The One Thing

In the movie, City Slickers, Curly, played by Jack Palance, shares with Mitch (Billy Crystal), the secret of life being “one thing”. For my company, life is productive and happy employees. So, what’s this secret, the “one thing” for us?

There are a lot of answers out there which can be grouped around a system of rewards in 4 areas: compensation, benefits, recognition and appreciation. This system hasn’t changed since the dawn of man, or at least, before my lifetime. As helpful as it is, I’m not really sure of its’ effectiveness. It doesn’t address why some work for almost nothing and stay, and others get all these rewards and leave. There must be something else. Something even more meaningful, more important, more fundamental than these 4 areas.


It seems everyone has a basic need to know, feel, and believe that what they are doing is important, valuable, and necessary. Platitudes will not convince. Recognition is fleeting. But knowing that what you are doing is vital to the success of the company, to achieving its’ goals, to the life of the group – that if it is not done then life diminishes, and maybe even start to die. That’s real contribution. That’s real meaning. That’s the “one thing”.

This became crystal clear to me when I was watching the “Frontier House” series on PBS back in 2002. There was one family coming from a wealthy lifestyle to live as if in a 1800’s style frontier life. At the end of the show, the children were back in the swimming pool. Bored and listless. One of the girls made a comment that she felt most important and significant during the filming of the Frontier House because if she did not do her chores, they wouldn’t get done and the family may not survive. She missed it terribly.

Peter Drucker and other management gurus focus on only doing the important things first and not doing the rest. This does make for more efficiencies, but it also reinforces the desire in each employee to do only that which is vital to the life of the company. It reinforces the value of their contribution.

What I have found to be the best proof of value is reporting to the employees the health of the company. I don’t have to say anything, because they know intrinsically the value of what they have done.

After that, all the other rewards are just icing on the cake.

Warren Lamb
President & CEO
For over three decades, Warren has partnered with media, healthcare, and finance organizations, finding solutions for communication needs and demands.

Published May 15, 2017