In dot #92, I wrote about the salt shaker analogy and how it applies to supervision. The short summary of the concept: Danny Meyer, in his book Setting the Table, likened his role as restaurant owner to keeping a salt shaker in the center of the table (i.e. setting expectations of desired action). Customers continually moved it (i.e. tested expectations). The job of the leader was to continually put the salt shaker back to the center.

I have shared this idea in several sessions about supervision and encouraged managers to monitor and address small variances of the “salt shaker” to keep staff aligned with expectations and values.

I recently received an email from a reader who adapted the concept in a way that I think will be useful to others:
I recently hired a new staff member who identifies as a male person of color. This is my first time supervising someone who carries both of those identities. Additionally, our staff is predominately made up of people who identify as white women. The other day, I was talking with a coworker about what we do to intentionally or not intentionally create either an inclusive or exclusive community.  As I was thinking about it, I thought about him as a salt shaker who moves further and further away with every conversation he can’t quite join or every unintentionally exclusive conversation. I am constantly thinking about what I can do to “move his salt shaker” to be an included part of the team. This story has a lot more layers and elements, but I was able to better explain something to someone because of that analogy — albeit an interpretation. More importantly, though, I can consciously see moments where his salt shaker is moving and find ways to readjust it just as you taught us to do to correct behavior.

So two lessons for today: 1) you can adapt the salt shaker analogy to help with inclusion and 2) never limit your application of a concept to face value. The salt shaker has gone from a mantra of restaurant oversight to supervision to inclusivity. Where else can you take it?

beth triplett

Original dot #92 “salt shaker”, September 12, 2012 

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