There is one commonality that strikes me at virtually every office I frequent in my work as a facilitator: the inevitable kitchen signage encouraging decency, respect and goodwill towards all civilization. I’d be amazed if there isn’t some version hanging in the kitchen down the hall from where you are sitting as you read this.
Generally these messages fall into two categories: the friendly, civilized Mary Poppins nudge towards decency, “Just a friendly reminder to clean up your dishes” with a smiley-face cartoon, to the marginally less direct drill sergeant approach, “Hey Pigpen, your mother doesn’t work here and if she did she’d be ashamed to admit you belong to her so clean up this mess.”
I can relate to both approaches as I vividly recall the two different types of conversations happening in my own kitchen with my own two sons. That friendly, smiling, collaborative, aren’t-I-a-much-cooler-Dad-than-my-father version: “Hey guys it would really be helpful if you could put your dishes in the dishwasher!” Then after trying that approach oh, 100 times or so with limited success, morphing into my own Dad. Blood pressure rising with my lips tightened and dripping with sarcasm explaining that there is nothing to fear of the mysterious black shiny door under our kitchen counter, and that opening it will not suck them into a dark vortex in another galaxy.
The entire kitchen lecture series took a different twist recently. While leading a session on constructive feedback recently a participant asked if they could give their entire group of direct reports feedback during the same meeting. I clarified that if the entire group were all off track in the same way that the skills could definitely be used in that context. As the discussion progressed, it turns out that there were only a couple of people among his ten direct reports who needed the feedback and he was hoping that by addressing the large group the two “problem children” (his words, not mine) would get the message and it could still be a “friendly reminder” to the others to stay on course.
Are you dragging your sales team into a room and lecturing them about prospecting new business when only a select few need the message? Are entire groups of people exposed to rants about expense reports when only a couple of people are actually ignoring the process?
I asked the group if they had seen the sign in the kitchen reminding people to clean up after themselves. I enquired about its relative effectiveness in fixing the pretend-not-to-knowers who leave their mess for others to clean up, as well as the more conscientious people who do right by their peers in the kitchen. Thankfully everyone played along nicely and we had a helpful discussion about the impact of painting all people with the same broad brush when only a select few need a touch-up: the ones who need the feedback don’t change, and the ones who don’t need to change shake their heads and dream about better ways to spend their time.
And that’s what I’d ask you to consider as a leader. Are you dragging your sales team into a room and lecturing them about prospecting new business when only a select few need the message? Are entire groups of people exposed to rants about expense reports when only a couple of people are actually ignoring the process? Are there cryptic emails sent to entire call centre teams about lateness because of chronic individual problems?
Because you know deep in your heart that you will indeed not likely change behavior of the chosen few, but you will absolutely annoy and discourage the others, while simultaneously eroding your own credibility as a leader. You might not physically see the eye rolling from the individuals who don’t need the message but it is happening. They all leave the meeting speaking and saying the same thing: why do we all need to hear that when we all know who has the problem.
So if you ever find yourself tempted to fix individual behavior by talking to the group with your fingers-crossed, remember they still won’t clean their coffee mugs and dishes after the meeting.