THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

The Water Bucket Test

Back in the early 80’s I was a broker consultant (technical rep) for Hambro Life Assurance – a new and innovative life and pensions company.

They employed many “American” sales tactics (as they were described back then), very much an acquired taste in a marketplace that was dominated by the Standard Life and Scottish Widows of that world, who had been around literally hundreds of years.

The Hambro Life sales management tactics were equally modernist, including an appraisal meeting with your manager every January ended with your bonus for the previous year’s performance or your P45 for the lack of it.

I joined the company on appraisal day in January 1980 and was invited to take one of 6 desks in the sales office but had to wait until it’s previous occupant had cleared his personal effects on the way out of the door.

It was uncomfortable, to say the least, to be metaphorically waiting to step into the dead man’s shoes, listening to his forthright comments about the manager who had just terminated his employment.

The other 5 consultants had lived to fight another year and were quietly respectful as their former colleague departed. Then a welcome for me, the newbie, with expressions of support and “don’t worry, you’ll be fine”.

Some comfort for a 27-year old who had just given up a very cushy office job to seek fortune and fame in the world of sales.

One of my new colleagues took me over to the office coffee machine (remember them?) and reassured me even further.

I asked how he felt about watching his teammate’s exit.

His reply:

Chris, we have a rule around here when somebody leaves, voluntarily or not. Half fill a  bucket of water, roll up your sleeve and stir the water around as fast as you can until the water is swirling around the sides. Take your arm out, dry it and roll up your sleeve. The time it takes the water to be still again is the time you talk about the person who left – after that, get on with your job.

I successfully avoided the water bucket test over the following 5 years, rising to 2nd in the company’s UK league tables (I’ve always enjoyed being second – less pressure), with the highest number of active customer accounts in the country – 80% pure hard work and 20% talent.

I was reminded of the water bucket test a few days ago, when discussing the departure of a manager from a dental practice after an unsuccessful probationary period.

The client wanted to dissect the back story, apportion blame, relate a sequence of events and situations that proved his decision correct – he was all set for the obligatory 45-minute dialogue about what went wrong.

I respectfully shared the water bucket story and set a time limit of 5 minutes to discuss WHAT HE HAD LEARNED AND WHAT HE WAS GOING TO DO DIFFERENTLY AS A RESULT.

Because, frankly, the back story didn’t matter any more.

To pull down another quote, reputedly from Native America (although I doubt it):

when the horse is dead – get off

So next time you want an inquest on anything.

Half fill a bucket with water and roll up your sleeve.

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