I recently finished the audio book of John Steinbeck’s, Of Mice and Men.” I can’t believe that I had never read it before. In high school, the other English teacher assigned it to many of my classmates, and I remember them talking about George and Lenny.
So if you have not read this book yet, please do so, and then come back to this blog.
Sometimes lessons learned are obvious, but that does not mean they are obvious to everyone. Here are a few from Of Mice and Men:
- Keep your plan front and center. George and Lenny got it right when it came to keeping their plan top of mind. They discussed their venture frequently, almost regularly. “We could live offa the fatta the lan’.” When it comes to nonprofits and their strategic plans, I recommend keeping the strategic plan outputs front and center. Are your organizational values on your letterhead and on your meeting agendas? Is your mission statement short and sweet enough for employees to memorize and recognize on company websites and materials? Are there parts of your 5-year vision statement built into every meeting agenda in your organization? If your plan and its various components are not front and center, where are they? Probably left field.
- Tie rewards to appropriate performance and behaviors. George made it clear to Lenny that his good behavior could lead to the rabbit farm Lenny so desperately hoped for. When something went wrong with the plan, Lenny seemed to worry more about how George would react than about his actual mistake. Do our employees and volunteers worry more about how we will judge them or about how they can learn from their mistakes? Think about your performance reviews. Are they focused on the person or the performance? If performance, is it performance that is within the control of the person?
- A plan without related employee training is a recipe for disaster. George was very clear in his instructions to Lenny on the importance of taking care of his new puppy and how it could be helpful in preparing him to care for rabbits. Unfortunately for the puppy and Lenny, Lenny did not benefit from hands on training or even supervision. Both are critical for the success of strategic plans. Perhaps if Lenny had been shown how to stroke and pet a puppy properly, he may had more success.
- Act out of faith, not fear: “Ain’t many guys travel around together,” he mused. “I don’t know why. Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
Making decisions based on avoiding mistakes (fear) rather than on the potential for success (faith) will never lead to excellence. Read my blog about David Marquet’s book, Turn This Ship Around, to learn more on this subject.
- Set metrics to determine when to implement the contingency plan. George and Lenny had a contingency plan to meet down by the steam if anything went wrong on the ranch. Unfortunately, they did not specify the level of problems that would trigger the plan. Consequently, when Lenny had trouble with the puppy, he hesitated too long about telling George. Starting with that one small mistake, larger troubles ensued until they were out of their control. In your strategic planning reviews, have you discussed at what point you will pull the plug on programs and projects that are not performing as planned?
- Form strategic partnerships and alliances: George and Lenny cared about each other and watched each other’s back. However, due to their lack of detailed planning, they allowed others to push their way into their plans. Candy may have seemed like a blessing from heaven, with his available funds to help George and Lenny achieve their dream sooner than expected. But how much would Candy have been able to contribute to the running of their own place? Even Crooks offered to provide free labor, but providing for his room and board was not likely in George and Lenny’s budget. Rather than making personnel decisions based upon simple availability, we must evaluate the potential hire’s strengths and fit with the organization’s identified culture and strategic needs.
- It is fine to dream, but make a plan. George and Lenny certainly had a dream of owning their own ranch, and who could fault them. They even had the verbal makings of a plan. Obviously, given the setting of the book, it would be unlikely for them to have written out their plan, but that is no excuse for us. An unwritten dream remains an unfulfilled wish. Make it a goal and a plan by writing it down. Otherwise, we are left with nothing but desperate hopes, exemplified by the lines from the final pages of Of Mice and Men, “Lennie begged, ‘Le’s do it now. Le’s get that place now.’ ‘Sure right now…'”
I loved this book. As much of an optimist as I am, and as much as I like happy and hopeful endings, great stories can sometimes be about failures, even tragedies. They may be hard to hear, but that does not make them less valuable or instructive. The pain we feel as we think of lost possibilities, though, should provide us motivation to make changes to minimize the likelihood of failure in the future. I truly believe some of our best learning results from making mistakes, so why not learn from those made in a piece of fiction rather than through personal or professional experience?
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