Michelle Stacy sometimes brings an apple into meetings for an object lesson in resolving conflict.
"I'd come in and I'd plop the apple in the middle of the room," she said, "and everybody would go, 'OK fine — we're all going to have to tell each other what we see.'"
People on one side of the room might see a shiny, red apple, but people on the other side might see a worm crawling out of it.
Her point is, you see things from your own perspective, and if someone disagrees with you, understanding why offers you some valuable insight.
"When you start to see conflict in a meeting, ask people what they see," Stacy said. "In general, you're both looking at the same problem, but one of you sees the shiny bright red side of the apple and the other sees the worm coming out."
Stacy, the former president of Green Mountain's Keurig division, was one of the speakers at the Women in Banking conference organized by the Pennsylvania Bankers Association in March. She made an impression on attendees with her talk about getting people engaged in their work.
Stacy contends that productivity, profitability and overall success depend on employee engagement more than anything else.
But many employers don't seem to care, she said, citing a Gallup poll that found over 60% of workers, across all industries, rate themselves as "not engaged" or "actively disengaged."
"The biggest waste today in an organization is its own workforce," she said.
"If you were in manufacturing and were to say 60% of the raw materials you put into a product were not being used, it would be waste, right? And yet we, as leaders of industry, as leaders of teams, feel very comfortable sometimes thinking about 60% of our workforce as not being engaged about coming to work every day."
Getting people to be "actively engaged" is a powerful way to improve the bottom line, she argues. And that's where her "little tricks," as she calls them, come in.
These are visual reminders that she said help her get back on track when negativity threatens to stall progress. The apple is one example. Another is a doodle of a baby.
"When you sit in a meeting," Stacy said, "draw a little picture of a baby so you can remember, 'Are you really listening for the greatness of the ideas that are being presented to you, and what sort of filters are you using?' "
The baby idea comes from a story someone once told her.
"Just think of a whole bunch of babies sitting around who can talk, but haven't yet walked," she said.
"The first one goes, 'I really think we ought to get up and walk.' The next one goes, 'Well, you know, I'm not sure about that — you get up, you walk, you fall down and it really hurts. I completely disagree with this concept of walking. It is not efficient. I can crawl from here to there, and when I walk, I'm not at all stable.' "
Other babies might be concerned about how they look when they walk — "my diaper sags," she said — or pigeonhole themselves as "once a crawler, always a crawler."
"So you can sort of see how a whole group of babies might never get themselves standing up and walking, because they didn't leave themselves open to the possibility of what walking might be," Stacy said.
Asked after the conference for one favorite takeaway, several of the bankers mentioned the apple and the baby. A few said they plan to bring an apple to future meetings. If Stacy is right, maybe such tactics will make for more profitable banks.
"Do any of you get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to go to work today and I'm going to really suck at it.' No, right? We don't do that. Nor do the people who work with us and for us," Stacy said.
"The wonderful thing about leading organizations, and leading people, and being on teams is that people genuinely want to get up and do a good job. We just have to figure out how to tap into that, how to relate to them, how to get them going."