Actions speak louder than words. It’s one of those axioms we hear so often that it is easy to forget how much impact leaders can have when they demonstrate a commitment to priorities and values.


The former CEO of Campbell’s Soup, Douglas Conant, showed he cared about employee engagement by sending hand-written thank you notes to employees. In his 10 years as CEO, he sent more than 20,000 personalized notes.


In his first week on the job, Best Buy’s CEO Hubert Joly went through the standard new employee training and then put on the trademark blue shirt and worked on the sales floor of one of the company’s huge stores.


It took courage and commitment for Conant and Joly to model the behavior they valued and those actions told their employees loudly and clearly what was important.


Even if an action or event is symbolic, it creates a “commitment bias,” so that people are more likely to see it through. And actions create stories that people can retell to reinforce the actions.


Translate your vision to symbolic events

Joly wanted to show that customer service in the store was vital. It didn’t cost him a lot to work in the store for a week, but it carried tremendous weight. If you want your teams to embrace a new open office plan, be the first one to move out of your corner suite. If you want meetings to start and end on time, make a point of following a strict agenda in your own meetings, starting and stopping exactly on time.


Model behavior that reinforces your story

Employees like to be able to relate to the boss’s story. If you started on the factory floor, put time in your schedule every month to spend in the factory or eating in the workers’ lunchroom. If you made your name in customer service, set aside time to meet customers with your sales staff to show them how to build vital relationships.


Create a listening tour

Managers often tell employees they want feedback or their door is open, and then what employees see is a boss too busy to talk. If getting input from your team is important, create a listening tour.  Develop open-ended questions that help you stay in touch with your business. Then make half-hour appointments with staff members and sit down to listen to them.

Cynthia Owens is a Senior Consultant at XPLANE.

Action Worksheet No. 5: Anthropology Study

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