How to Avoid a Rut: 3 Lessons for Leaders from Groundhog Day
Researched and Edited by Jeff Meyers
Groundhog Day is a famous ritual in rural Pennsylvania that dates back centuries to the days of the Roman Empire. It was also the subject of a comedy movie in which the main character is forced to relive the same day over and over again. Both the day itself and the movie offer several lessons for business leaders: managing by fact, work climate, employee engagement and motivation, training and development, innovation, and managerial effectiveness.
First, some context for those of you not up on Groundhog Day particulars: Each year in the early morning of February 2nd, townsfolk gather to see Punxsutawney Phil — that’s the groundhog — emerge from his hole after hibernating through the winter. If the groundhog sees his shadow, then we can expect 6 more weeks of winter. If he doesn’t, then spring will arrive sooner than what’s dictated by the calendar. Sound hokey? I think so.
The movie Groundhog Day (1993) was a comedy starring Bill Murray and Andie McDowell. A TV weatherman (Murray) and his producer (McDowell) are sent from Pittsburgh to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival, but he unexpectedly begins to relive the same day over and over and over. Throughout the movie we watch Murray’s experience go from confusion to humor and taking advantage of the situation, to frustration and despair with his predicament, and finally to ultimately using the repeating days as an opportunity to better himself.
Avoiding Gimmicks and Ruts: 3 Lessons from Groundhog Day
1. Manage by fact. The point of the annual ritual is to predict the weather for the coming 6 weeks by observing the shadow of a rodent. This isn’t comparable to the way sailors today can navigate by observing the position of the stars as they did hundreds of years ago – that actually works.
How many organizations are managed in a manner comparable to the way some aim to predict the forecast on Groundhog Day? There are so many ways to measure your progress, study your marketplace, and analyze the data from your operations.
Using assessments to improve the success of your hires and promotions is a perfect example of this. You might scoff at the Groundhog Day ritual, but how many managers hire and promote based on instinct or gut feelings alone? Assessments can help you to take the guesswork out of the process and make better-informed decisions. And once you’ve begun using assessments, be sure to fine-tune the tools to ensure that you maximize your benefit from your efforts.
2. Don’t be cavalier with your work climate. Another lesson from the day is not to try to gauge your work climate by groundhog watching. Taking the collective mood of your employees for granted is foolish. Measuring the climate of your work environment is important if you value an engaged and productive workforce. Conduct annual employee surveys and work with your managers to encourage them to foster a positive climate for their staff.
Your actions will demonstrate to employees that you care about them and their well-being, which is a positive step in the right direction that is based on fact, not shadows and gimmicks.
3. Help your people and organization get out of a rut. The movie also provides several lessons for leaders. Doing the same thing over and over indicates that you’re mired in a rut. But doing so while expecting different results is how some define insanity. Of course outside variables affect your business even if you make no changes, but at some point you have to make your own destiny.
One of the important messages of the movie is growth through learning and practice. After a series of hijinx and moments of despair, he realizes that he can, to an extent, shape his fate. If he can’t escape the day, he can change his fortune along the way. Murray studies French, becomes a classical pianist, and learns to carve a fancy ice sculpture.
If your employees or business are stuck in a Groundhog Day-like rut, here are 5 areas for you to consider to help shake things up:
- Employee Motivation and Engagement. Is your workforce engaged in their work and committed to the organization? Or are they passively going through the motions just to make it through each day?
- Managerial Effectiveness. Are your managers stifling your staff? Employees respond positively to encouraging managers and give that extra discretionary effort to go above and beyond. Conversely, they also shut down and don’t perform to their potential when bosses are bad.
- Training and Development. How often have you invested in your workforce to help them to learn new skills? These programs are often cut when budgets are tight, but they can also make a difference when you want to ignite a spark of passion and interest in your employees. New skills can help break an employee out of a rut and think creatively about what they do.
- Employee Innovation. Some businesses and jobs are repetitive by nature and don’t change much over time. Take time to examine what you do and how it gets done; you might uncover a more efficient way to work or new avenues to exploit. Encourage your employees to take calculated risks and be innovative.
- Customer Satisfaction. Every business has some form of competition. If your business or employees are in a rut, chances are that your customers have noticed. Refresh your store design or layout, get a new marketing pitch, try special promotions, or reward programs. Measuring customer satisfaction and interests has become much easier through social media. Don’t wait to find out that your once-dedicated customer base has left you for the next best thing.
If you need to check the climate in your organization, we encourage you to test drive our Workplace Engagement Survey - 100% Risk Free!
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