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Joy Wilson

Spectrum Training services

Learning and Development Consultant

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Employee development or a flea circus?


 We all know the story of the experiment in which a number of fleas were placed in a jar. The initial reaction of the fleas was to jump, and jump very high out of the jar, but then, the lid of the jar was replaced and after several attempts to escape from the jar, the fleas simply stopped jumping as high and only put in just enough effort to jump to just below the lid so that they would not bang their heads

Good people – Old habits

People, like the fleas, establish habits very quickly. They think, act and respond in the same way over and over and over again and once learned through repetition which really doesn’t take very long at all, human beings habituate and then automate those habits, behaviours and beliefs.


But what if we lift the lid?

A smart manager had an idea, "what if we lift the lid" Surely then under those new conditions people will respond and realise that yesterdays old habits are not appropriate in this new environment. So, the lid was removed, nothing changed, the fleas continued to jump to a height just below that of the container lid no further. They were stuck in a state of constraint even though the lid was removed.


Is it Employee development or are you running a flea circus?

Managers, many of your employees resemble those trained fleas?

Do they operate in a comfort zone, doing just what they have to do to get by?Have some been promoted beyond their level of competency and do nothing to improve their ability?


Who is content to stay in the jar?

How have you contributed to employee containment?

Containment keeps us trapped in the limitations of yesterday, we cling to old habits like fleas cling to a dog. Our environment has become limiting we are afraid of hurting ourselves on the lids of our reality. Containment breeds statements like can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, mustn’t....and so we don’t!

For managers who demonstrate no understanding of what it takes to get people to want to change, failure is the most likely outcome The effort required to aim and achieve higher standards of performance is freely given by employees who can see the perceived gain. People need to understand what excellent performance looks like in their role at work. They also need to be involved in establishing their own targets. Allowing employee to come up with their own strategy and goals creates ownership and what they aspire to might surprise you - Managers often impose targets that limit the employee’s real potential.

Employee development or are you running a flea circus?

Author Profile Picture
Joy Wilson

Learning and Development Consultant

Read more from Joy Wilson

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