Funny thing happened in a simple coffee meeting this morning…
I was meeting with the CEO of a company in the main lobby of a building, just outside of a Starbucks that was part of the complex. We decided to get our coffee and sit in the comfortable lounge chairs in the lobby rather than the barstool-style chairs in the cramped coffee shop.
We found that the two lounge chairs were situated next to each other theater-style. Karl said, “I’ve got an idea,” and promptly moved his chair so that he was facing directly at me making it a more intimate conversation situation. The funny thing was as he did it, he cited a quote from George Bernard Shaw on the concept of “making your own way.”
Not 5 minutes into our meeting, the lobby attendant vacuuming the floor said to him, “You can’t move the chairs.”
Karl asked, “What’s the thinking on that?”
Lobby guy: “You just can’t move the chairs.”
Karl: “Why not?”
Lobby guy: (still vacuuming) “You can’t move the chairs…but while you’re there I will vacuum the spot.”
Three business concepts to consider from this story:
- Rules without reasons are just stupid. Obviously, a rule was set up for not moving furniture, yet not even the attendants knew the reason for it. Rather, like lemmings headed for the cliff, they blindly and complacently abide. How many rules without reasons live in your organization? If you hear phrases like, “We’ve always done it that way,” or “I don’t know why we do it this way,” or “I’m afraid to ask why,” then you may have some organizational rules and realities that are getting in the way of progress.
- Employees without autonomy and authority are like an albatross around your company’s neck. Lobby guy not only didn’t know (or care) about the rule, nor did he have the ability to make a decision on allowing it. Karl might have swiveled the chair all of 3 feet. It was clear he was going to put it back the way he found it. An employee with authority and autonomy would have simply let it go and made sure it was replaced. How many employees in your organization simply take space and don’t apply their talents because they are being held back by micromanagement or “rules?”
- Common sense is needed more than ever in business. A lot of my practice revolves around principles and practices of common sense. Interestingly, I can’t see this scene unfolding 30 years ago. For some reason, it seems that many employees and team members (through fear of rejection or retaliation), simply don’t do enough thinking, questioning, or challenging. You want to have a company of thinkers, questioners, and challengers. The consequences of not doing this is you end up breathing your own exhaust. The that do provide authority, autonomy, and common sense will thrive even when the chair does get moved. (By the way, let’s give Lobby Guy some credit for common sense…he vacuumed the area vacated by the moved chair!)
Bottom line: As you head into the end of one calendar year and begin a new one, maybe it’s a good time to assess if your organization has created a culture that wants people to be robots or rock stars.
Move the chair, rock the boat, and unleash your talent. Life and your business will be better that way!
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