Why Grease a Squeaky Wheel

Have you ever noticed that the one who whines loud enough and often enough typically gets what they want? Well, if you’re a parent you might be looking at this with a judgmental cocked eyebrow, I would never, you can’t give in to whining. Yeah, I get it (I’m certain I’ve pulled out a *groan* go ask your dad after the whining which is just another way to give in) but think about adults. Think about the woman at the in the urgent care waiting room constantly telling the front desk employee how long she’s been waiting and while it is a shorter time than others in the room she gets to see a doctor first. Think about the man in the restaurant who never seems satisfied with his drink, the sun coming through the window, his food, or the timeliness of his check. The waiter seems to just circle around his table leaving long spans between getting to the other customers. Then there is the ‘squeaky wheel’ in your own mind, the dusting that isn’t done, the garage organization that needs to happen, the dishes in the sink. Which ever one of those squeaks the loudest will get your attention and actually get completed while the others remain the same for weeks. The most frustrating for a lot of us is when it happens at work. One Squeaky Sam has all of their ideas taken and run with. It seems that every top priority of theirs is fixed and all other work comes to a halt when Squeaky Sam has a need.

Being a people leader, I get two different perspectives on this. The first is that I have a team where people are consistently coming up with ideas or bringing forth solutions to gaps that they or I have found. When you are encouraging people to bring up solutions or project ideas and then prioritizing how and when the work will get done, there is more opportunity for people to see it as one or two people always have their ideas taken and worked. The other vantage point I have is from my peers. My teams complete many projects for those throughout the department. Some of the requests from my peers come directly to me others go to my boss or above and come back down to me as directives. Meaning, there are instances where I am both giving into the squeaky wheel and where I am pulling the corporate version of go ask your dad to direct them to higher leadership who can decide if this is a priority.

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What I can tell you from this experience is that, like so many other things, corporate squeaky wheel syndrome is very much so the same as with your kids or with whiny people in the waiting room or restaurant. There are times where you are the ‘unjust judge’ and are giving in just because you can’t listen to it anymore, I admit it. Much more often though it is because persistence pays off. Let’s take an example. Say we have Passive Patti and Squeaky Sam (spoiler alert, Same will get what he wants) and each of them want separate new software purchased for the team. They both have compelling reasons they should have it and present their request to the boss. Passive Patti lays out 5 points on why it would be a good investment to use the software she found. Squeaky Sam lays out the same 5 points regarding his software. When Patti follows up she asks her boss if she’s made a decision, boss says no, I’m not sure there is budget for the new software, and the conversation ends. When Sam asks, the boss says the same. Sam states that this software will save money in the long run and then reiterates his 5 points. The next day Sam comes to the boss and has more info on future cost savings and offers 2 new points he happened to come across in his look at cost savings. The next week, the boss asks for any further updates on the proposals. Patti states that she’s already given her 5 points and didn’t realize it was moving forward. Sam repeats the original 5 points, the cost savings information, and notes that he’d also like to look into the 2 things he came across

From Patti’s perspective Sam was just the squeaky wheel. From the boss’ perspective Sam did more research and was more focused on the success of the project. Truly, Sam did a tiny bit more work but mostly he was a consistent voice that was able to address roadblocks. Sam also learned a ton from those few interactions for the next project or suggestion. Patti on the other hand will start even further at a disadvantage because she’s never had the conversations to know her boss’ style, what roadblocks she’s most concerned with, what outside factors are impacting her ability to do the work or make a decision.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

The person who looks like the squeaky wheel outwardly often times looks like the one with the most knowledge and most invested to the decision maker (the boss in our example). Because of their close contact they are able to speak in a way that makes the most sense to the decision maker and respond to any push back. This can undoubtedly be frustrating to others however it something that can be overcome with patience and persistence. The next time there is a problem to be solved, try respectfully and tactfully squeaking a little louder yourself. Know that you may not have success the first time, as we saw Squeaky Sam gained credibility and valuable knowledge about how the boss worked from each ‘win’. However, with some intentionality and attention to detail in her action, Passive Patti can make quick gains.

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