Problem Solving

Your Role in Creating Your Work Environment

Kevin Eikenberry asked:

For years there have been a variety of ways to freshen the air indoors. You can use a spray air freshener, open a door, light a candle, or in more recent years plug a device into the wall that freshens the air continually. Recently, I’ve also noticed a new type of air freshener called a diffuser.

A diffuser is a table-top device that consists of a bottle, aromatic oil, and some tubular reeds. The reeds are placed into the bottle filled with the oil, and the oil is slowly diffused into the air by the reeds through a wicking effect. This simple device provides ongoing scent into the air for a long time (weeks/months).

I’ve been thinking about these various air freshening tools and comparing them to the tools or approaches you might use to modify or influence a working environment or an organizational culture. A leader is responsible for creating a culture and, just like someone who wants to freshen a room, they must consider which tools to use.

Let’s look at the various room freshening tools and start to consider their corollaries for leaders creating a working environment.

– Opening the door. Opening a door is the least intrusive way to change air quality in a room, and assuming the air is better on the other side of the door, it will make a difference. This process will be slow and is risky – if the air on the other side of the door changes, you have little control over what happens in the room you are trying to adjust.

– The Diffuser. The diffuser is consistently, continually influencing the air quality. Once it is in place, and assuming the oil has a favorable scent, it will continue to have a positive impact on the environment. This impact won’t be immediate or strong, but will provide an underlying, pleasant smell in the room – one that is almost not noticed unless it is needed to counteract an offensive odor.

– The Candle. Like a diffuser, a candle will impact the scent of a room in a subtle way. It will provide that effect as long as it is active – and only when fueled by an external source (the flame). Note too that to begin to work, specific action must be taken, the wick must be lit; when it isn’t lit, there is no real effect on air quality.

– A Plug-in. In more recent years the plug-in air freshener has become popular. It provides a similar effect as the diffuser, but again requires external power to create an impact.

– A Scented Spray. A scented spray can create a nice smell in a room. It is usually used to cover up another smell, and, while pleasant smelling, it can be a bit harsh (especially if your nose passes through a recent spray). It is by nature, temporary.

– An Anti-bacterial spray. These room fresheners are typically used when there is a real problem. If you walk into a room soon after these have been sprayed, the room will smell OK, but it will be very obvious that something has changed. These sprays will provide the most immediate change, but also may have the shortest-term impact. These sprays will not solve a long-term problem without constant re-spraying with harsh smells!

What Does it All Mean?

Is any one of these tools the perfect answer to room freshening? Not at all. In much the same way, leaders must use a variety of approaches to mold, manage and influence the culture and working environment they want to create. While I believe there are many lessons and corollaries between these two ideas, let me share three important ones:

– You are responsible. There will always be air in a room and there will always be an organizational culture – both are natural occurrences. Anyone can take responsibility for freshening the air or even better for impacting the environment in a positive way. And if no one does, it might get pretty stagnant and smelly.

– Use the right tool at the right time. There is a time for all of the air fresheners above – each has a place. At the same time there are some that will work better longer and serve as a preventative for challenges and changes. When people consider using those, they will need to intervene with the harsher, immediate impact tools less frequently.

– Consider the diffuser. The diffuser manages the environment through initial conscious action – selecting the oil to be used. When leaders select the right oil to create the right environment, they create a pleasing working environment that leads to higher level of productivity, satisfaction, results and more.

The longer I thought about this article the more rich the connections and metaphor became for me. I have shared some of my thoughts with you. I invite you to consider this metaphor for yourself and consider what lessons you can take from it to become a more effective leader and influencer of the work environment around you.


Potential Pointer: As a leader there are a variety of ways you can create and influence the working environment. Make your choices with care, always considering the wisdom and effectiveness of the diffuser.


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