Parks and Rec

I learned my most useful management skill from Ann Perkins

Sean Lopp
Wine and Cheese

Parks and Rec is one of my all time favorite shows, behind Michael Schur’s other hit, The Good Place, which is a masterpiece. While it lacks the magic realism, Parks and Rec does have the rich and relatable characters Schur is known for, and I’ve found they can teach quite a few work place lessons.

For example, this scene has some of the best product management advice I’ve ever heard:

Andy: I can’t go back to London, I’m in totally over my head on this projedt. Every day someone comes up to me and says I need your approval on this Mr. Dwyer, I need your signature Mr. Dwyer…

April: But you said everything was going awesome… [Chuck Norris references]

Andy: … and is scared and confused about his big London job…

April: I’m going to tell you a secret about everyone else’s job. No one knows what they’re doing. I don’t know how to run an animal control department. Half the documents I get I put right into the shredder because they are so boring.

Andy: But you seem like you do know what you’re doing.

April: Yea I seem like it. Deep down everyone is just faking it until they figure it out. And you will too, because you are awesome, and everyone else sucks.

In episode 12, season 6, Ann Perkins is pregnant. Her super optimistic boyfriend, Chris Traeger, is set on fixing all of her problems. But Chris remains puzzled because the more effort he makes to help Ann the more frustrated and upset she becomes. At one point she takes over the Park department’s Wine and Cheese club, a regular excuse to discuss office grievances, to air her own laundry list of complaints. It is with this backdrop that Tom Haverford gives Chris, and all of us, the key management gem:

The next time Ann complains, just look her in the eyes, nod your head, and say “that sucks”.

Throughout my career I’ve sat in on countless 1:1s, both as a mentor, a manager, and as a managee. These meetings can be quite fruitful, but they can also be a disaster. It takes a special tact and art to master the 1:1, and I believe this advice is a critical component.

Why? Because often in 1:1s, someone has something they need to get off their chest. A great manager can take that energy and absorb it. They don’t amplify, they don’t ignore, and critically, they don’t always try to fix. This can be very challenging. Good managers enjoy fixing problems. But sometimes the best thing to do is just “look them in the eyes, nod your head, and say ‘that sucks’”.

One final tip. How do you know if someone actually is in need of help? What if they are teetering on the edge of crashing and burn out? I’ve found a simple strategy is to just ask: “Do you want me to try and help solve this problem?”. You may be surprised at how often the answer is no - at least I found it surprising. Surprising until, that is, I turned the tables and thought about how frequently I also just wanted sympathy not solutions.


For attribution, please cite this work as

Lopp (2020, Aug. 12). Loppsided: Parks and Rec. Retrieved from

BibTeX citation

  author = {Lopp, Sean},
  title = {Loppsided: Parks and Rec},
  url = {},
  year = {2020}