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Sunday, November 01, 2009
Volume 15 | # 347
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People cannot be managed. Inventories can be managed, but people must be led. » H. Ross Perot

Higher Priorities?

An experience in a local coffee house this week had me wishing that I could have filmed the scene to use in future training sessions.

When I walked in, there were a couple of customers waiting on their orders. There was no line in front of the register, so I walked up and placed my order. The young man’s just-a-little-slow-to-find-the-keys-on-the-register response signaled “trainee” to me.

Hey, no problem. Everyone has to have a first day, right? Plus, there were three other uniformed employees standing next to him.

Then, two of the employees walked out from behind the counter and sat down at a table close to me and the two other folks awaiting their orders. One of the employees began asking questions of the other, making check marks and filling out a form.

I then realized that one was the manager, and he was conducting a coaching session. When I looked back, I saw that the young man who had taken my order was standing at the register and staring into space. His hands were interlocked and I was literally waiting for him to twiddle his thumbs. Boy, was he ever soaking up experience!

Off to the side, one young lady was hurried and was clanging things. The two other guys in line (who had been waiting a bit longer than they were happy with) looked over at me. We all had an, “Are these guys for real?” expression on our faces.

We began to make jokes about the curious staffing model this place employed. The manager and employee at the adjacent table ignored us. And the young man at the cash register may have fallen asleep with his eyes open for all we could tell.

The young lady eventually served our drinks and was apologetic about the delay. One guy in front of me asked, “Do they pay you extra to be the only person working today?” She smiled and looked over to make sure the manager hadn’t heard that comment. And the future employee-of-the-month over at the cash register was still semi-comatose.

While the whole experience had an almost comical feel to it, there wasn’t anything funny about the strong impressions made. Coaching and training are unquestionably important. In fact, they are high priorities. But I’d humbly suggest that our priorities and focus should instantly shift when our truly highest priorities (customers) are in our presence.

Where are your priorities going to be today?

Experience by Committee

I’ve recently been involved in several interesting and educational committee meetings. Those who know me best probably suspect I’m not talking about a bank committee. They’re right.

I’ve been convinced (coerced) to serve as the vice president of my kids’ school’s PTA. My wife has been an officer for years and said that the group wanted a guy with new ideas. My guess is that after that guy turned them down, they asked me.

After my initial excuses about my travel schedule and lack of time fell on deaf ears, I was “elected.” And truth be told, I have seen how our PTA organization is clearly a tremendous asset in raising funds and conducting programs that enhance our kids’ experiences. So, I do believe in its worth.

One of the things that had me smiling when I began attending meetings was the dynamics between the “new” parents and the “old pros”. The majority of the most creative (and impossible) ideas are suggested by the parents of kindergarteners and 1st graders. These new guys are great. They’re full of energy and ambition. And most haven’t a clue about how unrealistic 95% of their suggestions are.

Most of the groaning and grumbling comes from the old guard in the group. They have battle scars from projects, programs, and the political minefield that is administration/faculty/parent relationships. But it is also obvious that nothing would ever get decided without the collective, hard-earned experience these folks have accumulated in getting things done for the school in the past.

I’ve found myself on several occasions reflecting on how this new-blood/old-guard dynamic exists in so many of our businesses. I believe that one of the worse things a manager can do is demoralize “inspired” employees by being instantly dismissive of even their most-doomed ideas.

Sometimes, you need to humor folks and let them take on projects they feel passionate about. So what if the last 10 people who tried something similar couldn’t pull it off. Maybe this person can. Many new ideas seem crazy until they actually work.

It’s pretty easy to allow our past experiences to turn us into experts on what can’t be done. Times, people, and situations change. It may simply be that the right mix of naïve exuberance and experienced mentoring weren’t present before.

What ideas can you prove the experts wrong about this week?

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. » Larry Eisenberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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