Who is the Elf on the Shelf?

Who is the Elf on the Shelf?

Three days before Christmas I found myself approaching a downtown crosswalk where the crossing light had just turned green. Ahead of me, a homeless man shuffled across the street while a work van waited for the light to turn. As the gentleman passed in front of the van the vehicle suddenly lurched forward and the pedestrian jumped sideways in fright. Unfortunately, the van’s movement was all too deliberate and the men in the van laughed uproariously as the man on foot increased his pace and scurried across the walk. I gazed steadily at the driver of the van as I walked across the street but he and his colleague paid me no attention as they were still enjoying the fruit of their labors. I’d like to think that they didn’t meet my eye because they were mildly ashamed of their actions . . . but I may be attributing values to them that they simply don’t hold.

As I walked down the street, I reflected upon what I’d just seen and the idea of the “Elf on the shelf” sprung to mind. (Anyone unfamiliar with the Elf on the shelf phenomenon can learn more here). As I considered this seemingly unrelated thought, I wondered what impact an Elf on the shelf might have at the company where these two individuals worked – or for that matter any workplace. Suspend your disbelief momentarily and envision an army of shelf elves enlisted in the service of businesses everywhere. Elves would ride along in work vans, lurk behind retail counters, eavesdrop on service calls and generally pop up where least expected. Just consider how enlisting an army of shelf elves in the service of your organization would enhance your culture!

Putting holiday magic aside, the idea of ubiquitous shelf elves is laughable (and more than a bit Big-Brotherish). Yet the information these elves collect and the outcome of their work is what many leaders strive for every day. Net promoter scores. Secret shoppers. Customer satisfaction surveys and follow up calls. Analytic insights wrung from customer behavior and “big data.” These tools and techniques are all employed to help move organizations forward – and it can all be undone in an instant when someone on a street corner observes the values displayed by two company employees. Take heed, the shelf elves are here – and they are us. (My apologies to cartoonist Walt Kelly for borrowing from his paraphrasing of Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous quote).

The past twelve months has seen much written and said about authentic leadership and the culture of an organization. But regardless how hard we strive, all of our high minded ideals and good intentions can be laid low by two men in a van and a pedestrian with a camera phone. There is no reactive solution to that situation. Instead, the only solution is proactive.

Regardless of whether you’re the proverbial “one man band” or one of many in a Fortune 500 company, the only solution is to stay true to your values. Articulate your values often and loudly (especially through your actions). Make sure that values don’t trickle through your organization but instead pulse regularly like a circulatory system. A recent (and excellent) article noted that “Organizations are no longer what they say they are but what others say they are, and of course stakeholder perception is formed by the attitudes and actions of the employees.

So if your organization wants to help shape what’s being said, be mindful that you have the right values in place. Because Elves on shelves are everywhere. And they’re watching.

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© 2015 Chad C. Harvey. All Rights Reserved

Image courtesy of CCA & B LLC – The Elf on the Shelf®