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You Can’t Push a Pig into a Truck: Change is all about Choice
We always had at least one pig on the farm and sometimes more. I loved my pigs. They were beautiful and intelligent. The one I think of the most was Snowball, who was a 350 pound white boar from Yorkshire. Snowball became a pet. If you scratched her belly, she would first try to help you scratch while standing on three legs like a dog. Then she would give up and roll over to give me full access to her belly. She would lie there and enjoy the scratches for as long as I would give her.
A couple of times a year, when Dad noticed that Snowball was ready, we’d take him to the neighbor’s farm for a social visit. One summer day it was time for the scheduled social visit to the neighbor’s pig. (Dad used this experience to serve the purpose of the traditional back-barn conversation.) Dad looked for me and my older brother, Joe, and informed us, “It’s time to take Snowball to the Howeiller farm. I have a few things for him do. I’ve got the truck at the pork barrel. Come down and load it and I’ll be there in a few minutes.” We were inclined to do what Dad said, as he was a high school principal and a professional rower in those days. Joe and I went to the pig pen and sure enough there was the truck in the middle of the pen and a ramp leaning against the fence. We grabbed the rig, put it on the back of the truck and pulled over to give Snowball some room. Snowball, being the curious animal that he was, climbed the ramp. Then, she stopped and looked around. Fearing that we would lose all the territory we had accidentally gained without any effort, we each placed a shoulder against a pig’s back and began to push that pig into the truck. I mean, we tried to push the pig into the truck. Our approach was doomed to failure. When Snowball felt the pressure on her rear, she automatically pushed the pressure off and backed up. Since she weighed more than both of us combined, she dropped Joe into a puddle of mud on one side of the platform and let me teeter on the edge of the other. And if you know anything about pig mud puddles, they’re not the nicest places to stand.
At that time, Dad came around the corner of the barn and saw Joe face down in a puddle and me waiting for my dip in the puddle. He burst out laughing, the likes of which I had never seen before. He doubled over and nearly choked. I couldn’t avoid my dip and Joe and I came out wiping the nasty mud from our faces. In a few minutes, when the laughter died down, Dad looked at us and yelled, “I taught you guys how to load a pig. It’s not like that.” He went to the nearby barn, picked up a small metal cup of cut corn, made a little Hansel and Gretel imprint on the ramp, and dumped the rest into the front of the truck bed. In three minutes Snowball was loaded and proud to be there. From that moment I remembered, “You can’t push a pig into a truck.”
A leader’s objective is to motivate employees to do the “right” things according to specific business needs. Some leaders believe that their followers will do what the leader says simply because of his or her role. Others rely on their charisma for employee loyalty and obedience. Fortunately or unfortunately, these beliefs often do not hold true in real life.
I spend a lot of time in organizations trying to help employees choose behaviors that enable the organization to succeed in today’s tough business environment. Sometimes, I am frustrated with the inability of employees to choose to work together for a common goal.
The story of the pig has helped me make a point in my training sessions for years. I explain that in this characteristic I am not so different from Snowball. When people tried to force me to do things and I didn’t understand the point, I tended to resist. If people know how the change will help them personally, they can make objective decisions.
You cannot force people to do anything, however, people tend to choose to do things that they believe will satisfy their needs. Leaders must tell their followers the reasons for the initiatives they choose for the good of the business. Remember, You can’t push a pig into a truck.
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