During a basement bedroom renovation project my contractor friend built a space precisely for an existing bookcase. He asked if I wanted the bookcase painted white. I said no. He asked again before he painted the walls around it. No. He made a third request before he put all the casing around it. No again.

Then my sisters came and were insistent that it “needed” to be white. And, in all matters of home décor, they are right (see Sunday’s dot) so white it was to be. Since I had declined three offers to paint it when it was easy to do, I took it upon myself to do the dirty work this time and spent my weekend with a paintbrush in hand.

I am by no means a DIY-er so I did not know that I first needed to “prepare the surface.” The result: all that beautiful paint I put on peeled right off — which meant that the casing had to be pulled off, the bookcase crowbarred out, moved outside to be stripped and then sanded – all before it could be painted white (again) and replaced, hopefully without damaging the installed carpet or finished walls around it. Ugh.

I think there is an organizational parallel to this fiasco. You may not want to take the time to “prepare the surface” (i.e. to onboard and be directive) for your new employees — preferring to jump right in with the appealing aspects of the job — but those background steps are what make long-term results possible. It seems much quicker to start with paint, but as I have come to learn the hard way, it’s the sanding and prepping that make it possible for the color to endure. You need to ensure that new employees are prepared to absorb what is truly important about your culture or all your good intentions could just peel away.

Trust me, it is a whole lot easier to do it right from the beginning.


I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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