Written Rick Smalling, Executive Consultant at Riverbank
How much is the rent for our office?That is one of the questions we pose to colleagues during orientation. Aside from management, most employees are blissfully unaware of the office rent, even though it’s a major expense for the business. To follow up, we ask: when was the last time you lived someplace where you did not know the rent? We typically receive a consistent answer: “When I lived with my parents.” My answer is the same. My parents never told me their mortgage payment, and I never asked. I was blissfully unaware. This inquiry is honest and intended to connect our colleagues to the realities of the our financials. It’s a jumping-off point to our basic financial training. The income statement is a very important scorecard for the business. We believe it’s important for our entire team to understand how it works. One day, the tables were turned on me. A colleague asked me if I knew what a one-bedroom apartment costs in our city. I had no idea. I had been a CEO for years, and it had been a long time since I worried about rent. It was a clear sign that I was not as in touch with our employees’ reality as I should be. I did not understand management’s point of view until I became management. Afterward, it was interesting how fast I forgot what it was like to be an employee. Walking in someone else’s shoes is almost always an enlightening experience. So often, we become inured to our own way of thinking, our own perspectives, and we are often blissfully unaware of what others are experiencing. This ignorance happens all the time in business (and life). Management and employees complain about each other and lament how the other side ‘doesn’t get it’. The best organizations work hard to provide opportunities for each to walk in the other’s shoes. Humble and genuine inquiry helps create bridges. Too often, management and employees end up on opposite sides of the table, negotiating a zero-sum game. That’s too bad, because it is a lot more fun to get on the same side of the table working on an important challenge together. Finding a way to creatively make the pie bigger together is a much better result than fighting over that last piece.