Well Intentioned But Tuned Out

I was sitting in a booth at a fast-food restaurant grabbing a bite to eat. The store manager was in the next booth with five of her employees, holding a staff meeting. She was going on and on though the topics she needed to cover. It appeared to be a list of about ten items – “This policy has been changed. We’re all supposed to say this to customers. We’ve got to clean the restrooms more often.” And so on. The employees were in such proximity that they knew they couldn’t check their smart-phone without getting caught. So what were they doing? They were making faces at each other, looking out the window, and everything else you might imagine. Hmmm.

Now, I’ve not been a fast-food manager, but my little voice was crying out to say, “Allow me to give you a few simple pointers on engaging those you supervise.” See if you agree.

Number one, look up from the list. She seemed so intent on getting through the items in the time she had apparently allotted for this task, that it would have been just as effective to give them copies of the items and tell them to read. If you’re not invested in true implementation, those around you won’t be either.

Number two, turn off your lecture voice. When supervising young people, it can very easy to slip into teacher mode, which generally comes across as condescending. They hear enough of that from parents, school faculty and others in authority. As much as some managers might resist this characterization, these young people are your peers in this environment. They are flipping the same burgers, dishing the same fries and dealing with same customers as you. If you demonstrate respect, they will demonstrate it in return.

Number three, challenge them to embrace what you’re saying. Hire one hundred fast-food employees and maybe one will end-up working in the industry for a long time. But you can still teach them principles they can take with them to future jobs and careers. Lots of employers are complaining about the lack of critical thinking skills among those in the emerging generation. But these individuals have to begin some place. Many are looking for a safe place to ask those initial questions about how work works. You can be the person who gets them off to a good start.

Number four, involve them in the reasoning behind your instructions. Learning reasoning rather than rules is a much more effective way to foster productive contributors in any environment. Any time you have the opportunity to explain the bigger picture to someone you supervise, take it. Not doing so reduces them to rule followers. Rule followers do exactly what they’ve been told, even if it doesn’t make sense in certain situations. Rule followers never do more than what they’re told. Rule followers ask the “dumb” questions you hate, because you’ve trained them not to vary from the rules.

What ideas would you add to this list? Send them to me a bobw@commonsenseenterprises.net.

Would You Want Austin on Your Team?

Austin is a shift manager at my local McDonalds. Over the past few months, I have watched with a bit of fascination as he deftly supervises a wide range of ages and personalities. Employees accept his instructions with good nature and will own up to a mistake when he calls them on it. It is very evident that he is in charge, yet fair and professional. He knows how to give both compliments and criticisms with positive effect.

But here’s the thing — Austin is 18! He’s a senior in high school! Last week, I pulled him aside for a few minutes and asked where he learned all this. “My parents, mostly,” he said. “And I’ve had some good coaching from the owners.” I asked him to explain further. “From my parents, I’ve gotten a good work ethic and set of values about contributing to the organization,” he said. “My manager has been good about giving me specific instructions on how to handle people . . what to do, what not to do and how to avoid being manipulated by those who are just clocking hours. It took some time, but I’ve gotten the hang of it.”

I asked him about dealing with people three times his age. “I make a point of getting to know them and showing I care,” he said. They’re just here to make some money and keep busy. There’s nobody on a power trip. I think they’re even a little fascinated that I’m so young. The people my age are more likely to challenge me, but we’re work it through and I stick to my expectations. I make mistakes, but I’m learning.”

How refreshing! As much as we lament the lazy distracted ways of some Millennials, Austin is a great example of how bright the future can be. Whether he chooses a career with McDonalds or someplace else, he’s going to be successful. Interestingly, he attributes his work ethic and values to parenting. We can certainly use more of that in today’s disparate society. After all, the members of every emerging generation learn from the environments in which they come of age.