One Friday morning about a month into lockdown in the UK, a client called me.
He sounded deflated and just …lost.
Most of his workforce were at home, furloughed. Like many businesses, they shut down almost overnight.
I had previously discussed with him the importance of regularly checking in with his teams, whether he had any news to share or not. The kind of conversations he might have on a Monday morning at the coffee machine before the world closed down. Of having courageous conversations and showing a little vulnerability. To show the human side of leadership. To connect with his workforce and show he valued them and they weren’t just profit making cogs in a wheel.
“I’m struggling. I know I should be regularly checking in as you suggested, but I’ve got nothing new to say so what should I talk about? I’m not great at all this ‘share your feelings stuff’.
He gesticulated waving his arms in air.
“I feel useless and flat. I want to inspire, energise and engage my teams not make them more depressed.”
I thought about it..
It was time to think outside the box
“Ok, I’ve got it. Chocolate biscuits!” I said.
“Are you crazy?” He asked laughing but also a bit shocked. “And I’m paying you for this advice?!”
“Put it on your agenda for your Monday morning check in. Don’t say why. It will create an element of mystery. Your people will wonder what it’s all about. My suggestion is this….. Ask everyone what their favourite chocolate biscuit is. Create a poll. Ask them to vote. People will get competitive. It will create a sense of unity and community spirit and fun! This is what they need now. Something to take their mind off what’s going on and a way for you to connect with them on a different level. To see the ‘out of office’ side to you.
“If this idea falls flat, I’m not paying you for this session”. He said jokingly.
Who knew chocolate biscuits could bring out people’s competitive streak?
On Monday evening I noticed a new email blinking in my inbox with the subject heading… Oreo Cookies!
The following 4 words in his email…. Send in your invoice!
The next day we had another zoom call.
“So? What happened?” I asked.
“Well, Oreos seems to be the number 1 favourite! Who knew a chocolate biscuit could bring out such a competitive streak in people? It’s actually been a very revealing and interesting exercise. They obviously thought initially I might have lost the plot but they loved it! …. Now they are discussing changing their ‘zoom name’s to include their favourite biscuit….. Paul L, ‘Chocolate Hobnobs’…. Next week it’s chocolate bars. Once we are back in the office, I will make sure we have a supply of everyone’s favourite biscuits”.
I noticed he was quite animated for the first time in a month.
He had been inundated with messages that afternoon saying thank you. That was the most uplifting zoom session since lockdown. It was a small gesture but meant so much.
This is the human side of leadership. The conversations people remember. The conversations that make a difference.
Leadership can feel isolating. Understanding the best way to communicate and connect during times of crisis can be challenging particularly if you are struggling yourself.
“By the way”, he asked. “What’s your favourite?”
“Oh I love dark chocolate Kit Kats”.
Two days later a box arrived with the Kit Kats and a note saying.. Thank you.