The Whisper Factor

What It Is And How It Can Help You As A Leader.

Several years ago, I was working with a mining executive on transforming his organization. We spent many hours together, both in person and on the phone. Our meetings were very productive and went on into the night, at times.

One late night, I got a call from the executive about an issue we had been working on. As we were talking, I heard his wife in the background say, “If Steve Schumacher calls one more time at night, I am going to kill him!” Needless to say, I was startled by that comment and told the executive that we should stop this conversation and pick it up again the next day. The next day we discussed what had happened. We agreed that, from now on, our conversations should be during reasonable hours and not interrupt his family time.

That situation made me think about what I call the Whisper Factor. Specifically, it is about what spouses have to say about the company, the bosses and other people associated with one of the spouses’ jobs over the pillows at night. We all talk to our spouses, children and friends about how things are going at work and it is important, as a leader, to understand that. Not only is it important to know that it goes on, it is even more important to try hard to make sure that those conversations are positive.

If the Whisper Factor is primarily negative, it will impact the employee’s attitude and may increase their stress levels and performance on the job. If the Whisper Factor is primarily positive, the employee will have a better attitude, lower stress and performance will tend to be higher.

Some things you can do to make the Whisper Factor positive:

Work reasonable hours. These days, everyone is connected 24/7. Work permeates every hour of the day through email and smartphones. Employees are expected to respond to communication quickly, no matter what time of day or night. As a leader, you set the tone for how many hours each day are reasonable for work. If you send and respond to email and texts any time of the day or night, your employees will do the same. Certainly, no one is expected to work only 9 to 5, but it is up to you to make the choice of what “reasonable” is. Keep in mind that what is reasonable to you may not be reasonable to your team and their families.

Get to know spouses and families. Extend yourself to learn about your team’s families. Learn their names and some details about them. When you talk to your employees, ask about their families and what they do together. Show a real interest in their interests outside of work. At company-sponsored events, make the rounds and chat with the families. It is easy at these events to stick with people you know and talk business. Resist that urge and socialize with spouses and children.

Send notes. One of the best leaders I ever met would occasionally send a personal note to his team members’ wife and kids. He would use those notes to explain that he knew the team member was away from home a great deal and that it was appreciated. At times, he would include a gift card for the family to have dinner together. Some people see this as intrusive, so be judicious in using this strategy.

Include families in off-site meetings. I encourage all leaders to have regular off-site meetings with their teams. When organizations have multiple locations, it is a good thing to bring people together to work on big picture strategies. If you do that at a nice location, invite spouses and families to come along. Yes, it is an extra expense, but it will be worth the investment, in the long run. When one of your team members is away from home working, it is hard on families. Finding a way to include them will create positive memories for them.

Host family days. Many companies that I work with hold Open Houses and Family Days each year. These are a great way to get families thinking positively about your organization. Get some of the family members involved in the planning of the events. Take a lot of pictures and send them to the families, along with personal thank you notes.

The Whisper Factor is a real element in the well-being of your employees. Whether it is over the pillow, at the dinner table, or driving in the car, families talk about you and how the job is going. Real leaders understand this and work hard at making the Whisper Factor positive.

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected].

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