Einstein, the Shaving Cream and the Performance Chain

If you could have dinner with any historical figure, who would it be?  Stop groaning; I’m not about to give you a list of icebreakers to ask your colleagues at the next interdepartmental meeting. But the next time someone does try to spring that question on me, I’ll be ready.

Albert Einstein.

Why? For starters, I once had a college professor who claimed not only that she met the famous physicist, but that his socks didn’t match. I have my doubts. I’m no genius, but I know the solution to that footwear problem is simply to keep a drawer full of identical socks. Naturally, I want to take a peek at Einstein’s feet and share my wisdom with him. He and I also need to have a little chat about time travel. Time permitting, of course. Pun intended.

When it comes to traveling at the speed of light, I believe we need some rules. I’m not talking about laws of physics or relativity or any of that other knowledge he most likely has down pat. What I need to clarify with him are some basic policies to guide society in the use of time travel. All that time he was sticking his tongue out, marrying his cousin and not combing his hair, did he consider the societal implications of time travel and the need for some sort of order?

For example, would I be out of line if I paid a visit in time to the very first woman who thought it might be a good idea to shave the hair off her legs? I just want to make sure she understands the precedent she is about to set. Likely, she has not considered  how many women will be expected to follow in her footsteps.

What does shaving have to do with work performance? A lot, actually.

Once upon a time, there was a successful business woman named Elaine, who stepped into the shower one fateful day and realized she had postponed shaving her legs a few days too many. Afraid of looking like a Sasquatch at her upcoming presentation to important clients, she spent the next ten minutes making her legs silky smooth. After doing so, she left home later than normal and encountered even more traffic than usual. Impatient, she followed the car in front of her too closely until that car’s driver slammed on his brakes and Elaine’s headlight obliterated the poor fellow’s Forever Bluegrass bumper sticker. Suddenly, Elaine found herself exchanging insurance information with a man who claimed whiplash. The police arrived. And an ambulance. By the time Elaine arrived at the office, she had missed the meeting. The clients had left, and the company had lost a big sale. Elaine was fired. She wound up homeless, and the company went bankrupt.

Yes, I invented Elaine and her horrible saga. You got me.

In the study of performance improvement, though, there really is something called the performance chain. In essence, behavior influences lead to behavior, which leads to work outputs, which in turn lead to business results. I may have exaggerated a teensy bit when I said that the first woman who shaved her legs generated a wacky sort of performance chain that lead to the demise of a company and that the only way to remedy the problem would have been for me to travel back in time. After all, Elaine could have just worn pants. And probably even mismatched socks.


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