The occasion was a luncheon meeting of one hundred and fifty new employees of IBM. The featured speaker was an executive vice president of the company. The purpose of the talk was to welcome the new people and give them an insight into the history and the culture of the company. The executive vice president (EVP) accomplished most of that in the first half of his twenty-minute talk. Then he segued into a story to dramatize what he felt was one of the guiding principles of the company:
Now that you’re a member of our company, you are one of us and we value you as we would a family member. Let me share a story with you about my own family that shows you what I mean.
Setting the Place and Time
It was 8 o’clock on a Friday night and my daughter, Liz, was sixteen years old. She had a date with Mark, her boyfriend. While she was waiting in the family room for her date to arrive, I asked, “What time will you be home, Liz?”
Launching into Action and Dialogue
“Twelve o’clock,” she replied.
I said, “You know the rules. Eleven o’clock is your curfew.”
Reluctantly, she said, “OK, Daddy, but sometimes problems come up and I can’t make it at exactly eleven.”
“Problems? What kinds of problems?” I asked.
Liz looked up at me and said, “Like a flat tire.”
I said, “OK, if you have a flat tire, you can get home at 11:30. Otherwise it is 11 o’clock.”
Mark came to the door. I told him, “Take good care of my daughter. Make sure she is home by 11.” I kissed Liz good-bye and out she went, into the night.
At 11 o’clock, I was sitting in the family room in my pajamas and bathrobe, watching TV. No Liz. At 11:15 I thought, “Maybe she had a flat tire.” By 11:45, I was angry.
Liz came through the door at 12:15. I could hear the car tires screech as Mark backed out of the driveway as fast as he could. That was smart on his part. He escaped feeling my hands around his throat. With hands on hips, I said to Liz, “Well, where have you been?”
“Daddy, you probably won’t believe this. We had a flat. Weput on the spare and then had another flat tire. We had no second spare so we had to get help before we could get home. That’s why I am so late.”
I stared down at my beautiful sixteen-year-old daughter. I didn’t buy the story of the two flats, and I think she knew I didn’t buy it. She knew she was wrong. I knew she was wrong. But we both were going to have to live together in this house, as father and daughter, for a lot more years yet.
MOMENT OF TRUTH
I wasn’t sure an argument would get either of us anyplace. It was after midnight, and we were both tired. It was no time to start the Father-Daughter War of the Century. I would talk to her in the morning. I put my arms around her and said, “Next time, no flats, OK?”
Liz pulled her head back, looked up at me with her beautiful green eyes, and said, “OK, Daddy, I love you.” She ran off to bed. The next morning we had a talk. I didn’t accuse her of lying—nothing to be gained there. I didn’t say the flats were a made-up story, or that she was being irresponsible, or that she was thoughtless. Nothing gained there either.
I did say I was worried about her as I waited there. I told her that I had complete confidence in her, that I knew she would always do what was right. I said that was why I was so worried. I knew she would call if she were detained for any reason. I knew she wouldn’t be that late knowing her father was sitting up waiting for her. Liz looked at me and said, “Daddy, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”
And, you know what, I felt good about what I had done, and I think Liz did, too. She also taught me a lesson. There’s no question that giving her a fine reputation to live up to was much more effective than catching her doing something wrong and berating her for it.
. . . AND THE POINT
We try to do the same thing in our company. We consider it one of our guiding principles to trust our people and give them a fine reputation to live up to. And we have discovered over the years that almost all of us will reach higher when expectations are higher. We go out of our way to demonstrate that we are all equals as people, regardless of our titles. So if you ever wondered what differentiates our company from other companies, what makes our company great, it’s that fundamental principle that will never change . . . respect for the individual.