The Parable of the Employees

Note: Management writer Peter F. Drucker says that the size of a company's management problem isn't measured by the company's dollar volume; it's most nearly proportional to the number of employees.

Once upon a time, a General Manager established three branch offices. In each of these offices, he hired a local branch manager, and then helped the new branch manager hire some employees. He gave each branch manager the same speech: "You know that I want this business to grow. When I come back, I will hold you accountable for your branch."  In the first branch office, he left the branch manager with five employees; in the second office, two employees; and in the third branch office, one employee.

A year later, the General Manager again visited the offices. In the first office, he found that the business of that office had grown substantially. In proportion to the business volume, the number of employees had grown from five to ten. "Well done, my good and faithful manager," he said. "You have made your part of the business grow by 100 percent, and that is just what the owner wanted. You have done well."

In the second branch office, the General Manager found that the manager of that branch also had caused the business volume of his office to double, and the number of employees correspondingly to grow from two to four. "Well done, you also are a good and faithful manager," said the General Manager. "You also have made your part of the business grow by 100 percent. You have done well."

When he got to the third branch office, however, the General Manager found a different situation. The sales volume was the same as when he had left it, and there was only the same original employee present. "What's going on here?" the General Manager demanded. "Your assignment was to make your branch and its business grow."

"I know, sir," the Branch Manager responded. "But to make a business grow, the customers must be serviced by someone who is well-trained and experienced. Consequently, I myself stand behind the counter and take care of any customers that come in. Once a week, I give a training lecture to the employee and we have lunch, but I'm not sure he's learning any faster than he's forgetting. And no matter how many hours a day I keep the store open, I can't seem to get the business to grow. But I've got as much inventory as when you turned it over to me, and I still have the employee."

"That's not the point," said the General Manager. "You have failed in your assignment." And the General Manager assigned that branch and that employee to the first Branch Manager, for, as he said, "To those who succeed at the mission, more will be given to do. But to those who fail, even their first mission assignment will be taken away."