Gary realized success for his small business depended on his ability to motivate his four employees. Yet he was having trouble getting his team to perform mundane tasks that were essential to the business. In particular, sweeping the floor each night!
It is extremely important that Gary's shipping and receiving floor be swept and the trash is taken out each night. With margins tight he could not afford luxuries like a cleaning service. He wanted to have his employees handle the task, yet it was not part of the normal job description for their positions. He was wrestling with the daily grind of begging and/or commanding they do it however this battle was taking a toll on him.
One day over lunch Gary discussed his problem with me.
”It’s sad to admit that trash and sweeping is such a distraction from the business,” confided Gary. “It is the one thing I lose the most sleep over.”
”Tell me, Gary,” I said, “Why do you think it is such a battle?”
”I can't get them to see the big picture,” Gary said. “The only way to get a cleaning service would be to take away marketing dollars per cut payroll. Neither one is acceptable. But they seem to think the tasks are beneath them. “”So who does the cleaning now?” I asked.
”Either they do it begrudgingly or it doesn't get done.”
”Gary, are you really willing to do whatever it takes to solve this problem?”
”Absolutely!” Gary replied.
”Tomorrow night just before closing, without saying a word, pickup the broom and start sweeping.”
Gary immediately interrupted, “But, I own the business!
”Unknowingly Gary had demonstrated the root of the problem.
I continued, “Seriously, Gary, do you want to fix the problem or not?
”I guarantee that if you sweep the floor 15 minutes before closing for one week the problem will go away forever.
”The following night he picked up a broom and, without saying a word, swept the floor. The rest of the employees continued with their normal tasks.
”It’s not working,” Gary told me the next day on a phone call.
”Give it time,” I said.
Several days passed before I heard from Gary again. When we did speak it was a wonderful conversation. It seems a second night a couple of the employees, without saying a word, grabbed brooms and helped him sweep. The third night he walked out of the loading dock to grab a broom 15 minutes before closing only to discover the brooms were all missing.
”Where were they,” I asked.
All four employees had grabbed a broom and were busy sweeping!
As the coaching sessions continued we are able to discuss other business issues and develop a strategy for growing his business. The one thing we no longer had to discuss was sweeping the floor.
This is an important life lesson to consider. Leaders must be willing to roll up our sleeves and get their own hands dirty before they can expect others to joyfully pitch in.
Top books for those in leadership
- “First, Break All the Rules”: What the world's greatest managers do differently.
- ‘101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees”: A manager's guide to addressing performance, conduct and discipline challenges.
- “The Servant Leader”: How to build a creative team, develop great morale, and improve bottom-line performance.
- “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”: Follow them and people will follow you.
- “The Ant and the Elephant”: Leadership for the self.
- “The New Leader's 100-Day Action Plan”: How to take charge, build your team, and get immediate results