The Invisibly Unsexy Is Costing You Big

There’s this joke my dad used to tell.

A man worked at a factory. Every night he left pushing a wheelbarrow full of straw. And every night the security guard sifted through that straw trying to figure out what the man might be stealing.

But every night he found nothing.

Finally, upon his retirement, the security guard asked the man “Seriously, I am stumped. What have you been stealing all these years?”


Sorry. My dad’s a quirky fellow. Whether or not this is an actual “joke,” the point is the punchline. It only works because come on – who steals a wheelbarrow?

It’s so unsexy, it’s invisible to our consideration.

Which brings me around to #Activation (You knew it was coming 😎).

We need our teams fully activated. Delivering results while Developing new skills, Connecting to community and purpose, and Thriving - feeling well and whole and recognized. This is where performance meets engagement.

And it’s so often, so deeply connected to the invisibly unsexy.

The invisible unsexy is the source of a great deal of theft in today’s workplace as well. No joke, no punchline.

When I kick off an Activation Audit with a leader, it nearly always begins with some very sexy aspirations: innovation, collaboration, customer delight. These are the things we want more of.

And sexy aspirations require sexy solutions. Amiright?

But no. We are being robbed of so very much innovation, collaboration, and customer delight (plus insert your sexy aspiration) to the profoundly unsexy. And like with the wheelbarrow, we don’t even see it happening.

When I ask teams what would help you bemore innovative, they say things like:

  • If my boss asked an open question rather than “here’s my idea, do you like it?”
  • If I was more clear on our actual goals and targets so I could be more focused in my brainstorming
  • If I had more insight into what Product or Client Management or Tech was working on, so I could think more holistically

When I ask teams what would help you be more collaborative, they say things like:

  • If I had more time to just network with my peers – not in meetings, but less formally, so we could build relationships
  • If my leader were better aligned with their peers in other functions
  • If I had a stronger understanding of theoverall flow of work across the organization (versus just hanging out in mysilo)

And when I ask teams why they’ve not shared these ideas with their leaders? They tell me – this feels too small. Too nit-picky. My leader wants the big ideas. The game-changing ones. The sexy ones!

Leaders. We all need to make space for the wheelbarrows our teams are hiding from us.

Because the ideas that go unspoken; the duplication of effort happening in silos; the customers not net-promoting because your dated processes are underwhelming them (and your employees know how to fix them!). These are costing you more than you know.

So open your arms to the unsexy. Ask your teams now “How do we solve for innovation?” but “What is one small thing that gets in the way of your ability to innovate and how can I change it?”

Then do it. And ask again. And then again.

This is how we Activate. Performance. Engagement. An everyone-wins situation.

Related: Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?