People are important, but…

If you work in the service industry, my guess is that you wear some sort of name tag or visible insignia to communicate who you are.

Over the years, these name tags have evolved to include more than just your name and company logo… they can also include your hometown, how many years you’ve worked there, special accomplishments, and in some cases, your favorite movie. Why do we do this?  To identify ourselves as employees and highlight our unique qualities, experience and background – all in the name of communicating the uniqueness of each of our employees and making a personal connection with our guests, which could lead to a conversation which could lead to a better experience.

Name tags

We find a name tag so important that we make it part of an employee’s required wardrobe and insist that they wear one at all costs.

Even if it’s not their own. Better to have someone else’s name tag than none at all.

Really?  Let’s look a little deeper.

Our most personal attribute is our name.  Our name identifies us, it separates us from everyone else, and even though there may be a million people with the same name, our name is our name, and that means something.

To strengthen the bond between service worker and guest, we train employees to use a guests’ name if they see it on a credit card or annual pass.  Sales people in all industries are trained to use a persons name to show they care and that they are on their side.  Networking 101 tells us to use a persons name 3 times in the first few minutes of an interaction, not only so you remember it (which is important), but they know that you know who they are.

So… names are important, but what’s the message we are sending when we allow – in fact insist – an employee wears any ol’ name tag just so they are in uniform?  It’s not a good one.

First, let’s acknowledge that by telling an employee to wear the wrong name tag, we are telling them to break a rule.  It’s probably in your handbook or on a poster somewhere that a name tag is part of their uniform and needs to be worn at all times. It’s hard enough to get employees to follow rules… don’t help them NOT follow your rules by being the one to encourage them to break it.

(PS – while your employee is seeing you tell them to break this rule, they are going to wonder which of your other rules are optional as well.)

Next, all that stuff about identifying the employee and starting conversations – out the window.  Ever try to get an employee’s attention by calling their name (or the name you saw on their name tag), but got no response?  People usually don’t turn around when they hear a different name being called.  So Dan from the Bronx might actually be Joe from Orlando.  A guest trying to strike up a conversation with Dan about their hometown in New York will be disappointed when Joe says, “Oh, yeah, that’s not really my name and I’m not from the Bronx.”

Lastly, and most importantly, as Joe is saying, “that’s not my name”, subconsciously he could be thinking, “they just make me wear a name tag, it doesn’t matter what it says.” (He might even say that to the guest.) It’s not a far stretch for Joe to start thinking that if it doesn’t matter who he is based on his name tag, that it won’t really matter who he is as a person.  Since we told him to wear any ol’ name tag and get to work, we’re the ones who told him that he’s not important.  See? I told you it wasn’t good.

While it’s easy to have some spare name tags lying around in the event that an employee doesn’t have theirs, think of the long term impacts of that practice.  In the short term, you may get an employee to cover a shift.  In the long term, you may be building a culture that the employee doesn’t want to work in.

Thanks for reading.


About the author: Matt is 5’9″.  Matt wears glasses. Matt likes “Life is Good” t-shirts. Who wrote this blog post? Oh yeah, Matt.

Do you trust blinkers?

A recent article I found (while researching this post) talks about how dangerous it is to not use your blinkers, and that in fact blinkerless maneuvers cause more accidents than distracted (such as texting) driving.  Interestingly, it’s quite possible someone didn’t use their turn signal because they were texting.  Double whammy.

According to the article, “drivers skipped using their signal lights during 48% of lane-changes and in 25% of full turns.”  That means (to me, anyway) that it seems to be getting harder and harder to “trust” a blinker when we see one (or don’t see one).

We’ve all seen someone driving down the highway with their turn signal on for miles and miles, and you KNOW they have no intention of changing lanes.  On the other hand, we have probably all been the victim of waiting for a car to go by so we can pull out of a driveway, only to have them turn unexpectedly (due to turn signal neglect) before they got to us.

These inconsistencies lead to a tentativeness around the intention of the driver.  99.9% of the time, I don’t even KNOW the other driver, but the behavior of others has conditioned this distrust in me.

So why are we talking about turn signals on a leadership blog? Because leaders have issues with consistency, too, and if the stats above prove that this is dangerous business in terms of blinkers, it’s also dangerous business for leaders.

How about this… we know our employees are watching us, right?  What if they saw us do the “right” thing only 52% of the time?  Even doing the right thing 75% of the time leaves a lot of room for improvement.  And that’s also a lot of room for misinterpretation, guessing, unsureness, misunderstandings and… oh yeah… distrust.

Trust is the bedrock of any relationship, and is something you will likely have to work at earning throughout your time as a leader.  Some people will trust you until you give them a reason not to, while others make you earn it from the get-go. In either case, here are some things you can do to be consistent AND earn your employees’ trust:

  • Do what you say you are going to do.  It sounds SO simple, and you have likely heard others make this point, but it’s worth repeating.  When you tell someone you will do something, then you don’t do it, not only are your actions inconsistent with your words, but you’ve also broken a promise to them.  Keeping promises (to yourself and others) is so powerful that there is an entire social movement dedicated to helping people keep their promises. It’s called “because I said I would.” They even have t-shirts!
  • Don’t play favorites. There are MANY forms of favoritism, from giving certain people special assignments to not enforcing policies consistently.  Remember what we said about employees watching you?  They notice things like unfair (or even seemingly unfair) treatment, or when another employee seems to be getting away with something.  They also talk to each other, and probably share more than you want them too.  Treat people fairly (and explain your actions) and you won’t have to worry about it.
  • Be honest. “Oh what a tangled web we weave…” It’s much easier to be consistent (and build trust) when you are honest.  It could start with something innocent meant to spare someone’s feelings, but the more it grows the harder it is to make it right.  You get caught up in a situation where if you do tell them the truth, you are now being inconsistent.  That’s no good.

While it wasn’t my intention, if this post served as a PSA to use your blinkers, great.  If it encouraged you to think about ways to ensure you are being consistent so you can build greater trust, even better.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Full disclosure… Matt has been accused (and rightfully so) for on occasion not using his blinker to the fullest extent of its capacity.  That ends now.

Broken is the new normal

Twice within 24 hours my wife and I encountered broken equipment at local businesses that visibly frustrated the employees.

People’s exhibit A: Last night at the movies, Linda noticed that one of the automatic hand dryers in the ladies room wasn’t working. When she told an employee, the response was, “yeah, that has been broken for a few years.”

People’s exhibit B: This morning at our favorite bagel place, I noticed that at the register, the little screen that faces the customers wasn’t working. When I mentioned it to the employee, she said, “I know, I’ve got to pick my battles. That one over there has a screen that works, but the order screen doesn’t. This one is the opposite. We can’t seem to get it all right at the same time.” I could hear the frustration and resignation in her voice.

To a casual observer, these probably aren’t cause for too much concern.  There is another hand dryer in the bathroom, and you can still process bagel orders, so what’s all the hub bub, Bub?

The hub bub is that while these may not have a huge impact on your guests (even though that should be a concern), they ARE impacting your employees.  Maybe even in ways you don’t realize.

A guest may see this situation once or twice, but the employees deal with it ALL THE TIME. Not only are they constantly reminded about it when THEY see it, they also get to have well-intentioned guests like us pointing out the mechanical issues of their business.  The longer that situation goes unresolved, the the more frustrating it is to hear. That frustration can really wear a person down.

When that happens, it’s really hard for an employee to take pride in their facility, or sometimes even themselves when they are working in that environment.  “Why should I worry about my appearance when the company doesn’t seem to care about what the building or equipment look like? They want me to smile and be nice? How can I smile when I’m constantly making excuses for why things aren’t working?”

And unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If an employee gets it in their head that these issues are not being addressed, why would they bring future issues to your attention? The longer a situation persists, the more “normal” it becomes. When “broken” becomes the normal mode of doing business, we’re in trouble.

The easy answer is to fix the broken stuff in a timely manner. That may not always be easily accomplished, but at least the effort has to be there (and be known to those who are waiting for it). This means communicating the process to your employees so they don’t think you don’t care. When they think you don’t care about the facility and their experience, they could start to feel that you don’t care about them.

And you don’t want that to feel normal.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: Matt offers keynotes and in-depth workshops based on the material in his book, The Myth of Employee Burnout. Don’t accept broken employee morale in your business – it doesn’t have to be the norm!