Leadership and the Environment

Looks Matter to Lead: Does Your Environment Set the Stage for Good Work?

Visualize this. You are in a room where rats scurry across people’s feet. They are looking for warmth inside a building that is so cold people are wearing gloves. Four people are crowded into a room that could reasonably accommodate one. Paint is peeling from the walls, and water is dripping off pipes into buckets. You might think that I’m describing a place in an underprivileged part of America, but this is an office in corporate America.

While traveling the country as a consultant and speaker, I’ve seen environments like the one described above. What are the first questions that sprang to my mind?

  • What the heck are the leaders thinking?
  • How can they allow employees to work in this kind of environment?
  • What messages are they sending to their employees?
  • Why don’t they think a work environment matters?

Here’s the point. If you are in a leadership role (for example, a crew lead, foreman, supervisor, manager, boss, director), then you absolutely, positively have to consider the physical environment of the workspace where your employees work and live. The physical space has a huge impact on morale, attitude, productivity, and customer service. It is your team’s home away from home. Here are five things that your physical workspace must be:

1. It must be comfortable.

I was visiting a client’s call center where employees were saying how much better the new space was than the old one. What was wrong with the old one? Rodents ran across their feet while they were on the phone. It was overcrowded. It was freezing. Are you kidding me? 

2. It must be clean.

The space should be clean and free of dust, mold, and mildew. Think about this: when a workspace is clean, it sends important messages to employees about professionalism, pride, excellence, and expectations. It says, “This is how we do it here.” What message is your space sending?

3. It must be functional.

Make sure the equipment in the workspace is functioning. Do copiers work? Are computers operating as they should? I see a lot of cases in which old, outdated, or broken equipment leads to frustration and low morale. Such equipment maintenance problems create an atmosphere in which employees feel underappreciated because they don’t have the tools they need to do their jobs.

4. It must be aesthetically pleasing.

While it doesn’t need to be the Taj Mahal, the space has to be presentable and appealing. If the walls need new paint, paint them. If the carpet is old, ratty, and stained, replace it if possible, or at least get it cleaned. Take down the bent blinds and faded wall calendars from 1965. As a leader, you should remember that people believe what they see. Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive. How much does painting or carpet cleaning cost?

5. It must promote positive attitudes.

Last on the list, and perhaps most important, is the atmosphere of the workplace that is created by who you hire and who you keep. If you hire people who are energetic and enthusiastic, then that is the kind of environment you will have. If you have people who are constantly grumpy and complaining, then you, as a leader, will have created a negative environment. A positive, can-do attitude should be an expectation of the job.

To help you apply these things to your workplace, take the “fresh eyes” challenge. Walk into your office as though you’ve never seen the space before and ask yourself:

  • Does it look like a place where people would be proud to work?
  • Would you give your best client a tour?
  • Would you give a relative a tour?
  • Is the space passable or an embarrassment?
  • How do your employees feel? (This is the most important thing to consider.)

As a leader, become the architect of the environment for your team, both physically and mentally. You’ll be amazed at the impact it will have on morale. Make yours a workplace employees want to come to each day regardless of how difficult their jobs might be.

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