Most of us love people watching. Sometimes, doing it in a public setting gives you a whole different take on human behavior. Recently, Shari Roth, a South Florida corporate performance improvement consultant, was people watching at the beach. She made a discovery that inspired her business partner to think differently about how to address problems in an organization that might go ignored. Today, her partner, Andre Boykin, is my guest blogger. I think you will find his take on employee engagement to be profound.
Boykin is Managing Partner of CAPITAL iDEA, a Florida firm that works with organizations to create environments where employees are producing outstanding results and are engaged in their work.
Do You Know Why You Have Broken Glass In Your Organization?
My partner, Shari Roth, was on the boardwalk at the beach very early Saturday morning to watch the sun rise and noticed broken beer bottles on the boardwalk. The interesting thing was how people reacted to the broken glass in their path. She saw two distinct groups of people -- the work crew, who were setting up chairs and umbrellas, and the beachgoers.
The beach workers seemed enthusiastic. They were diligently getting everything ready for the day. However, they completely ignored the obvious glass that was on the boardwalk and even stepped over it to complete their job tasks.
The beachgoers fell into two groups. The complainers who were saying: "Why do people just throw trash on the ground and not pick it up?" and the other visitors who would take action and pick up some glass.
The question that comes to mind is why didn't the workers pick up the broken glass? Why was it just beachgoers who bothered? If you are a leader you have probably asked the same question of some of the people you lead.
While it may not have been broken glass you were questioning, it was the point of why didn't my workers take action on something that so obviously needed to be done? You may have further inquired in your mind: "Do I have to tell them everything? Doesn't anyone take any initiative around here?"
We speak a lot about what employee engagement is and how to create an environment where people are engaged. Creating this environment of engagement squarely rests with the leader. While we don't know the answer to why the workers at the beach did not pick up the glass, as leaders we have to ask ourselves, “What’s missing that caused this lack of action?”
One thing missing could be training.
Let's face it; you're not going to have a training session on how to pick up broken glass. And, quite frankly, that's not the training needed. What may be needed is training around the vision and mission of the organization. Not just training to memorize what the words of the vision and mission are, but what do those words mean and what does it look like to actually be the vision and mission of the organization. When people can apply the vision and mission, they will know that broken glass on the boardwalk does not represent what we want our organization to be.
It appears that the workers were well trained on the activities of preparing the beach: setting up the chairs, positioning the umbrellas, etc. In fact, they were doing an outstanding job of these activities. The fact that the broken glass was not addressed seemed to indicate a total disconnect between understanding that all the fine work they were doing was being eroded by not addressing the broken glass.
What about your organization's broken glass? Look at it from a leadership perspective and ask: have we totally communicated what our organization is about? Have we clearly given examples of what it means to live and work by our core values, vision, and mission? If you leave it up to your employees and staff to "figure it out for themselves" you will have lots of broken glass left on the floor.