The Engaged Leader: Knowing the Pulse of Your Organization

by Stephen T. Messenger

March 15, 2022

Every organization has a reason for its existence. Most serve customers, perform a service, or make money. None exist solely to help its employees.

Employees are simply a means to an end and, paradoxically, they make or break a company.  

Sara Bittorf learned this the hard way when she was the Chief Brand Officer for Boston Market. On an Undercover Boss episode a few years ago, she discovered how customer service starts with employee service.

The company was so focused on giving the customers a good experience, they forgot to give the employees a good experience. The working conditions were not ideal, the hours were excessive, and employees were frustrated with management.

Her big takeaway was, “We need to find a way to value our employees as much as we value our customers!”

It got me thinking: How much do I value employees?

I see a lot of surveys in organizations that ask about working conditions, culture, or the pulse of the unit. The results are sometimes shocking. More shocking is that many leaders read these surveys and don’t care about making conditions better but care more about preventing poor results the next time.

Leaders need to do more than prevent poor surveys. The fact we need a survey in the first place to discover issues is a sad commentary on our inability to understand the pulse of our organizations.

Leaders must know the morale of their teams. It’s easy if you have three people. It’s significantly more difficult if you have 300.

So how do we understand the pulse of the organization and address its problems?

Through a simple question: “What can I do for you?”

I try every morning to walk through my organization of 21 people and say hi to every one of them. I often fail, but generally I talk to everyone multiple times a week just to connect at a personal level. I ask about their weekend, their family, what they did last night, and any other small talk.

But the one question I try to leave every conversation with is, “What can I do for you?”

It’s a dangerous question because the boss can’t take on the workload of the employee.

However, this simple question opens the door to concerns, problems, culture issues, and a host of other answers that allow you to see problems in the organization.

Granted, some responses may be complaints for sake of complaining. But every answer is a chance to see the perspective from those who work for you. It’s a chance to solve issues that are of concern to others. It’s a chance to explain why you act a certain way or made a certain decision.

It’s a chance to build trust.

An interesting thing is that as you remove barriers from your employees, you’ll find that the answer to “What can I do for you?” will soon be nothing. As you solve the little things, the big things start to take care of themselves.

Sara Bittoff listened to her employees, understood their concerns, and made significant changes to Boston Market to help her people be more effective and feel more valued. While we can’t all go undercover to see how our organization really works (thank goodness!), we can ask a simple question often to offer our people a chance to trust us.

“What can I do for you?”

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