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The Tuba Player: A Lesson in Employee Recognition

Aug 19, 2015

Written by: Mark Hirschfeld
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Some of your hardest working and most valuable employees don't receive the recognition they deserve.  

My wife and I recently had the pleasure of attending a Minnesota Orchestra performance where an oft-forgotten instrument was prominently featured—the tuba.

Yes, the tuba.

You remember the tuba, don’t you?  The larger brass instrument, the one that often plays the “oomph pah” in marches by composers like John Philip Sousa. They’re usually positioned toward the back of the orchestra, often in front of the percussion. I can’t imagine that’s the best place to be, sitting in front of the people who clash the cymbals and beat drums. Playing an instrument not prominently featured in the music and getting a headache from the drums is not my idea of a career to which one would aspire.

The sound of the tuba may not be immediately recognizable in many performances, but without a tuba, without its presence and contribution, the music would sound odd.  The tuba, you see, was created to provide a richness and depth to the music that cannot be achieved by other instruments. When the sound of the tuba is joined with the other players, the music is simply better.

And on this evening, Steven Campbell, principal tuba, brought his instrument to the front and was seated next to the conductor. Mr. Campbell introduced himself, and pointed to the balcony where his parents, wife and two children were sitting. They beamed at the attention being given to their loved one.

The musical piece was written to highlight his instrument and the conductor informed us we were in for a treat. The concerto was a masterpiece – and in the hands of Mr. Campbell, it would be played marvelously. 

And it was.

I’ll never look at a tuba the same way again.

It occurred to me that in the world of work there are lots of people just like Mr. Campbell, the tuba player. They have important jobs and they make invaluable contributions to their organization. And in their own way they add richness and depth to the work at hand. But they too aren’t featured as prominently at their workplace, perhaps relegated to places where their efforts are not truly appreciated.

A few “back-of-the-orchestra” jobs come to mind:

  • The folks in the kitchen of a restaurant, who prepare marvelous meals for diners,
  • Computer programmers, who magically create apps we can’t live without,
  • Accountants, who make sure the records are balanced and a company meets its financial obligations.
  • The housekeepers at the hotel, who clean our rooms, rarely receiving acknowledgement for their efforts to make our business trip or vacation nicer.
  • The caregiver providing support to a person with an intellectual disability.

There are tuba players everywhere.

This is a perfect example of "Magnify Their Success"; one of the 12 New Rules of Employee Engagement. The rule states that what a company does not recognize, it should not expect to see repeated. Making a big deal of employees' accomplishments ensures the victories will be multiplied.

In 2003, Chip Conley, the founder of the Joie Vivre Hotels, organized an annual event with other hoteliers in the San Francisco Bay Area to recognize employees like housekeeping staff. It’s one of the finest events in the city, an occasion where these important employees are recognized for their efforts.

The event is called Hotel Hero Awards. The purpose of the annual event is to:

  • Recognize hospitality as a noble and respected career 
  • Highlight the industry's exceptional members and hotels 
  • Create an evening where the hotel industry gathers to celebrate its successes

Well done!

Maybe it’s time to bring more of these folks across a variety of industries from the back of the orchestra to the front of the stage, so they too can be praised by the audience.  So we can appreciate their skills and abilities; so they know we are aware of their efforts and they contribute to the success of the organization. And I’d bet they have family or friends who they would want to share in their success.

Let’s show the tuba players where we work that what they do really matters – that we can’t do our work without them.

Let’s bring them front and center.

Mark Hirschfeld BI WORLDWIDE

Mark Hirschfeld

Vice President, Consulting Services and Strategic Partnerships

Mark Hirschfeld is Vice President of Consulting Services and Strategic Partnerships at BI WORLDWIDE. He’s passionate about helping companies develop more engaged, productive places to work. Mark is the co-author of "Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort In Extraordinary Times", published by McGraw-Hill.

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