My ego has been taking a hit lately. As I prepare to work with a client I always ask what their main objective is for my session; what one thing they would like the group to leave with. I expect (hope) to hear, “Oh wise sage, please impart what-ever knowledge you have gleaned from your years of experience. Make these people better leaders, employees, and yes…human beings.” When I come out of that fog I hear the client say, “We just really need a good laugh!” This statemnt is usually preceded by “Things have been really tough lately, so…” “We’ve been going through a lot of changes, so…” or “There is a lot of uncertainty, so…”
I was conducting a workshop for about 300 employees at a conference recently. As I stood in the atrium as the attendees filed in, I overheard one woman say to another, “I hope this speaker is better than the last one we had.” Her friend replied, “I don’t care. I don’t want to learn nothin’ I don’t already know.” My first thought was to quickly switch my topic for the day to “How To Use Grammar So You Sound Smarter Than a First-Grader.” The saddest part of the experience was,
There is a hospital in a major metropolitan area that is consistently ranked one of the top fifteen hospitals in the country each year by U.S. News & World Report. It receives superb patient satisfaction ratings, staff turn-over is almost non-existent, and it makes money. Not a bad combination for a business; happy customers, happy employees, and good ol’ black ink. On the other end of the spectrum, there is a different hospital I worked with recently that is struggling.
When a basketball team enters the court for a game, they don’t run it, set down their water bottles, and start the game. They warm up. They spend a good fifteen minutes bouncing the ball off the backboard, throwing it back and forth to teammates, and psyching up for the game. There isn’t a coach of any sport in the world who would allow a team to start a game without warming up, but that is exactly what managers and team leaders demand in the workplace everyday. People straggle in from various offices and departments throughout the building, put down their coffee, open up their briefcases, and sit down. Everyone mumbles in conversation until the one in charge says, “Okay. Let’s get started.”
Ben was worried. He had just taken over as President of a growing wholesale grocery company. The company was doing well on the books, with over 20% growth each year, but Ben could feel something uneasy below the surface. Employee morale was low, and teamwork; well if they tried to form a company softball team the members would probably use the bats on each other. Their situation reminded me of a survey taken of the U.S. workforce recently.
“If you kids can’t play nice together, I’m going to take away that toy!” That was the daily admonishment from my mother as she tried to manage the destructive power of four growing children. We payed about as much attention to her reprimands as a dog does when you tell it to stop eating the steak you just dropped on the ground. We usually ended up having our toys yanked out of our hands just before we could deliver what was sure to be a killing blow. “I told you kids if you couldn’t play nice you would lose these toys.” If it were mom who took them away, the toy would be placed on a high shelf where we could see it, but not reach it…the ultimate cruelty.