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A Chair Changed Culture

When I started running this business the people would not make eye contact. Yes, I quickly found out that they were GREAT people who just needed some love. Unfortunately that Love was given through some strong parenting ... This is what i found ...

Below was my vision and what I eventually wanted our business to look like ... I did share this picture with all of our employees, indeed a picture can speak more than 1,000 words.

We were a small business so we only had one meeting room. This meeting room was used for Internal Meetings, Engineering Design Reviews, Customer Site Visits and occasionally for Recruitment Interviews.

The plant started work before the rest of the team arrived so they enjoyed using the meeting room to host their Daily Production Meeting. When I arrived the meeting room looked like a bomb had just exploded in it. Production Reports were scattered all over the meeting table, Empty Coffee cups left behind and the Chairs left in position where people's bum's could push them.

Initially, i played the role of MOM, I threw the surplus reports into the recycling box, Gathered the coffee cups and tossed them into the garbage. Finally, pushing all of the chairs back into their proper positions ... the room looked respectable again. But i was hired as the COO not a Mother of the children.

I took a picture of how I wanted the meeting room to be left after using. I even wrote down a list of actions and accountability I expected the meeting facilitator to follow. I then met with the morning crew and reviewed my work instruction and asked for their support and if they could comply to the tasks requested? Of course I got a huge YES and why was i berating them ... I showed them the before picture, with an emphasis on making sure the chairs are tucked in after the meeting.

Next Day i arrived excited to see how our meeting room looked, very excited. To my amazement the meeting room looked much better, except 1 (one) chair had not been tucked back into place. I thought no big deal, i pushed it into place and later during the day reminded our Shipping Supervisor (Meeting Facilitator) about tucking in his chair. No problem he said and apologized for forgetting ... I thought problem solved.

Next Day ... chair not tucked in, I did it.

Second Day ... chair not tucked in, I did it.

Third Day ... chair not tucked in, I did it.

Seventh Day ... chair not tucked in, I did it.

Yes, I am a slow learner, but guess what? I had inherited a new function to my position description that I did want. So what to do?

I went back to my Shipping Supervisor and coached him (that did not work), I tried to motivate him with a reward (free coffee) that did not impress so I mentioned that every time we had a non-conformance I would remind him so he could instigate a corrective action.

Round 1

Found the chair astray and off I went into the plant to remind the Supervisor. I was aked to do it and he would start the next day. He was busy loading a truck and if he went to tuck in the chair we would be facing a demurrage charge. Advised him that was my problem and to go tuck in his chair ... he begrudgingly fulfilled the task.

Several Additional Rounds

This daily exercise between me an the Shipping Supervisor had become a game. He failed to tuck in the chair, I would conduct a searching expedition to remind him and he begrudgingly complied. Of course our employees got to know our game and during my search expeditions the employees actually smiled (not in support), but at least I finally was getting eye contact.

Conducting the search expeditions became tiring and frankly the Shipping Supervisor was getting better at "Hide" than I was at "Seek". I even reverted to using the paging system telling all that I was not the Shipping Supervisors Mother and to come to the meeting room to tuck in his chair.

This has now become a test of wills and who was going to win? The Shipping Supervisor was also our company Spiritual Leader so it was important to get him on board.

Tough Love

Finally had to have an attitude adjustment meeting with my Shipping Supervisor. During our conversation I stated if he could not follow a very simple instruction to tuck his chair in then i was very concerned how he could follow more critical instructions regarding our shipments like completing custom's documentation, proper weights and dimensions. I stressed if he could not follow the instruction to tuck in his chair unfortunately i did not have another position for him in the company and i would have to divorce him from the team.


Our game ended and he respectfully started and maintained the practice of tucking in his chair after all his meetings. I know that he did not like me, but at least respected our rules. As a friendly by-product since all of the employees had watched our game in action, surprise !! our chairs in the lunchroom like magic were being tucked in after breaks and lunch.

Lesson Learned

If you do a task once, you will most likely own it forever. So only do it if you want to own it. Better to change behavior at the root and slowly benefit.

Next Cultural Adjustment ...

After getting through the chair challenge and keeping my Vision Plant in focus I enacted the following 3 rules within the operation to further adjust Culture. They were;

  • Don't put or store stuff in my aisles, and i own all of the aisles

  • Don't be late to my meetings

  • Meet your Dates, which you get to establish and I acknowledge the day ends at midnight

We continue the Cultural Adjustment journey next week ....

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