An Experiment in Culture Change

Related imageI’m always surprised at the number of people I see behind counters at stores, banks, limited-service-restaurants, and airports that just seem miserable.  They make no eye contact, mumble, and go through the paces of their job just checking off the boxes on a list of company- required actions.  What can be done?

I tried an experiment.  I thought, what would happen if I made the “counter experience” more human by mentioning the employee’s name?  The first time I did this, I had to muster up the courage.  It seemed odd to read their name badge and call them by name.  I mean, we were not best friends or anything.  No matter, I did it.  What I experienced was a person transformed.  When I said their name, they looked up, smiled, and changed their whole demeanor.  The misery was gone even if only briefly.

Since that first foray into the world of using people’s names, I now do it almost without fail.  And in almost every interaction, the result is similar to the first time; people look up, smile and become human again.

What’s the point here?  Well, it makes me wonder what has dehumanized their workplace.  Why is it that the simple use of their names by someone they’ve never seen before can make them smile and brighten up?  Is it that the company culture has made them drones?  Are they just servants of a paycheck?  My guess is that, while it may not be the entire reason, it is certainly a large contributor.

While it is sad, it is not a surprise really.  Over hundreds of years, the business world has used management techniques to try and get the best out of people.  It is a failed strategy, particularly in our modern world where people are better educated and customers value speed and ease more than ever.  Today’s environment needs employees who can think not just do.  Today’s environment requires employees to step up and lead when the time is right – teams of leaders rather than followers.

Experiment for yourself.  Go to a counter and use the person’s name.  See if it makes a difference.  If you experience it, see how you can make a similar, humanizing difference in your workplace.  Think about how that difference will impact your customers and how that impact will positively impact your business overall. By simply including people as people and giving them the respect of thinking not just doing, it can change the entire game for you, your customers, and your business.  Start the experiment today.

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