Insights:

Wet bar of soap™

Arguably one of the oddest analogies used in the world of leadership and management is the concept of the wet bar of soap! This essentially derives from the way in which leaders create an environment and how it ultimately makes people feel.

In this analogy the hand is equivalent to the organisation and the wet bar of soap is equivalent to the employee, (or customer or partner in a relationship). The principle was derived from an experience I had many years ago while searching for an internet service provider (ISP). I was struck by how many of the competing companies constantly sought to entice me to sign up for a contract with them in order to qualify for free services (eg Spotify etc). But these services were things that I didn’t particularly want. What I wanted was a really good ISP, and I was happy to pay a reasonable fee for that service. I eventually came across one company who was so confident in their offering that they said that there is no minimum contract. Their prices were slightly higher than the competition and their principal offering was great internet service provision!

Voila! I had found the product that I wanted (and I signed-up). It struck me that the reason I had emotionally steered clear of the other companies was that they were trying to tempt me in with other things but then control me by means of the contract – and I didn’t want to be controlled. If they were tempting me with free offerings perhaps even they were not convinced of their own core offering? I wanted to continue to have freedom of choice and I valued that more than the free services. In this scenario I was the wet bar of soap and the ISPs were the hand desperately trying to squeeze and control me through a binding contract.

And this is where the analogy with leadership becomes more apparent. If the hand were to squeeze the wet bar soap then the law of physics would come into play and ultimately the soap would flip out of the hand because of the excess force of the controlling grip. If however the hand simply opened up to create a welcoming environment that allowed the soap to come and go as it pleased, (recognising it had choices), but the hand worked to make that environment as attractive as possible then there was perhaps a greater chance that the soap would stay. Not because it was forced to, but because it chose to.

The same applies to our approach to relationships in any context. If we provide a great environment that is attractive to people they are more likely to stay. And if they are emotionally engaged they will be supportive and loyal if anything goes wrong. These sorts of relationships are more rewarding, both emotionally and financially, because they ultimately safe us effort and time. It is well understood in the world of ISPs and telecoms that customer churn is expensive. Loyal customers become efficient and profitable. Applying these same principles to other relationships, either professional or personal, makes sense.

And the ISP I chose twenty years ago? I’m still with them!