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Watch your word-of-mouth

3 min read


Not too long ago, I met one of my best friends, Colleen, for a celebratory breakfast. The occasion was the completion of the manuscript for my book “The Truth About Getting the Best From People.”  The real truth here, though, is that we were also celebrating a moment in time when I could finally stop talking about it and get on to other things in life. So Colleen was in as much of a party mood as I was.

Because she knows the restaurant owner, she introduced me as the author of this “fab new book written to help managers inspire discretionary effort in their employees.”

“Oh my gosh!” she says, “I need that book! Do you know how hard it is to find good employees these days?” And then she proceeded to tell Colleen and me in great detail about how lousy her employees are. And how all she can do is make the best of who she has — which, to hear her tell it, isn’t much.

First of all, with all those complaints of shabby work ethic inventoried in great detail, I suddenly lost confidence in my scrambled eggs. But even worse, she bad-mouthed every single one of her employees — while a silent staffer wordlessly watering the potted geraniums next to her.  The staffer heard the whole thing.

I tried to catch his eye to send a sympathetic signal. But he wouldn’t look up from his flowers. Can’t say that I blame him.

This owner had not a clue of the damage she was doing by tearing down her employees to customers and in front of her staff. And it prompted me to think back on all the times I’ve heard managers talk about their employees behind their backs — poisonous little droplets of gossip eroding any cultural commitment their employees might have had to provide fantastic customer experiences. Can you think of any faster way to lower the bar of expectations and inspiration?

If you have an employee-engagement survey, there’s probably a question about whether your employees would recommend your company to their friends. That’s a good question.

But I’d also like to pose this question to you: Would you recommend your employees to your friends and your public? When you sing their praises — even if you think they’re not listening — you’ll be inspiring the kind of discretionary effort that will really give everyone something to talk about.

Martha Finney, president and CEO of Engagement Journeys, helps companies build authentically engaging workplace cultures.  She is the author of more than 15 books, including “The Truth About Getting the Best From People.”

Image credit, Feverpitch, via Shutterstock