How the Sausage Gets Made

Posted by Kristin Arnold on June 20, 2024

how the sausage gets made

I was just reminded of the importance of knowing “how the sausage gets made.”

I always thought the term came from my Total Quality Management (TQM) days when Johnsonville Sausage was known as the epitome of quality. “How the sausage gets made” means that there are lots of little details involved in the making of sausage – and that as leaders, we can’t take those details for granted, assume we know, or even discount the importance, complexity, or level of effort to make the sausage.

I did NOT know how the sausage was made this week. Let me explain:

Two years ago, we built a new house on stunningly beautiful Prince Edward Island, Canada and in June, I journey to the island to open up the house and use that as my “home base” until October. (I still go back and forth for client meetings and events during the summer.)

The first week is devoted to cleaning the house – and one of those chores is to pressure wash the outside (I live on the water and the salt spray and famously red PEI dirt need to be hosed off). Last year, I hired a company that I thought overcharged me (Grumble, grumble). This year, I had a different company lined up, but it had to get postponed at the last minute (Grumble, grumble). I wanted to get it done so I could enjoy the rest of the summer, so I thought, “How hard can this be? I have a pressure washer! I’ve pressure-washed our cottage before. I can do this!”

Oh boy. I did not know the details on how to do something as SIMPLE as hosing down a house (vs. a cottage). It’s not as simple as it seems:

  • My house is 2-3 times as big as the cottage – so I had to plug/unplug the pressure washer from multiple electric outlets as I went around the house (even though I had a long commercial-grade extension cord).
  • I only have two water spigots, so I had to change the water source halfway through (even though I have an extra long hose).
  • My house is a raised bungalow, so I had to get on a ladder to reach the eaves (which is where most of the dirt resides). Moving and climbing up my ladder on the uneven grass without a spotter while reaching high above my head was probably not the smartest nor safest of moves.
  • It took me far longer than I had expected.

Indeed, anything we don’t really know or understand takes twice as long and/or twice as many resources (money, energy, people, etc.) than estimated.

It is only when you get into and know how to make the sausage that you can estimate properly, appreciate the work that goes into it, AND provide the appropriate tools and resources to get the job done efficiently and well.

I am SO glad I know now what it takes to power-wash my house. Why? Because 1) I don’t want to do it myself ever again, 2) I have a better appreciation for what it takes, and 3) I won’t grumble as I provide money as a fair exchange of value.

As leaders, how often do we ask people to do something, thinking it is a fairly easy or quick thing to do – without knowing how to do that same thing?

FYI – I am probably wrong about the source, but the dictionary confirms this general definition of “How the sausage gets made” as “the practical and often unpleasant or messy aspects of a process that are usually not made public.”

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KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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