Suspend your reality-based mindset for the next few minutes while I take you on a mental journey.
I give you a potion and suddenly you are invisible. I drink it and soon I am too. Even though you exist in every other way, no one can see you. In our invisible state, I can see you and you can see me. Inspired by this ‘miracle’ you decide we should visit your office to find out how well it runs when you are not around.
As we step inside the front door of your business, you hear Larry the receptionist having an argument with an important long-term customer (he says the customer’s name in the conversation and that is how you know). “Customer Jones” is upset that Larry cannot find a sales employee who will take his call. Larry is unsympathetic for repeatedly putting Jones on hold.
We quietly moved to the sales area where we spot three marketing employees who are ignoring the ringing telephone. They are sitting around a desk just swapping jokes about one of your former customers while another sales employee plays solitaire on her computer.
Since I sense that you are upset, I push you towards your company’s production and warehouse areas. We spot two warehouse people who are throwing Nerf balls at one another as three employees watch and egg them on. Your production manager Mike is nowhere in sight. As you go into Mike’s office, we find that he is deeply engrossed in reading the newspaper.
I gently shove you out of this area and into the accounting department. There we spy on your accounting manager, Alan, who is ranting about “Those idiots in sales. Why can’t they fill out a simple expense report correctly?” While he is doing that, Tara and Shannon are cracking jokes about your lack of management skills.
Pushing you ahead of me down a hall, we pass a conference room where a group of your high-level managers is debating over office decorations for the holiday season and the budget for the holiday party. They are oblivious to what their employees are up to.
By now you are fuming. So to keep you from doing something rash, I usher you out of the front door. When we finally leave your company’s offices, I give you a potion that makes you visible again. But I am worried about you because I can see that you want to rush back into the office and fire every employee. I caution, “Firing everyone would not be wise because without employees you would be out of business.”
Let’s switch from fantasy back to reality.
Have you wondered what you would see going on in your organization if you were invisible? How would you feel if many or even a few of your employees were behaving like that?
I took you on this imaginary journey for a specific purpose. As a leader, you can ensure that your employees are productive and focused when you are not there. In fact, a sign of a true preeminent leader is that:
- You have an influence on people even when you are not in the room.
You don’t need a magic formula or to act like a drill sergeant to accomplish this. In fact, you only need to have three ingredients or attitudes:
- A fervent desire to improve the status quo;
- A willingness to give up control and share leadership responsibilities; and
- A commitment to do whatever it takes to shift employees’ thinking by updating your culture story.
Based on what we saw as we visually toured your workplace, it is very clear to me that something is wrong with your organization’s culture. This embedded norm is what allows employees to focus on themselves instead of putting their attention on your needs: serving your customers and doing their best every day.
A culture shift means embedding new norms, where employees want to put the organization’s needs first and commit to doing it each day. This is one of the primary roles of a leader – shape the culture.
If you are a leader, you need to know what your employees are doing when you are not in the office. Not for the reasons, you might think but because their actions tell you about the quality of your leadership.