often do we managers and trainers assume we know our staff when in reality we only know the limitations we place on them?

For example, if asked to name the key players in your team, who would you name? The chances are, you'd name those people you see the most or hear the most. Visibility is often confused with ability. What about the people that just get on with the job without fuss? The ones we should recognise as the "quiet heroes"?

Management writer Warren Bennis says that many of the "quiet heroes" at work go unremarked and unappreciated because we take them for granted and don't think about the difference they make.

Bennis is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Southern California and gives a vivid example of what he means. "The campus is in a dry, crack-infested part of Los Angeles. But every morning is a delight because the grounds of the university are kept so green and fresh forming a contrast to the surrounding city. It makes a difference to me but I wonder if anyone has reminded the gardeners of the importance of their work. Probably nobody at all."

Bennis's feelings of humility remind me of my own.

Many years ago, one of my first managers drummed in to me a key lesson of people management: replace the 3 C's with the 3 A's. The 3 C's stood for Criticising, Complaining, and Condemning. The 3 A's stood for Appreciating, Accepting, and Acknowledging.

From then on, whenever I get a good kicking reminder, I go into 3 A's mode and with genuine humility go out and appreciate the people whose work makes a difference to mine.

I also think of the Dorothy Test. If you're a trainer, and ever get the chance to use the Dorothy Test on your trainees, then use it. It could be one of the most important lessons in life and management that they'll ever learn.

Here is the story of the Dorothy Test as told by Ann Wilde.

"During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a test. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" Surely, this was some kind of joke.

I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank.

Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our test grade. "Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'hello'."

I've never forgotten that lesson.

I also learned her name was Dorothy."

So, here's what to do today, if not right now. Go and say "Hello" to every person in your building who you would not normally speak to and say thanks for the contribution they make.

That's what I'm off to do.