I was having a discussion with my husband the other day about work and he introduced me to a management concept called ‘the Fable of the Chicken and the Pig’. It’s a theory to explain and track the engagement of individuals on teams. The idea is that in making a meal of eggs and bacon, the pig is literally giving his bacon while all the chicken has to do is lay an egg and walk away. Apparently this method is used to identify ‘pigs’ or ‘chickens’ when forming teams. Spoiler alert: management isn’t interested in making an omelet. The artery- clogger wins this race.
My first reaction to this theory, which I shared with my amused husband, was: ‘Why would anyone want to be the pig?’ My second reaction, donning my conspiracy theory hat was: – Wait a minute- Roosters don’t lay eggs. So what’s up with the gender discrimination? The Chicken is doomed from the get go, no matter how far she leans in, Miss Piggy she will never be. To go further perhaps the Miss Piggy persona describes the likability issue experienced by many women at the top. But I seriously digress- let’s get back to my first question: Why would anyone want to work for a company that expects its employees to be carved up, thrown in a pan and served for dinner piece by piece, project by project? Isn’t it much smarter to lay your egg, (which by the way is a complete meal, great source of protein) keep your hide intact and be able to walk away and bring your unique, encapsulated skills to another project? So I ask now thrice- Who would want to be the pig?
Given that the theory measures levels of engagement, let’s apply it to the level of engagement that the average company brings to its workers once hired. Is it really reasonable for the company to expect its workers to give their bacon on a revolving basis to the company? Especially, in light of the post 2008 scenario where job-security is a thing of the past? Perhaps this zeitgeist explains the high incidence of burn- out in the corporate world. How many projects can your bring the porcine level of engagement to before you’re all carved up and fried from the process?
Given that chickens have been cast in the role of lazy and disengaged in this scenario, I’d like to propose a modification to the analogy and to the theory. Introducing the humble potato. In the Anglo Saxon culture if you want a really hearty breakfast you can order not only bacon and eggs but get some hash browns or mash on the side. The potato is a tuber, grows underground, and needs to be nurtured in the right way to produce its bounty. Once it’s ready to be harvested and eaten you can prepare it in a variety of ways, bake it, make French fries, mash, make a potato salad, you get the idea: it’s versatile.
Likewise the human capital of a company deserves more than the all or nothing choice presented in the pig and chicken scenario. What about the company taking the lead in engagement by investing in its people, nurturing them and getting rid of the two kinds of people, one size fits all thinking?
Love me some bacon and eggs but I’ll take mine with a side of fries.
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