Across Europe, there are stories that tell of a traveler journeying on horseback through the countryside. One day, the traveler comes across a visibly weary worker who is quarrying quite slowly. Upon asking him what he is doing, the worker tells the traveler that every day, he comes to the same quarry and uses his hammer to dig out rocks for his pile. The worker then explains that every so often, another tired man comes along, takes his pile away, and he begins anew. Although he seemed in little hurry to get back to digging, the traveler thanks the worker for his time and proceeds up the road.

After riding for another hour, the horseman comes across a second worker who seems to be engaged in the same routine. The traveler stops again and asks what the worker is doing. The worker responds that he is carving out bricks for a new structure in the next town over. Based on the size and color of the stones, the traveler gathers that the second worker has been assigned to the same building as the first but notes how the second worker is digging with considerably more effort. The traveler thanks the busy worker and continues on his way.

Just outside the town the second worker had mentioned, the traveler comes across a third man, once again in a quarry. This worker too is carving out the same kind of stones as the others, only this time, working with unmatched enthusiasm and urgency. Again, the traveler stops and asks the worker what he is doing. The third worker explains that he is part of a team constructing a new cathedral where he, his family, and his community will worship and give out food to the poor. The worker then apologizes to the traveler and insists he must get back to carving.

What Are You Working On?

Looking back over the traveler’s journey, these three workers are all engaged in the same labor for the same project. However, the workers’ perspectives on and motivation for their tasks are completely different. This story resonates deeply with me. How often do we see our sales and marketing departments as part of a grand vision when they only see themselves as carving our blocks?

In most organizations, the majority of employees are at the front-end of any given initiative. There are far fewer who see the big challenge that must be solved or the opportunity that should be capitalized upon. Those apt at creating these necessary strategies are often categorized as visionaries. These particular leaders strive for a future that is both highly compelling and markedly different from the current state. If they have the time, dedication, and influence, they can turn that vision into a fully funded project. To take from the story, the building of the cathedral can begin. 

Where problems arise is when that vision is inevitably broken down into coordinated tasks. Borrowing again from the narrative, visions are built one brick at a time. In a best-case scenario, someone is there to keep this vision alive, ensuring each block is carved, carried, and laid in context instead of simply becoming menial labor. But the unfortunate reality is that most visionaries move on. Obsessed with ideas and solutions, they get tired with their cathedral once it is in motion and move on to the next challenge. This often leads to a situation where the workers are left working and the vision is left fading.

This is no mere fable in the world of sales enablement. How often does someone, somewhere, want to equip the sales force with new tools to better provide solutions for prospects, better communicate with partners, act faster than the competition, and leverage peer knowledge within the company? Sounds compelling and attractive, right? Yet two years after that deal is signed, key leadership has turned over, and that same sales force is being trained on a different CRM and collaboration platform. Without the original visionary, dismantling the previous cathedral has become additional work for yet another idea du jour.

For these reasons, it is vital to keep this vision alive. What is the compelling reason why we are embracing this new technology or approach?  What will this enable us to do? Why will life be better? What do we stand to gain from laying these bricks?  At our core, most of us want to be like the third worker in the story. But without understanding our purpose in the bigger picture, it is human nature to become like the first.

Written by Martyn Lewis
Posted December 21, 2022

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