Be a Thermostat!


By, Cari Desiderio

Recently one of my closest friends and confidants was sharing with me something profound she was applying in her life.  She heard it from a friend of hers.  When I heard it, I have pondered it, and then shared it with quite a few friends myself. And now I’m blogging about it.  Truth ripples. So awesome.

She suggested to me a perspective that can be situation altering.  She said she was learning that she should be a thermostat.  You see, as a pretty intuitive and caring person, she has a heightened sense of awareness for people’s state of being.  This is fine and well, she explained. But it has little impact.  It helps little to “be a thermometer” and measure the state of a situation and people.  Instead, “be a thermostat” —  be able to measure a situation, and then do something about it.

Wow I thought.  This can be profound in a lot of settings.  How would my life change if I was a thermostat in my relationships? In my community? In my parenting? Since my blog is about all things HR, I am going to apply to the corporate setting.

One of the most frustrating experiences I have had in HR is when companies conduct engagement surveys and then do little with the findings. I think the perception is that, hey, if we do a survey people think we care and that will help the culture.  Wrong.  Doing an engagement survey (note I do not say satisfaction survey – we want happy engaged people, not happy disengaged people).  In any event, doing a survey like this is essentially the act of being a thermometer.  We typically learn that several of the top things people want are in need of some impact and change.  The most common I have seen are employees will say:

  1. I want to be listened to and respected
  2. I want to see better communication and know where the company is headed, and how I fit in
  3. I want to be developed and see my career grow
  4. I want a boss who is a player/coach and really cares about the team and not just him/herself

Interesting to note – occasionally we see things about income on the top wants list, but rarely.

What a cool thing it is, if we enter into an engagement survey and set out to be a thermostat!  Now, a word of warning, however.  Don’t try to be Superman.  What do I mean by that?  Well don’t set out and promise to fix every possible woe.  Some things are just contextual based on the business model.  You are probably not going to be able to create robust career promotion paths if you are a company of fifty because you are too small.  You are probably not going to be able to offer state of the art benefits and 99% percentile salaries if you are a nonprofit, because your mission isn’t to be a cash cow.  You are probably not going to be able to offer 40-hour work weeks with limited travel, if you are private equity firm with consultants serving the globe.  And so on.

However, within the context of who your organization is, you can still be a realistic thermostat.  You can change things for the better in a way that fits who you are.

The key to this is strong follow through, with action committees led by teams of employees and well coached management to guide the outcome in a thoughtful and committed manner.  Notice I did not say action team led by HR.  HR can facilitate, but if HR is the lone ranger trying to make change, it will actually backfire and be worse than never doing a survey.  Because change only happens top down.

One other critical note when seeking to be thermostats when it comes to corporate culture.  You’re going to have to be incredibly cognizant about who you give the honor and privilege of management too.  Good managers need to be people who listen and are emotionally mature enough to receive and act on feedback.  Be prepared, if you decide to take this stuff seriously, to have an “up or out” ultimatum to any leaders who are not remotely interested in being thermostats with their teams.  In other words, leaders who are stubborn and more interested in #1, and who frankly dislike having to lead people or receive feedback and do something with it.  Because ultimately, employees typically leave their boss not their company.  If you look at the list of common issues, it is the line manager who can most directly impact it.  Managers are commissioned with creating individual development plans for employees.  Managers are the ones with the ability to close or open their ears when employees have ideas, and to create an environment that welcomes ideas.  Managers are accountable to create team environments that uphold respect. Managers have the choice daily to care or be indifferent to those they have the honor and privilege of leading. Managers can choose to dictate, or to be player/coaches.

Be a thermostat. Such a cool concept.  Let’s try to be thermostats in our homes, in our friendships, in our communities, in our workplaces. We’ll all be happier and more engaged, in life! Thanks to my friend Wendy for sharing.