Taking the Temperature

with No Comments

A few weeks ago, I went to the Whole Foods as they were having a great sale on ground beef. While I was waiting for the employee to package my order, his colleague was checking the temperature of the various meats in the case. Intrigued, I asked him about the procedure. He explained that they take readings from multiple spots, every three hours to ensure that everything is kept at the perfect temperature.

As I walked away (with my excellent ground beef deal) I got to thinking about how leaders and managers would do well to take the temperature of their teams.

Let’s begin by considering why they might want to do so…

The government food standards website says that a “combination of low temperatures and dry surfaces will inhibit the growth of bacteria and extend shelf life.” The last thing a major grocery retailer wants associated with their name is any kind of quality issue, especially in the meat department. It’s costly to procure and maintain, just like employees. If they don’t follow strict safety standards, people could get sick or… worse. It’s simply not worth doing a job poorly.

Honestly, it’s kind of the same for employees. Bad attitudes multiply like bacteria, reducing efficacy and leading to the likelihood of a shorter shelf life (meaning when employees are unhappy, they are more likely to leave or remain and become disengaged or disgruntled). This costs more than just time and money; it also impacts the morale of the rest of the team and results in issues such as gossip, increased conflict, higher safety incidents, and lower innovation.

Now that we have the “why,” let’s consider the “how”…

  1. Check out the language people are using. Is it positive and forward moving or is there a lot of grumbling and complaining going on. Be sure to notice all forms of communication; including emails, instant or voice mail messages, and of course, verbal exchanges.
  2. Assess whether people are being helpful to each other (answering questions, offering assistance, etc.) or if there’s reticence to do more than the bare minimum.
  3. Notice if there is a pattern of longevity or is there an uptick in call outs, use of leave, or employee turnover? Now, make no mistake, longevity isn’t always a positive sign, but a sudden change in attendance is almost certainly a negative one.

I didn’t think to ask the employee what would happen if the temperature was off in the meat samples, but I am guessing they would work to restore the correct environment as quickly as possible. Leaders and managers will want to do the same. Oftentimes, a shift in culture has to do with communication issues, so look there first. Is there something people are concerned about that hasn’t been discussed? Are there changes on the horizon that haven’t been well explained? Nature surely does abhor a vacuum and people will fill in their own story when there isn’t enough information being shared. Other things to consider are workload, whether people understand how their jobs contribute to the organization’s mission or conditions that are perceived as being unfair or inequitable.

It made me feel much more confident knowing that the folks in the meat department were on top of things in such a rigorous manner and I think employees would feel the same, if they knew leadership cared in this way. Making an adjustment at a single degree is a whole lot easier than producing change when the entire system is off. So don’t wait, start checking the temperature now because the health and viability of your entire organization may depend on it.