Building Blocks for a Winning Work Culture: Rabbits and Tortoises

Rabbits and Tortoises for a winning work culture.

We’ve all grown up with the rabbit and the tortoise tale. The winning virtues of the tortoise that have immortalized “slow and steady wins the race“. That’s a great moral lesson for people of all ages, especially kids growing up.

But, what about workplaces. We can’t build a winning work culture by choosing one of the two. We rather need a mix: a few rabbits and a lot of tortoises.

Take one out of the equation, and the company is sure to struggle.

Let me elaborate on that.

Rabbits and Tortoises – Creating a Winning Work Culture

What does the tortoise in the tale signify?

With reference to work – a dedicated employee with a single-minded focus to get the job done. No distractions. Follows the set path (process). Not concerned with how others play the game, the tortoise, slow and steady, gets the job done.

That’s what every company needs in abundance – committed employees who get the job done, without deviating from the process. Standardized work instructions.

What does the rabbit signify?

Someone who gets bored with monotony at work. Likes to be challenged. Does not mind some deviation and disruption from the normal.

With no intentions to glorify the rabbit who lost the race, I would say the talented rabbit fits the role of the employee who can dream, innovate and disrupt existing ways of working.

Can the tortoise dream, innovate and disrupt?

Yes of course. But is there enough gas in the tank left after slogging during work hours, completing all work instructions with focus and commitment? This to me does not sound to be a fertile breeding ground for new ideas and innovation.

So, if I were to sum up the two participants of the race, I’d say:

  • Rabbit – the dreamer, challenger, risk taker
  • Tortoise – committed, diligent, risk averse

Now, to keep the business running smoothly and at the same time working on innovations and disruptions for future growth, we need both these profiles. A few challengers and risk-takers. And, many committed, diligent employees to execute the tasks at hand.

While they were opponents in this evergreen tale of life lessons, if you are keen on building a winning team – hire and nurture both the rabbit and the tortoise. Get the ratio right. Get the balance right.

Tortoises need to outnumber the rabbits for steady operations and execution. The ideal ratio would depend on your business category and stage. A start-up for example may initially have equal number of rabbits and tortoises. A steady business may need a few tortoises for every one rabbit.

Work the balance to suit your business needs. And, encourage and nurture both. People who are happy and committed to do what they are told. And, employees who are brave enough to challenge the status quo and dream big.


Further Reading

How to deal with brilliant jerks at work?
Brilliant jerks not allowed

Netflix has developed a work culture that doesn’t tolerate brilliant jerks. Quoting Netflix CEO Reed Hastings – “Some companies tolerate them. For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high.” Jerks destroy culture and teamwork. The not so brilliant jerks are easily disposable. But how to deal with brilliant jerks?

Reed says “fire them”. I without a doubt agree. But is it always the best solution? Here’s how you can deal with brilliant jerks at work.


Don’t let caution and fear stifle good employees

There is a natural inclination for business owners and those in charge of setting work policies to err on the side of caution. After all, in any company, there are always a few employees who take advantage of any leniency and push the boundaries.

Such employees can be damaging to an office’s culture and ultimately its bottom line. So it’s natural for employers to want to institute policies that deter these employees from misuse and causing harm.

The problem – Good employees get caught up in the mix. Here’s a link to the post.

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By Nitesh Verma

Founder - Business Management Blog. I am an independent business strategy consultant, helping companies take data driven business decisions. My mission is to find and implement simple solutions for complex business problems.

2 comments

  1. For sure it is an entertaining idea that you need both of them (tortoises and rabbits)! It is worth exploring this concept and I like your thinking approach.

    Nonetheless, playing the devil’s advocate, what if tortoises can drag the company behind? In today’s fast changing business environment, steadiness can inflict a spiral of decline that eventually leads to death. I don’t mean to disagree with you, just raising questions that invite all of us to think over it…

    1. Thank you for visiting my blog and your inputs. That is a valid concern – “what if tortoises drag the company behind?”. I believe the key is to get the ratio right. For traditional work environments with more mundane tasks, you would need fewer rabbits to maintain the balance. In more dynamic workplaces, where changes are more and sudden, the balance will have to tilt in favour of the rabbits. If we can equate Elon Musk to the rabbit in this context, how would his companies fare if all his employees had the rabbit DNA? I guess there will be chaos. Mr. Musk needs an army of tortoises to follow the command.

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