I spend a lot of time talking with owners of businesses in many varied industries and the question that trips them up most is, “What does the person cleaning the bathrooms think of your business?” That seems kind of off topic sometimes and it is, but it also the barometer of an owner’s business culture. Want to know how things are really going? Ask the guy you pay the least.
Several reasons why you would not want to know the answer:
- You don’t want to hear bad news.
- You don’t trust that person.
- There could be a rift between that person and the rest of your employees.
- You don’t know that person’s name.
- He/She may ask you to help clean the bathroom while you talk.
All are valid reasons if you are someone who is ready to go out of business and doesn’t care what the culture of the business is like. Otherwise, get in there and start listening like your next paycheck depends on it. Asking the lowest person on your hierarchy of power is the perfect way to find out what the temperature of your business is. In fact, the person to hear the most news is the one everyone typically ignores. If you need to get your hands dirty to find out what the real story of your business is then get dirty. Want to earn trust with someone? Work side by side with them and put in some sweat equity.
If I made anyone uncomfortable, GOOD! If you want to feel better, spin this around and ask yourself what the same person in your competitor’s business could tell you. Again, it is this person, the one with full access to every area of your business that has the most knowledge of your business. By the way, DON’T ask your competitor’s guy. You don’t even know what is happening at your own business for goodness sakes why would you look somewhere else? Start where you can make the fastest changes…in your business.
The cleaning crew can tell you:
- If someone is ready to quit by looking at the amount of items that have been taken home from a desk.
- When there is a shake up about to happen, there are more late-night meetings and more closed doors.
- If there is an event in the office like a new baby, wedding, or graduation, there will be a cake and plates in the trash.
I like when companies ask everyone what they think is working and what can be improved on. An open door policy should apply to every member of your team. The best ideas in many businesses have come from the front-line person who finds a better, cheaper, more effective way to get the same job done. Not that they get the credit often (although they should), but the best things happen when an entire organization is empowered.
Stop talking and start listening. The person who you haven’t spend any time with this year is the person you need to take to lunch and give them free reign in answering a simple question, “What can we do better?”