Tag Archives: parable

The Best Work Parable

I can’t remember when I first heard this great parable, and despite Googling around couldn’t find it online [see footnote], so I thought I’d take a moment to re-tell this pointed story here.

One day an employee is asked to write a proposal for a new business idea and submits it to his manager.

Employee:  “Did you get a chance to read my proposal yet? What did you think of it?”

Manager:  “You know, I need to ask you one question about that proposal — was it really your best work?”

Employee (reluctantly):  “No … , in fact, it was not.  I can think of several things I could have done better.”

Manager:  “Great, so please do those things and resubmit it to me.”

The employee then does additional work on the proposal and resubmits it to the manager.

Employee:  “Hi, did you review my revised proposal?  What did you think?”

Manager:  “Well, I need to ask you one question about that proposal”

Employee:  “Sure”

Manager:  “Does the revised proposal represent your best work?”

Employee (reluctantly):  “Well, no, while I think it’s much better than the first version, I still have several ideas for how to improve it.”

Manager:  “OK, so I’d like to ask you to implement those ideas and then resubmit the proposal to me.”

The employee then revises the proposal again and submits it for the third time to the manager.

Employee:  “Did you get a chance to review my proposal?  What did you think?”

Manager:  “Does this third proposal represent your best work?”

Employee:  “Yes.”

Manager:  “Great, so now I’ll read it.”

If you’re playing the role of employee, do you submit your best work on the first go?  If not, why not?  Why do you want your management reviewing low-quality work?

If you’re playing the manager, are your employees getting you to do their jobs for them by having you correct/revise their work into the desired form?  How can you set the bar so you get their best work on the first go?

[Footnote: while I couldn’t find this story via Googling several readers were kind enough to inform me that it appears to have been originally told about Henry Kissinger.  See here.]