My wife and I have lived in our Baltimore home for thirty years. Our neighborhood was one of the original suburbs. Our street is a lovely collection of bungalows from the 1930s. Our home happens to be located on a very narrow street. It is so narrow that snowplows rarely venture onto our road.
This poses quite a problem when we have a major snowstorm. Years ago we all realized that if we were going to get our cars to the main road we were going to have to shovel our way out.
And that is what we have done time after time. We start at the top of our hill and we shovel our way to the main road. Like an army of ants we shovel our street down to the pavement.
The elderly are excused. Their walks and driveways are shoveled for them. We are not a territorial group so parking places on the street are shoveled out for everyone.
If you are young and able bodied you are expected to help. New comers receive a knock on their door on their first snowy day and the process is explained to them.
It’s the way things are done on the street where we live.
The Street Where You Live
Organizations are very much like neighborhoods. They too have histories, traditions, values and rules. Knowing the rules and spoken and unspoken expectations in your corporate “neighborhood” are very important if you want to enjoy your stay on the “street where you live”. What follows are three stories that highlight the importance of knowing those rules and expectations.
Bob is a very successful salesman in his software company. He is also a very strong believer in separation of one’s work life and one’s personal life. He works very hard at work but believes the end of the workday is the end of his obligation to his employer.
There is a small problem. Bob is employed by an organization that places a high value on social interaction. The company president loves company outings- picnics, trips to the ballpark, softball leagues, potluck lunches, company dinners etc. Last year the company president came to me. It seems that Bob had become conspicuous in his absence. He was the only employee that never came to a company function.
I talked with Bob and he explained his separation of work and play policy. Besides, he explained, many of these outings involved sports- an area in which he had no interest.
I asked him if he had ever taken a client to a baseball or football game. “Of course I have” he replied. “I believe in doing whatever is necessary to maintain good rapport with a customer.” “What about the ‘internal customers’” I asked. “How important is it to maintain good rapport with your coworkers?”
Bob got the message. While he’ll never be there for all the after-work functions he is no longer the lone wolf who never attends. He understands this is part of what is expected on “the street where he lives.”
Martha was frustrated. “Why?” she asked. “Why was it necessary to say “thank you?”
“These people are adults,” she explained to me. “Why do they need to be coddled?”
“Three reasons” I replied.
“What’s ‘thank you’ trading at on the London Exchange this morning?” I asked. “Is it still at zero?” Complements, I pointed out cost nothing. That’s the first reason to give them.
Second, they help moral. I’ve heard almost every employee complaint in the book but I’ve never heard an employee complain about receiving too many “thank yous”.
The third and most important reason I explained was that the founders and owners of this company prided themselves in being kind thoughtful human beings.
“That’s not the way people behaved at my old company” was Martha’s response.
I proceeded to tell Martha the story of how our neighbors shovel the snow.
The jury is still out but I suspect that if Martha doesn’t lighten up a little this company may soon cease to be the “street where she lives.”
Charlie understood the importance of his company’s Wednesday morning meetings. It wasn’t his fault if his Blackberry kept vibrating. He was a busy guy and these were important calls and text messages. Besides, how did people expect him to continue be one of the biggest revenue producers if he didn’t return his calls? If someone was talking in the meeting he would step away and speak quietly to the caller. It wasn’t like he was being rude. “That’s exactly what you’re being,” I pointed out. “Rude. Your behavior indicates that what you have to do or say is more important than the topic being discussed in the meeting.” I wasn’t the first one to tell Charlie this. His boss was at his wits end. He didn’t behave this way and neither did anyone else in the meeting! Charlie got the message. The last few meetings have seen a more attentive and much more considerate Charlie.
He seems to be getting the message that on the organizational “street where he lives” courtesy is a requirement.
Learn the rules or face the consequences.
So what about you? Are you being a good neighbor? Are you aware of the important rules and expectations in your corporate neighborhood? Understanding your corporate culture can often be critical to your success. Fail to grasp these norms and your “neighbors” may one day ask you to “move.”
Should you or others in your organization need help becoming better “neighbors” I am always an email or phone call away.