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In A Time Filled With Noise, How Do You Get People To Hear You?

Nov 23, 2020 by Jack Stack 1 Comment

in a time filled with noise

The pandemic has forced all of us—coaches, teachers, pastors, business leaders, and even parents—to walk a very narrow line. On one hand, we all need to take every action we possibly can to keep our friends, neighbors, kids, and co-workers healthy and safe even as the virus continues to surge. On the other hand, we have to find creative ways to keep society functioning—without jeopardizing the health of each other.

The line between those two dynamics gets even smaller when your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and kids aren’t doing everything they can to prioritize safety. In our business, for instance, we’ve had a few outbreaks and quarantines in recent weeks that resulted from people not following the CDC guidelines over the Halloween weekend.

Some people were so concerned at one point, there was even a request to penalize people for not wearing a required mask or maintaining safe social distancing while they were working. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. The last thing we want to do as an organization is to hand out top-down punishment for this kind of not listening or not making safety a priority.

We also don’t want to come across as greedy or that we’re somehow putting profits ahead of people. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. We don’t want to step on anyone’s personal beliefs and rights.

Ideally, the employee-owners in our business will understand how, by being safe at work, they’re also helping the business stay in business. Every time someone gets sent home because of a positive COVID test, the harder it becomes for everyone else to pick up the slack.

Self careWhat we want our associates to understand is that you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself first. The problem is that there is so much noise and misinformation out there to sift through. That’s why our challenge has become: how do we communicate our safety-first message in a way that cuts through the noise and allows our associates to hear it?

Lessons From The Field

The challenge with helping our associates get through the pandemic safely makes me think about one of my granddaughters. She’s 10 and she, like all of my grandchildren, is a really great kid (what grandparent doesn’t think that, right?) My granddaughter also happens to be a really talented and gifted soccer player. She plays for her local team—which pretty much never loses.

The catch is that she also drives her coach nuts.

Time and time again, the coach will give my granddaughter some advice on where she needs to position herself on the field defensively or offensively, which she seems to ignore every time. To be fair, there’s always so much noise at these games—mostly coming from the parents who constantly shout out advice for their kids to follow. I figured that my granddaughter had found a way to cope by filtering out all the different advice she was hearing.

As it happens, my 11-year-old grandson, who’s also a standout soccer player, showed up to watch his cousin’s game with his mom. My grandson grew concerned as the game went on because he heard the coach, as well as some parents, raising their voices when it came to giving advice to his cousin. He was being protective of her. But as he listened more carefully to what the coach was saying—while watching what my granddaughter was doing on the field—he saw what was happening with his cousin. He turned to his mom and said: “She isn’t hearing what the coach is telling her.”

The crazy thing is that she’s not doing it on purpose—she’s not trying to rebel against him or anything. Apparently, she just can’t seem to really hear what’s he’s asking her to do. She can’t cut through all the noise.

In other words, my granddaughter has an issue that’s obvious to everyone—except to her. So how do you go about breaking through to her, to get her to listen? Punishment or yelling certainly wasn’t going to work. Somehow, she needs to figure it out on her own.

A Wake-Up Call

Just this past weekend, that same granddaughter got the opportunity to go play with a travel team in a tournament held in St. Louis. (Every safety precaution was taken to make this work.) She was playing with teammates she didn’t know, but she was still one of the better players on what was a clearly talented team. But on the first day of the tournament, my granddaughter’s team lost both of its games to inferior teams. They should have wiped the field with them, but they were humbled instead.

After the games, my granddaughter was upset. Really upset. She was used to winning all her games with her local team. This was her first taste of losing. She didn’t like it.


What impressed me is that when she took the field on the second day of the tournament, it was like she was a different player. She was always good at scoring goals. But now she was positioning herself on the field better—she was finally applying the lessons her coach had been trying for so long to teach her.

Not only that, she’s apparently built on those lessons. Just this past weekend, playing again with her local team, she dominated by scoring a total of eight goals in just two games.

Apparently, the wake-up call of losing a couple of games finally allowed her to cut through the noise and to finally hear her coach’s message.

We’re All In This Together

I think my granddaughter’s story might resonate with all of us struggling through the noise created by the pandemic. It can be really difficult to know what messages to listen to. The hope is that you don’t have to face a real wake-up call of people getting sick for people to hear the right message.

QuarantineThat’s the challenge we face inside our business as we try to walk that fine line of keeping our 1,800 associates safe while also keeping our factories open. It all comes down to individual responsibility. We’re searching for ways to help them sort through the noise and to encourage them to listen to the safety-first message we’re trying to send them. But each and every one of them have to make the decision to listen.

We’re trying to break through to them. One example is that we continue to hold weekly Zoom meetings to share updates on the state of the virus in our area. Anyone inside the company is welcomed to listen in.

For the past few months, we’ve used these calls to implore our associates to use best practices to keep them and their associates safe. We’ve also shared a lot of data about the spread of the virus in our communities. In the wake of those recent outbreaks, we also shared something new: how the virus is impacting us financially.

We explained that if just 50 SRC associates are quarantined at SRC, the company loses about $175,000—for just a single week. Put another way, our actions have consequences not just to ourselves, but to everyone inside the company. Will that serve as a wake-up call for our employee owners? Time will tell.

Let’s Cut Through The Noise

Jack Stack - SRCOur safety-first message has particular importance as the holiday season approaches. If Halloween was our wakeup call, my hope is that we can all work together over the next few months to avoid a repeat of outbreaks. And we can do that by taking personal responsibility.

We are so thankful for all the amazing things our associates continue to do for each other. From the beginning, we have built our business on the foundation of the Golden Rule by treating everyone else just as we would like to be treated ourselves.

Our hope is that everyone will make smart choices over the upcoming holiday in ways that will not only keep their families, friends, and neighbors safe, but also their co-workers when everyone returns to work. By being extra careful, we can beat this enemy and win this battle. As long as we can cut through the noise and focus on taking care of each other, we’ll continue successfully growing our business together long into the future.

That’s the message I want all of our associates to hear and understand. My hope is that they’re open to listening that the future is in our hands.

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Leadership, Teamwork, Morale, Healthcare, Education, Community, coronavirus, economic crisis, recession, Jack Stack

Jack Stack
Written by Jack Stack

Jack Stack is President and CEO of SRC Holdings Corporation, which remanufactures gasoline and diesel engines for the automotive and off-highway markets, distributes engine kits, manufactures power units and remanufactures electrical components, and conducts seminars and training programs specializing in all aspects of teaching people how to implement open-book management. He is also the author of three books, The Great Game of Business, A Stake in the Outcome, and Change The Game: Saving The American Dream By Closing The Gap Between The Haves And The Have-Nots.

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Our approach to running a company was developed to help close one of the biggest gaps in business: the gap between managers and employees. We call our open-book approach The Great Game of Business. What lies at the heart of The Game is a very simple proposition: The best, most efficient, most profitable way to operate a business is to give everybody in the company a voice in saying how the company is run and a stake in the outcome. Let us teach you how to develop a culture of ownership, where employees think, act and feel like owners.