Did you ever surprise someone with what you thought was a great gift only to get an icy stare and a raspy "thank you?" If you asked why there was upset, did you get a canned reply like "not upset, it's really fine?" And did you ever wonder if the gift was ever used or put in a drawer or given away?
That happens all the time. Part of the reason is we can only get inside someone else's thinking and emotions to a point; no matter how well we decide we know them. It's the same at work. The need to find out what people really want so you can give gifts that really matter, or get alignment around projects for success takes some thinking through.
1. Know you need to meet people where they are, not where you want them to be! This is the hardest rule to follow since as a leader we want employees to follow our suggestions. After all, we are the entrepreneurs who have made magic with our businesses. So, the folks we hire should just fall into line, right?
2. Ask open ended questions in person or by a short survey. This is the action item to get where you want to be. Set time aside and think through what you want as an outcome of the project. Then see yourself first being "told" or second "asked" about your participation. You will quickly note that just about everyone will be more willing to help if they are asked their opinions.
3. Make adjustments based on what you hear. This is critical!!!!! If you ask and then disregard you may as well save your breath and do the old command and control model. If you change, maybe one or two aspects of the project to include the thoughts of others you are seen as a peacemaker rather than a splitter, and as initiator rather than an avoider. These are two behavior patterns that are so needed in the workplace because they create inclusion and that in itself is worth the price of admission.
Here is an example of what NOT to do so you can see what happens if you are unwilling or unaware of how important it is to get buy-in from staff and in this case customers:
Carl owned a high end hair salon in Miami. He prided himself in his visual ability. After all he was known as a master hairdresser. He decided to revamp his salons and create buzz in the community. So he hired the most well know interior designer and they got busy.
He ignored the three cardinal rules above and had the whole staff take off two weeks in the hot, hot summer to get the new look ready for the fall season. He talked up the project. He told everyone they would love what they were going to see, yet never asked anyone except the interior designer about the project.
Opening day was a far cry from what he expected. Staff walked in and there were quiet murmurs of "Wow, look at that." Carl took that for the awe and shock of seeing something so wonderful. By the end of the day there was a film of negativity spreading through the entire salon.
The mirrors were all wrong, the chairs flashy and for many customers uncomfortable. The floors, fancy stone in intricate designs, hard to stand on hour after hour.
Carl thought they were just a bunch of whiners and he seceded they just hated change and would "get with the program" in a few days. Except....some called in sick by the following week, others were already checking out rival salons to make their move.
Carl had a meeting. There was so much workplace conflict he had to do something. The something was like salt on a wound. He told them to "grow up". He showed them the numbers, how much he had spent to do the redesign. He went on and on until someone sitting near him, a stylist who was highly regarded, raised his hand to speak and said "We know how hard you worked and how much this means to you; however it does not work for us. I wonder what changes can be done so we can all feel good about this. What I am frustrated about is that you never even asked and when some of us offered suggestions you brushed us aside."
Carl had no clue about leadership excellence; he only knew his great ideas were being challenged. He was the boss and he had to take a stand. "Look, I made the best decisions with the best advice possible so there will be no changes and you all need to just get with the program." And with that he ended the meeting and left.
This is a true story. Anyone want to guess what his bottom line looked like within six months? Anyone want to guess how many employees quit by the end of the year? How about guessing how long it took when he finally reached out for executive coaching and help with workplace conflict resolution?
The good news is he did not go bankrupt; the sad news is his reputation was tarnished and it took years for him to rebuild.
It was his suggestion that I write this article and hopes his "life lessons" can prevent others from going down such a myopic road.