We All Want to Get an 'A'

I have a friend, Drew, who has autism. He's nearly 27 years old and has had many part-time jobs in the last couple of years and he likes going to work.

A few years ago he had started a new job bagging groceries at a grocery store near his home. Drew is a funny, charming person. Let me give you an example: when I heard about his new job I bought him a pen as a "congratulations on your new job" present. I bought the pen in Germany and when I sent the pen to Drew I explained where it came from. Drew sent me a thank you note and on it he had drawn a picture of a dog. It was cute. When I thanked him for the picture of the dog Drew's response was, "it's a German shepherd because the pen came from Germany!"

This job was different from the jobs Drew had in the past; he did not have a buddy at work and while everyone at the store was very kind to him, there wasn't one person looking out for him. Drew was learning how to bag groceries and he did a good job but he was slower than a more experienced person. Some of the customers did not have a lot of patience. We all know the feeling--going to the grocery store is a chore and we just want to get in and out as quickly as possible. He improved every day and always wanted to do his best.

Drew had worked at the store for a week when he got his first paycheck. His mother told me this story and I would like to share it with all of you because it really struck a chord with me.

Drew brought home his first paycheck and the paystub was on the kitchen table.

"Mom," Drew said, "Did I get an A?"

His mother was confused, what was Drew talking about?

"My report card," he persisted, "Did I get an A at work?"

"Drew, I don't know what you're talking about. Please show me."

Drew picked up his paystub and handed it to his mother. "Here, look at this. It's my report card from work, tell me if I got an A."

Drew's mother smiled at the new interpretation of a paystub and said, "Yes, Drew, you got an A."

"Good," said Drew, who then happily went off to his room.

Because of Drew's special needs, he will never go through a normal performance review like most folks in corporate America. No one is going to set objectives, measure outcomes, or rate his performance once or twice a year. And yet, Drew was very keen to know if he got an A at work. In his own way, Drew's a high achiever, as he does not want to settle for less than the best.

I loved this story because it brought me back to first principles: we all want an A at work. True, performance management at work is much more complicated than our school report cards, but the desire to do well is the same. It also reminded me that surprising lessons could come from anywhere if we're open to hearing them.