John: Unwilling Production Manager

It’s time to unleash the humans.

This is the story and selected photos of John. It’s based on truth — individual and collective. I think it’s best when performed as spoken word, but I also think it’s a story worth sharing…

For the next six (or so) minutes, let’s think differently;

Share a story of everyman -
A thoroughly

For our purposes, let’s call him John,
Though he’s as likely Jane, Jamil… anon.

There are millions of them who go to work, daily,
Watching time, wasting opportunity — their lives.

Disengaged, restricted, categorised, unnoticed.
Employed to perform tasks, not for who they are.

We need to change that.

John showed me why…

You wouldn’t pick John from a crowd.

An uneventful life,
Hampered, by underperformance.

Ignored at school.

He finished at 15;
Left by the system to become part of the machine.

No career or ambition, told to hope for a job (at best);

“Production Operative” – polo shirt supplied.
40 hours, plus overtime - minimum wage,
Gratitude expected, progression denied.

10 years later; still there, still drifting,
Dutifully, John counts the hours by.

Five days on – live for the two,
Cash in the back pocket used and abused.

But now, aged 40, he’s searching for something…

A value - or two.

Then one day,
Events seem to turn in his favour.
Called into the office, he’s given a rise.


John, that’s great!

He pauses.

He thinks.

Well, it’s more money – yeah,
But now there’s shit to deal with and I don’t bloody care.
My boss is a prick who can’t make his mind up,
Nothing’s set up right – I’m close to despair.
I’m only there for the lads, they’re a right good bunch;
If I don’t look out for them, no one will.
Work’s the thing you do to fund your life, yeah?
It’s necessary at best,
Like climbing Sisyphus’ hill.

I met John at a barbecue – I wanted to shake him alive.
It petrifies me this man will die with no chance to thrive.

I watched him swig from a can – crack open another one,
Put up his feet and seem OK with life.
Because it’s Saturday and the sun is out, shining,
This is John’s happy place – this is his time.

But then his phone rings…

I’m no psychologist, but I bear witness to having seen a man transformed before my eyes.

Although John thinks he’s speaking in code, there’s an awkward moment where everyone around the table realises he’s brokering a low-level drug deal.

He finishes his call, makes his excuses and leaves. There’s something that he “has to do”.

Some mutter:

“what a waste,”

I tend to agree.

Because the employer he’s worked for for over 10 years,
Has never taken the time to look at John for who he really is,
What he really can be,
What he can offer.

They’ve missed so much – and so has he.

Someone needs to rip up the Job Description, re-think his workplace and unleash John.

He’s on time, reliable, knows the place like no other,
10 years of service, got the ear of the team.
He understands process, best practice – at ground level,
But no one’s engaged him, understood what he’s seen.
And that’s just John the Production Manager.

The John I saw that afternoon was alive and awake.
He thought fast, reacted, communicated at pace.
Coordination, organisation,
Customer service, a salesman.
An eye for a deal,
A networker,

All at once.


Break up his job,
Create a new working environment.
Be led by his strengths –
Let John suggest tasks.
He’d get more and give more,
Then multiply the energy –

If you unleashed everyone this way,
Imagine the charge.

You see John’s not engaged – he’s not understood,
A piece of paper governs what he shouldn’t and what he should.
Job description – he fits in the category,
The paperwork’s done but no one checked under the hood.
Because YES,
John can manage by numbers.
But he has ideas, insight and ability.

His human uniqueness can’t be categorised by a generic description on paper.

YES – his employer has production schedules and deadlines,
Location-specific requirements –
And all the other usual restrictions that keep the John’s of this world tethered.

But what if we cut the leash?

Accessed the humans?

My bet is we’d achieve the process end far better if we

released the people.

No, John will never be working from a tablet
In a coffee shop (and who says he’d want to?).
But within the parameters that exist,
He has so much more to give!
The sad thing is,
Still — no one’s looking.
Still – we’re keeping people like John in boxes.

If we could catalyse,
The sparkle in his eye,
I saw that afternoon in his dodgy pursuit.
We might find a new way for worker and employer,
To tribe together — like an army, en route.

Imagine the productivity.
Imagine the positivity.

Imagine the new ideas from every corner of every room.

The clock ticks for John,
He’s counting every second.

Counting down the minutes left of work –
This Week.

John, like his employer, accepts that
Going through the motions is just the way it is.
Working for the scant times he’s not required to be there,
And enjoying the spark of his side-line hobby.

One day it will all end…

There are millions of Johns
And Janes
And Jamils.
Millions with so much more to give.
Let’s unleash them,
Let’s free their potential,

Make it bring your whole self to work day, every day of the week.

For all our sakes.

These are the words and some of the images I created for Workstock at Workplace Trends 2014.