Get Your Employees To Work ‘Like Nobody’s Watching’

Oct 14, 2015 1 Min Read

Allison Todd has observed the effect that leading change has on employees as their companies transform. Here she draws a parallel between her favourite hobby (dance) and the effects of great leadership.

One thing you’ll notice in all successful companies: people are taking risks every day. When these employees are “in the zone”, it can be very empowering to watch. They’re in a mode of discovery, trying things that may seem ridiculous, dangerous, or outright wrong.

But they’re exploring with such passion that it can capture your attention – just like catching someone dancing like nobody’s watching.

When you watch children gleefully dancing, not caring that anyone may be judging them, they’re working so hard at something that comes very naturally to them – the very thing that is so scary to most of us adults.

Why does it seem like kids are so willing to put themselves out there and take a chance – like the girl in the video?

This child hasn’t yet experienced the consequences of trying something new. She hasn’t yet faced the social consequences of failing, or of just looking different.

There are definite parallels between this situation and companies with great leadership.

Here are three things you can do to encourage your people to take more risks and work “like nobody’s watching”:

1. Create a safe environment

The little girl in the video does take a bit of encouragement from her father once on the floor but her father and the wedding guests made her realise that the environment was safe for her to try.

When managers encourage their employees not to worry about the consequences of failing, their people will try new and different approaches. These risky attempts have a higher incidence of failure – but they also have the potential to create your company’s next big innovation, or even the disruption of your market.

2. Reward risk-taking

After a bit of extra applause from the crowd, the girl really starts letting go and gives a great performance. The result is a viral video that has created joy around the world and may have inspired others to step out of their comfort zone.

What would have happened if, when the girl looked at her father, he had given her a gesture that it was not okay to dance? What if the crowd had booed the child instead of giving her encouragement? The girl probably would not have felt that it was a safe environment to dance.

This is the same in any environment. When people are rewarded for risk-taking (i.e. applause) they will continue to take risks. If they are punished, they will be more reluctant to take future risks in fear of possible punishment.

3. Encourage participation from all levels

The little girl is possibly one of the least-experienced dancers there at the wedding. But when the first two elements in place were encouraged (a safe environment and risk-taking), she stepped up to try her hand (or foot) at dancing.

The normal hierarchy within our organisations often doesn’t allow for non-management employees to try something new or step up as leaders. Creating a safe network environment where it’s okay to innovate helps empower employees at all levels to step up and become leaders. Why limit developing leadership to those only at the top of the hierarchy?

Parting thoughts

In Dr. John Kotter’s book XLR8 (Accelerate!), he writes about a second system that complements our traditional management hierarchy. This system is networked in a way that enables people to be “in the zone”.

When you create this environment, all voices become equal and there is permission to try something new. All that is needed to participate are passion and capacity. Innovations around your passion may fail but there is a feeling that the risk is okay – and even welcomed.

A day job in the hierarchy may require perfection and provide little room to innovate. There is less focus on development and growth as a leader when you are pressured to be perfect.

Having a separate but connected environment, where employees can step outside of their day job, allows possibilities for growth and innovation. Once that freedom to try new things becomes ingrained in employees’ behaviour it will spread, and the entire culture will evolve.

as though titles don’t limit you,
Take risks
as though you have never failed before,
as though no one’s judging you.

Allison Todd works at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organisations. This article originally appeared on, and is reposted with permission.
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