There's an old joke about locking your partner & your dog in the back of your car, leaving them there for five minutes & then opening the boot to find out which of them is more excited to see you!
It's a light-hearted story that so well captures the (perhaps blind) loyalty of the domesticated canine.
A couple of years back I had coffee with a Recruiter who was keen on getting me to take a role with a small start up. Toward the end of the conversation he asked me "why are you so loyal?" The question flawed me for some time - I struggled to answer it and, eventually, I made some comment about loyalty being in my values and a part of who I am.
I'd forgotten this conversation until just last week when an old friend contacted me to ask if I would provide her with a character reference. "Sure" I said, "and anyway, why are you leaving your current job?"
"Well, I feel like the old dog at the backdoor" she said.
"Okay?" I said, somewhat confused and uncertain as to where the conversation was headed.
She continued: "When I first arrived I was the new pup, getting lots of attention, praise and rewards. I was kept busy and was always learning something new. Then as I got better at my tasks and got into the routine it all stopped - not right away, but over time it stopped. No more attention, praise or rewards. No more challenges to learn something new. I'd just been left alone to get on with what I do."
"After a while longer I started to get blamed for things - some in my control and some outside. I started to feel like the dog getting the occasional kick to the ribs. And I guess I didn't mind it so much - I was getting a decent meal every fortnight."
"Meal?" I stammered.
"Yeah, you know - 'meal' .... salary!"
"Oh, sure" I replied.
"But lately I'm getting more and more kicks" she went on. "And now what's really testing my loyalty is the new pups being brought in here, being fed more than I am to learn the same old tricks and do the same old challenges. So I'm that old dog - less attention, less food and more kicks to the ribs - but I still keep turning up at the backdoor every morning."
"But, you know, ultimately there's only two choices an old dog has," she continued - "Bite the hand that feeds you or wander off and see what else there is out there!"
After a couple of days of processing her story I realised this is a great metaphor to a not uncommon scenario in many organisations. Good people are brought on, encouraged, rewarded and challenged to grow and develop. Many become very, very loyal. But over time many are also lost to this very loyalty - lost in jobs beneath their ability; lost in despair at being underpaid whilst new recruits are brought in; lost in micro-management and process; lost through 'leadership' inaction; lost from lack of reciprocation and recognition.
And when these loyal people do 'bite back' or 'wander off' we blame them! Instead of seeing their reactions as being (maybe, just maybe) a failure on our part (we took them for granted) we subtly shift the fault to them: 'they needed to move on', or 'they were just too settled in their ways here', or 'it was time for some new blood,' or 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks'.
But I wonder.... do we really try hard enough? Do we really reciprocate loyalty? Or do we leave the old dog with only two choices - bite or leave?
Don't take the loyalty of your people for granted. Loyalty is worth something - probably more than any of us really appreciates. Until it's too late.