The Leaf by Kelly Swingler

During a recent HR Audit, whilst in the kitchen making a tea, I observed a conversation between two people who were talking about their team meeting whilst making their drinks and one left a spoon in the sink instead of putting it in the dishwasher. No big deal you might say.

The person to have left the spoon was asked by the other 'are you not going to put that in the dishwasher?' to which they replied 'no leave it, someone else will do it'. They both shrugged and left the kitchen.


This isn't an unfamiliar story, but I asked the HRD that I'm supporting what this small act said about their culture and she replied by saying that a lack of accountability and responsibility is ripe across the organisation. She went on to say that there is a huge blame culture and very few people take any responsibility for their actions. Most employees have been here a long time and have their own way of doing things, but that the culture is very much parent and child instead of employer and employee with no consequences - it makes her job almost impossible. We went on to talk about the role of HR and how to add value but that's another piece for another time.

As I was writing up our findings and in particular this point I was reminded of two things, a quote and a story.

The story related to one of my previous employers. Our CEO would tell the story of a leaf which he picked up off the floor as he entered reception one morning. It had blown in and he picked it up and put it in the bin. No big deal. But as he got to his office, he found himself asking how many people had walked through reception that morning and ignored the leaf on the floor? He had walked in behind other employees and yet he had been the one to pick it up. He asked if it had been rubbish would it also have been ignored.


But the point, related more to the fact that nobody else had considered picking up the leaf from the floor, leaving it for him to do it. This became a story across the company - it was about all of us taking accountable for our actions. For doing the right thing even when nobody was looking. But also for taking pride in our workplace, the place where we all worked, not just the CEO. And we came to understand that the leaf was about much more than the leaf.

So a spoon in a sink may not be a big deal. But when everyone in your company starts leaving spoons in the sink and expecting everyone else to clean up after them - that's a lot of mess to contend with. And who will be the person that takes the spoons out of the sink?

I was also reminded of this quote

If not you, who? If not now, when?

We shouldn't need signs all over kitchens asking people to tidy up after themselves and we shouldn't need signs in bathrooms asking people to wash their hands. In the companies we work with where engagement is high, employees trusted and conversations frequent, we see no such signs. And HR are adding value instead of being asked to send emails about cleanliness, or kitchen sinks.

So whether it is a leaf or a spoon, what do the actions of the people in your workplace say about your culture?

And are you the one taking action to make the change, or are you waiting for someone else to do it?

The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with Chrysalis Consulting.


Kelly Swingler is the Rule Breaker and Founder of Chrysalis Consulting, The People and Change Experts and was appointed as the UK’s Youngest HR Director.  Kelly is passionate about helping people find bespoke people solutions to suit the needs of their business and is driving our mission of inspiring and empowering 10,000 HR professionals in 2018. She is the author of Fostering a Mindset for Career SuccessAGILE HR and what’s your excuse for not Overcoming Stress and speaks at many events on the Future of Work.