What is a Spectator-Free Workplace?

Linda Dulye's picture
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Throughout the past couple of years we've been asked from time to time to explain what we mean when we talk about a spectator-free workplace. It's a provocative term that often has people wondering

When we picture a spectator in today's work environment, we see someone who isn't engaged in their own work, much less the vision and objectives of the business. He or she simply arrives at work and essentially checks out.

They stand on the sidelines of the workplace -- often, criticizing, complaining and casting blame. They go through the motions -- do the bare minimum, nothing more. They are spectators.

Their disengagement may be triggered by a communications disconnect with their manager. Perhaps that manager hasn't clearly articulated the business goals or discussed impending changes or provided updates about customers and team performance. Another factor fueling an employee's spectatorship may have been lack of response by co-workers or a manager to feedback or ideas submitted to a past program. The silence made them feel ignored, so why bother again? Or, maybe they've become disengaged because they've witnessed too many 'urgent' initiatives spin up a workforce to new thinking and actions, and then fizzle due to cultural impatience or a department reorganization.

Whatever the reason, spectators can be a drag on their entire team's performance. Combine several spectators across the organization and they can chip away at morale and engagement.

How can you create a spectator-free workplace for your organization? Here are three steps you can take today to begin transforming spectators into engaged, motivated contributors:

Listen Up. Our research indicates there's too little listening going on. What's getting in the way? Not surprisingly, time. Schedules are on overload and most organizations are running lean. Nevertheless, the cost of not listening to your team can be drastic. So, how can you make time for listening? By doing exactly that: build-in listening time to staff meetings, workplace walk-arounds or other regularly scheduled sessions. Make "listening time" a specific item that participants can see on the agenda.

Walk the Talk. Are you holding yourself to the same requirements you demand of employees? What you say and what you do -- walking the talk -- says a lot about you as a leader and has an enormous impact on your credibility. An attitude of "do as I say, not as I do," sends a signal to your team that the rules everyone else abides by somehow don't apply to you. And that's a bad message.

View Feedback as a Gift. Even though you're working on your listening skills it's natural to wince at the terms "employee feedback." Still, for every complaint about the break room temperature, there could be two or three gems that can help you improve the organization's performance.

Take Control. Today, more is expected of leaders than perhaps ever before -- and certainly more than in recent memory. And in this constantly shifting environment there are many factors that are out of our hands. That's why it's critical that leaders take hold of the things they can control, starting with how they communicate with employees, customers, the public and even a board of directors.

To learn more about cultivating a Spectator-Free Workplace, subscribe to our podcast or contact me directly by email.

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