Finding The Gold in Wonky Workers

On the week that would have been Roald Dahl’s 101st birthday, we wonder what it would be like to work with the famously annoying children from one of his best-loved novels, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Imagine the scene. You’re Charlie Bucket, and you’ve been invited on an away-day with your new colleagues. You are keen to impress your new boss and meet the people you’re going to be working with.

The company is very successful, selling the market-leading product. The owner — your manager — is brilliant, if a little unconventional.

And the away-day itself? Well, let’s just say that the agency that planned it have surpassed themselves this time. Once you got the email detailing the itinerary, you couldn’t wait to get going, to view this super-secretive company from the inside and get to see what all the fuss is about.

So, the big day arrives — all the newbies are here, eager as you to make an impression.

However, you’re only into the intros and ice-breakers and you can already see two big problems looming. It’s pretty clear that your boss really doesn’t like any of your new colleagues. And your other problem — you seem to have hit it off well with the big cheese, so now you get to be teacher’s pet, and who likes them?

So, do you start playing it a bit cool with the boss, hoping a certain aloofness gets you back amongst the pack? Or, do you go with Mr Big — after all, he’s the owner, so he ain’t going nowhere — while knowing that Christmas parties and work canteens can be lonely places for the career brown-nose?

There is of course a third option — one where you can retain your integrity and possibly even get along with everyone. It’s the ‘emotionally intelligent’ (EQ) route, where you take time to understand your team-mates, how they tick, what motivates them and how to get the best out of working with them.

So, let’s introduce the team:

Team buddy no.1 — Augustus Gloop. Greedy, rude and unpleasant, he’s not the witty, chatty, friendly team-mate you were hoping for. As the factory workers (the Oompa-Loompas in the book) put it:

“Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!

The great big greedy nincompoop!

…We’re positive he’d never give

Even the smallest bit of fun

Or happiness, to anyone.”

Team buddy no.2 — Veruca Salt. Her catchphrase “I want it and I want it now”, should give you a pretty good idea how this team-mate operates.

Team buddy no.3 — Violet Beauregarde. Violet is impetuous, and her personal habits aren’t to everyone’s taste:

“There’s almost nothing worse to see

Than some repulsive little bum

Who’s always chewing chewing-gum.”

Team buddy no.4 — Mike Teavee. His nose is permanently in his phone, watching YouTube, mainly old Westerns. With his head in his screen, you’ll be lucky to get a conversation face-to-face with Mike.

What all four seem to have in common is a complete disregard for others; they’re incredibly self-absorbed, only interested in what they want and what they can get. In contrast is Charlie himself. In the book he is quiet, polite and personable. He’d be easy to work with, though arguably lacking in dynamism and imagination.

And what of the boss? Why of course, it’s none other than Willy Wonka — the chocolate-making-world’s answer to Elon Musk — entrepreneurial, innovative and visionary.

So, the team day is over and everyone is surprised to hear the boss wants to retire immediately. Charlie has managed, successfully, to balance his approach between teacher’s pet and man(boy) of the people — so Mr W has decided to put him in charge.

Thinking about his new team, what can Charlie do to make it work?

Let’s take his teammates one at a time:

You might not like Augustus very much, but find out what motivates him and, like a steam roller that’s out of control, he will never stop, never let anything slow him down or divert him. While he keeps his eye on the prize, you will need to keep an eye out for him — he can be the fall guy (well, he fell into Wonka’s River of Chocolate) so remember to put an arm round his shoulder once in a while.

With her huge sense of entitlement, Veruca Salt could drive you round the bend. Set stretching goals with her and she’ll thrive on the challenge. Letting her know how her behaviour impacts on others and thus on her results, will tap into her self-obsession. She has the original ‘can do’ attitude, when it suits her purposes.

Which brings us on to the two risk-takers, Violet and Mike. Violet is annoying and silly (but hey, she’s young!). Give her a clearly defined role with a chance to be creative and plenty of regular 1:1s to keep her on track. And then there’s Mike. Mike asks lots of good questions, which Mr W either rubbishes or pretends not to hear. Mike makes some pretty reasonable points throughout, so you feel he’s getting a little picked on. And his demise comes from a desperate desire to appear in a TV — at huge personal risk. You’ll need to give him something to do which keeps his mind stimulated and he, like Violet, will need to feel they are living a little on the edge. These are your innovators.

Thankfully you don’t have a team of Charlies. Instead, it’s a pretty good mix of risk-takers, focused goal-getters and obsessive achievers, with Charlie’s strengths — sensitivity, positivity and level-headedness — to bring the team together and provide the checks and balances. For Charlie, it will mean using his coaching skills: questioning, listening and encouraging, to establish motivation and support his team to channel their drive. His role-modelling of being non-judgemental and caring for others while standing his ground will rub off on the rest of the team.

Judging from his character in the book, he may be a bit too shy and inexperienced to lead the company just yet. For now, let’s put him (and Grandpa Joe)– as the people with the most EQ — in charge of HR. As part of their People Strategy, they could start with Oompa-Loompa liaison (those chaps need to have some decent contracts relating to product-testing!).

So, perhaps Charlie’s Mum or Dad, who both seem like sensible folks, could hold the reins for a while (but not as joint CEOs — oh no, trust me, that doesn’t end well). And as for Mr Wonka? Well, let’s not lose that innovative mind of his just yet. However, much as he wants to retire, we need a sensible transition period, so he could be a non-exec.

Suggested Organisational Chart:

The moral of the story? Well, Mr Dahl would have it that to live a satisfied and successful life, the answer is to “READ, READ, READ”. Well, of course he has a point — in a recent study of CEOs and business owners, they found a common trait of reading on average 60 books a year.

For the purposes of our tale today, the answers lie a little further below the surface. When you read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it’s clear to see Roald Dahl’s talent. Not everyone’s skill is laid quite so bare, and seeing strengths where others only see problems takes skill and imagination.

I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it, but the chapter “Square Sweets That Look Round” is hilarious, surprising and beautifully written. It is perhaps the best analogy for this piece — take another look at that annoying team-mate of yours — a change of perspective can be a real eye-opener.

Angela Massey, a member of Emoquo’s Expert Coaching Community


Please note this article is intended for educational purpose only and its contents are not in any way authorised, endorsed or in any way connected to Roald Dahl or his estate or charities

#HRTech #HR #PeopleManagement #Changemanagement #Workplace #Futureofwork #DigitalCoaching

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