Want Your Employees to Grow? Let Them Drive The Bus


When you’re a parent you read a lot of children’s books. Sometimes you find one with an important life lesson. For me, that book is Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems.

The story begins with a bus driver asking the reader to help with an important task: make sure the pigeon doesn’t drive the bus. Then the bus driver leaves and the pigeon saunters over.

It’s pretty clear what’s going to happen next.

The poor pigeon begs and pleads with us to let him drive the bus. But in the end, he never gets his wish.

Kids love this story because they get to control the fate of the pigeon, gleefully shouting “No!” every time he asks to drive the bus.

Out here in the real world things are a little different.

That’s because out here in the real world we let the pigeon drive the bus ALL THE TIME.

Whenever we ask an employee to do something they’ve never done before we are letting the pigeon drive the bus. Whenever we are forced to learn, change and pivot because of new trends, we are letting the pigeon drive the bus. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s a necessity.

We must all figure out how to learn to do things we can’t do now, especially in the ever-changing world of marketing. And we must do it with the belief that nothing is impossible.

If we aren’t letting the pigeon drive the bus we are losing out on potential growth, insights and innovations.

Our job as managers is to gleefully say “Yes!” every time an employee wants to do something they’ve never done before. That’s how we learn and grow. The same goes for ourselves.

But we don’t have to go into any of it blindly. There are a variety of ways to facilitate learning and innovation in the workplace that make it easier for employees to take on new tasks. Encouraging lifelong learning through reading books, taking online courses, reading blogs and listening to podcasts is one way. Asking employees to write up three-month plans and share them with the team is another. Clearly defining roles and developing a strong backbone of clear and well understood processes is a third.

At the end of the day, however, what truly matters is fostering the kind of environment where employees feel comfortable taking risks because they know that we believe in them. And they know we will be there to support them when they make mistakes.

In today’s world, we have no choice but to let the pigeon drive the bus. Let’s find ways to make the most of it.

Nancy Shore is the VP of Client Success at Q+M.