Performance Management Blog

Nobody ever washes a rental car – Thoughts on engagement and ownership

“Nobody ever washes a rental car.”

I’ve been using this phrase for dozens of years, since it elegantly and simply illustrates a very real opportunity for significant increases in employee engagement, organizational improvement, performance improvement and so many other aspects of improving organizational results.

It’s a really great anchoring statement and I have used it many times as the title of a presentation. But it also generates confusing reactions in some people.

It’s a metaphor! It is not a statement for Generally Accepted Accounting Principles or some Rule of Life. And it is funny — I have actually had people raise their hands in seminars to explain that they have actually washed a rental car in the past. Once in a while, they admit to being WAY overly compulsive and obsessed. More generally, they illustrate my key point…

The point is one of ownership — people do not take care of things they do not own. I can often illustrate this by asking participants if they have ever owned a rental property. Some of the tenants were exceptional and left the place better than before they rented it. But most share my experience: tenants at a house I owned nearly burned down the house with a chimney fire, pretty-much destroyed the wood floors, punched holes in the walls and left nail holes in nearly every wall. The rose garden and the camilla tree were gone, with the former used as for parking and the latter just destroyed (by motor oil dumped around it, apparently).

Ownership — If you own something, you tend to take better care of it. That is all I mean. Let me illustrate.

If someone in the workplace comes up with an idea and presents it to the manager and the managers enables them to try it, they most likely will, right? But, if the boss comes up and says, “Let’s now do things this way,” the general response will be for people to resist the change and generate reasons why it won’t work, right?

Statistics say that most executives believe that the most difficult aspect of any organizational improvement initiative is employee resistance.

Nothing corners better, handles bumps and speedbumps, treats potholes and curbs with disdain, accelerates faster and breaks harder than a rental car. (right?)

Who owns the idea? Not the employee, right? So, why wouldn’t they resist the idea? After all, they need to change, learn to do something differently than they have been doing it, have a higher risk of failure and will probably see a drop in their productivity in the short term. What’s to like about all that?

And there is another paradox at work, as shown below:

Leaders will resist changes they feel are done TO them.

On consulting projects in the past, ideas that I helped the workers implement were often resisted by the managers, who felt that things were not under control or moving too fast or similar. This happened less and less as my experience improved and I could generate a level of their involvement that would balance the issues of resistance on both sides of the wagon.

I’ve expanded on the issue of ownership elsewhere in my blogs such as here on innovation and here on leading meetings.

There are lots of ways we can do things differently to better involve and engage people in our needed improvement initiatives. But pushing and pulling is not the best of strategies. Sitting, talking, explaining and asking is often a much more effective way to get things rolling…

Put the wagon up on wheels for a while and consider alternative ideas generated by everyone.

Have some fun out there, too.

Scott Debrief

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant, earning CPT and CPF credentials. -- You can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com and a detailed profile is here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/scottsimmerman/ -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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