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What do employees want? Probably not picnic tables

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

by Brady G. Wilson

picnic tableWe trained all the store managers of one of Canada’s largest grocery retailers and taught them how to step into their employees’ worlds to find out what matters most.

Our training was specifically designed to correct a major flaw in the managers’ approach: looking at engagement scores and assuming they knew how to respond to them.

One store had survey scores that indicated the issue of respect was of crucial concern to employees. We happened to know the back story (see below) behind the low respect scores.

Employees really only wanted one thing from their manager: They wanted him, when he did his walk-through at the store first thing in the morning, to acknowledge them with a greeting and call them by name, even if he had to read their name off their name badge.

But that wasn’t happening. Instead the manager would walk in to the produce section and, without greeting the employee, bark out, “What’s that wet floor sign doing on the floor? It’s not raining anymore!” or “How come there’s a spelling mistake in that signage?”

And turning to leave, he’d add, “And what’s that jar of salsa doing in with the cucumbers?”

This clearly left something to be desired when it came to employee experience.

Instead of pulling out the backstory, the manager looked at the low respect scores, assumed he knew how to solve them, and said to his assistant manager, “I know exactly what we need to do: buy picnic tables! That way, people will have a place to go have a smoke or eat their lunch outside. This will make them feel respected.”

As you can imagine, the picnic tables were the laughingstock of the store for months to come.

Has your organization presented any “picnic tables” in response to engagement surveys?


What’s a back story?

If you were cast for a role in a major film, you’d be given what’s called the back story to help you get inside the skin of your character. The back story gives you context: important details about events, background information about relationships and subtle nuances about emotional needs and values that matter most to your characters. It brings your character to life. Without the back story, your portrayal would be one-dimensional at best.

And as you can see from this picnic table anecdote, without the back story your response to your employees’ engagement scores will come across as wooden and unmagical.


Brady G. Wilson is author of Beyond Engagement. He is co-founder of Juice Inc., and for 20+ years he has inspired and energized leaders, managers and front-line workers in many of North America’s Fortune 500 companies. Visit www.juiceinc.com.

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