We All Have Something to Learn From Dairy Queen. What Impression Are You Making When You Think No One Is Watching?

I used to tell my son that the true test of a person’s character isn’t what they do when they know someone is watching, but what they do when they don’t think anyone is watching. I don’t know who originally said that; it wasn’t me. But, it’s a sentiment that has always really resonated with me. And, I’ve had opportunities to observe people (when they didn’t know they were being observed by me) who made both positive and negative impressions.

  • The very busy doctor with a reputation for being “difficult” who I saw interacting with one of the ladies in the hospital cafeteria as she was checking him out. Despite his frenetic schedule and generally “rushed” demeanor, I observed him quietly take the time to ask this lady about a family situation that was clearly causing her a lot a turmoil. He didn’t seem hurried at all. Just concerned and wanting to help. Not such a bad guy after all, I thought.
  • The “really nice” business person from my local community who “flipped off” a driver in another vehicle for turning too closely in front of him.  Not such a nice guy after all, I thought.

These sorts of things happen all of the time of course; sometimes they make headlines. In fact, the recent incident at a Dairy Queen where a store manager saw a woman pocket $20 that another customer had dropped, and confronted her, illustrates both sides of this equation. The “good deed” by the young man who didn’t think that anyone was watching, but just wanted to do the right thing, and the “bad deed” by the woman who also didn’t think anyone was watching, but was apparently unconcerned about doing the right thing.

Even before we became surrounded by technology that can capture our words and deeds at any moment in time, we have always been subject to the possibility that people might be observing us when we don’t realize we’re being observed. It is what we do–or fail to do–in those moments that really defines who we are as people. This is important from a personal perspective, obviously, it’s also important from a branding perspective.

Organizations, like people, develop reputations. Those reputations are built over time based on a myriad of things that they–and, most importantly, the individuals that make up their organizations–do, or don’t do, on a daily basis. The exceptionally kind service provider who goes the extra mile to help a troubled customer. The exceptionally rude front desk clerk who ignores a line of customers in favor of the opportunity to scold a fellow employee. The business person that goes out of her way to follow up after a meeting to provide additional details and information–at no added cost. The health care provider who says: “What can I do for you? I have the time.”

It is the sum total of these often seemingly inconsequential little details that go into determining how we–or the companies we represent–are perceived.  That’s true whether your action, or lack of action, occurs while you’re formally representing your organization, or whether you’re “off the clock.” It’s true whether you’ve made a formal statement through some organizational communication channel, or dashed off a quick tweet online. It all matters.

You–and your organization–are defined by the sum today of your actions, whether you think someone is watching or not.  Chances are, they are. What impression are you making?

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