Lessons from the Elevator

Lessons from the ElevatorSeveral years ago, I was working with the CEO of a client organization. We were working in his office on the 8th floor, and when the lunch hour arrived, we decided to head out for lunch and continue our work.

Earlier that morning when I had arrived, I had taken the main elevator to the 8th floor, using the same lobby elevator that was routinely used by employees. When heading out to lunch though, the CEO announced that we would use his private elevator – the one that only served him, the executive vice president, and the corporate counsel of the company. They were the only three people authorized to use this special elevator. I thought that was a bit strange, so I asked him on our ride down to the parking garage, “If you don’t ride the employee elevator, how do you know what’s going on in your company?”

He asked me with some bewilderment, “What do you mean?” I told him the most valuable information you will get about the culture of your organization is gathered while you ride the elevator with your team.

I asked him, “If you rode the elevator with your employees for a week, what do you think you would learn?” He looked thoughtful but did not offer a response, so I continued, “You would learn the arrival and departure habits of your team, key insights into the attitude of employees, and updates about so many things. You might learn something new about someone, something about her family. Just the opportunity for them to spend that 30 seconds riding the elevator with you would be a valuable contribution you could make to them.”

I’ve always believed that those few minutes a day you spend on the elevator are a perfect classroom for the CEO to visit with his team. Get in the elevator with a purpose, with questions, with stories, with words of wisdom – that’s what your team wants to hear. You might also find that team members will learn your elevator habits and time it so they can ride with you on occasion. Turn the elevator into your personal 1-minute classroom.

Interestingly enough if you don’t ride the employee elevator you’ll never learn the elevator language of your employees. In most average or weak performing companies, as the elevator is making its way up the comments tend to be negative – things like, “Oh, gosh, it’s early”, “We are not even to hump day yet”, “I’m still tired from the weekend”, “It’s going to be a long day”, “Wish it was Friday”, “I can’t wait until my vacation in 3 months”. However, on the way down the elevator, the conversations change dramatically. They shift 180 degrees. They go positive. You begin to hear comments like, “I’m out of here”, “Thank goodness it’s time to go”, “It’s the weekend”, “I thought 5 o’clock would never get here”… You’ll hear comments that border on ecstatic. Now what’s the significance here? The more negative your employees are when arriving, and the more positive they are when leaving, the greater the chances you have a morale problem.

As executives, we spend a lot of time and money training, studying and working on our people to help strengthen and improve company culture and performance. Ride the elevator and get a snapshot of how you are doing. It’s a great way to figure out what to work on next. You’ll know whether your company has a positive “up” elevator and a positive “down” elevator or whether it’s just positive going down and negative going up. I know most CEOs are thinking, “but they won’t tell me anything of value.” Try it. You might be surprised.




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