The image of snow-clearing machines carving shapes into Miami’s palm-fringed beaches is vivid and intriguing. But the snowblowers of this blog post’s headline – which is also the title of a new book by Steve Goldstein – have nothing to do with sculpting sand. It turns out they’re a metaphor for “meh.” I’ll explain.
For several years Goldstein ran the credit card division of the retail chain Sears, based in Chicago. One winter he flew to Miami to speak to a trade association, and, while he was there, he went to visit the local Sears department store.
“The particular entrance I walked into was the patio and garden center, and I saw all the things you would expect to see there,” Goldstein recalls. “I saw lawnmowers, patio furniture, shovels and rakes, barbecue grills, all of that stuff. And then, in the corner, I saw what looked like four snowblowers. I walked over there, because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, and sure enough there were four snowblowers on the sales floor in February in Miami.”
Baffled to see these machines taking up valuable display space in a city with year-round tropical temperatures, Goldstein asked an employee why they were there.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Well, we get them in September. We’re told to put them on the floor and we box them back up in April and send them back to headquarters.'”
The sales assistant said this had been going on for at least 30 years.
Incredulous, Goldstein asked, “What do you do about it?” The man replied, “My boss calls headquarters and the store manager calls headquarters and they tell them it’s part of the national allocation.”
Goldstein said, “Do you know what that means?” The answer was no.
They both laughed.
This story has a twist. When Goldstein got back to Chicago, a massive snowstorm was underway, disrupting Sears’ supply chain and creating a shortage in seasonal stock. They could really have done with those four snowblowers, on perpetual display in sunny Florida.
So what was behind this bizarre situation? Mismanagement? Inefficiency? For Goldstein, above all else this is a cautionary tale for disengagement. None of the people involved were engaged enough to straighten out this anomaly, which should have been easy to fix. A couple of them made a bit of an effort but, when they hit a brick wall, they dropped it.
As he reflected on this, Goldstein realized that disengagement was a significant problem in organizations of all sizes, eroding morale and hampering productivity and performance. He wrote his book to help leaders “look at their businesses differently and try to avert their own ‘snowblowers in Miami’ scenarios.”
In our Expert Interview podcast, Goldstein ponders why some people don’t fully engage at work, especially when there’s a problem to solve.
“If you see something [problematic], then you have to decide whether you want to deal with it or not, and, if you deal with it, it’s sort of like untangling spaghetti,” he says. “You’re not exactly sure what’s going to happen. You’re not exactly sure whose toes you might be stepping on. You’re not exactly sure what problems you might be uncovering and you don’t want to rock the boat in many cases.”
In other words, it’s often just easier to think about something else.
In his book, Goldstein presents five principles of engagement, designed to help leaders increase their own engagement as well as that of their teams. Engagement should be at all levels, he says, because that’s when “the magic happens.”
The five principles of engagement are:
- Fresh eyes – adopting an outsider’s perspective.
- Hot buttons – focusing on one or two critical levers for the business.
- Connecting – interacting with employees and customers.
- Speed – making better use of time.
- Transparency – sharing information.
In this clip, from our Expert Interview podcast, Goldstein talks about the fourth principle, speed. In his view, creating a sense of urgency makes all the difference.
How can you boost engagement in your team? Join the discussion below!