When You Think No One Is Watching

You’ve probably heard this quote by legendary college basketball coach, John Wooden: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” Whether we’re talking about someone’s personal or professional life, what he or she does when no one is watching truly is the ultimate test of character.

But what if someone is watching, and we just don't know it?

I was working in my home office one rainy Florida day, and happened to look up as our mail carrier pulled up to our mailbox. One package wouldn’t fit in the mailbox, so she had to bring the mail up to the front door. She obviously didn’t know I was watching, because she used my mail to protect her head from the rain! By the time I got to the front door, she was gone, and my soggy mail was on the table by the door. I’m sure this mail carrier thought, “No one will see me, so why not?” Well, the customer saw her. And my trust in her integrity vaporized right there.

I’m sure you’ve seen some of the hidden camera videos of restaurant workers as they accidentally drop food on the floor, pick it up (thinking no one is watching), and then proceed to serve the food to a customer. Not only is this behavior disgusting, it has resulted in mountains of bad press for the restaurants involved. The employees in question thought no one was watching; but the camera was watching, and ultimately so were millions of viewers. Customers were horrified and trust was diminished.

Conversely, I was killing time late one evening in a nearly empty airport. A merchandise kiosk was nearby and the employee there spent her downtime dusting product, arranging displays and staying busy. She didn’t know anyone was watching, but I was watching and was impressed with her work ethic. At another kiosk about twenty feet away sat a bored employee reading a book and regularly referring to his cell phone. I wasn’t so impressed with his work ethic (and I don’t think his boss would have been either).

One of the things I love when I visit Walt Disney World is watching cast members go out of their way to pick up trash off the ground, even when they don’t think anyone is watching. There’s a pride factor associated with this behavior that doesn’t rely on a hovering supervisor. It’s just the right thing to do – it’s part of the Disney culture. Is it any wonder that the number one compliment Walt Disney World receives is how clean the place is?

I once read an excellent suggestion (I unfortunately don’t remember where I read it). But the suggestion went like this: Imagine one day at work, unbeknownst to you, a video crew films you on the job - all day. You have no idea they’re there. The resulting video becomes the company’s new hire training video. Would you be proud of what these new hires would see and hear you doing? Would your behaviors demonstrate your organization’s values in action?

I remember something my mother used to say when I was a teenager and going out with my friends. “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want Grandma to read about in the newspaper.”

Something to think about: Even when you think no one is watching, what behaviors would demonstrate your commitment to your organization, to your customers, and ultimately to your own character?