Thursday, August 9, 2018

Mom's lesson to her son

** I'm porting over some of my old posts.  Enjoy! **

Growing up I was a bit of a nerd.  My favorite activities included Band, BMX bike riding, and roller blading, but my favorite by far was Dungeons and Dragons (D&D).  My mom worked at a McDonald's in Stillwater Oklahoma, home of the OSU Cowboy's.  Being a college town, many of the people who worked with her were students (both college and high school).  Being a bit of a latch key kid, I spent a good amount of time around her at work in the summers.  She would drive me into town, and go to work, and I would walk to the Library, or the Dark-Mave (a coffee shop that catered to "my people"), or some other hang out.  I'd be back for lunch, and then the trip home.  During these visits I had struck up a conversation with college students, and managed to wrangle an invite to an all weekend D&D session with them.  The friend who invited me, we'll call him Jack, made it clear he wanted to hear my mom say it was OK before he would let me join.  She was OK with it, and dropped me off Saturday morning before her shift.

There was a knock at the door, and looking at the clock it was 7 o'clock.  We had been playing all day, and had lost track of the time.  Jack answered the door, and there stood my mom.  She had bought us a ton of pizza's, claiming she "knew how us boys could be when in the zone".  She asked if I would come help her unload the car.  I jumped at the offer of pizza, as I realized I was starving have skipped lunch.  When we got to the car, and as she was loading me up with pizza's, she asked if everything was OK.  She told me if I had any concerns, she would tell them that the pizza's were really an apology and that she wasn't ready for me to be hanging out with college kids yet, and that she was taking me home.  She would take the brunt of their displeasure.  She even offered to let me pitch a fit to make it clear I was not to blame.  I assured her I was fine, and having a great time.  The guys where all cool, and treating me like one of gang.

We went back up stairs, and she dropped off her half of the pizza's and left with a waive and a gentle chide not to eat all the pizza tonight, as we would need breakfast too.  As soon as the door shut, Jack without looking up from the quest book we were playing out of asked "Checking in to be sure we weren't corrupting you?"  I nodded... "You have an awesome mom." he replied.. and that was it.  You see, he recognized the reason for her concern.  Everyone there had a beer but me, and there was always the potential for it to be something worse than beer at a college get together.  Add to that the concern many at the time had, thanks to the Movie Mazes and Monsters, that D&D was harmful to the psychology of children, and the college element.  It was natural for her to be concerned.  Jack however was impressed by the way in which she checked up on us.

My mom had observed through many games at the house that we would get lost in the game, and forget to eat.  She used that knowledge to check in as unobtrusively as possible.  Providing me an escape hatch if i needed it.  Providing her reassurance we weren't dancing in our underoos in a cloud of pot.  Protecting Jack and his friend's dignity.  It probably didn't hurt that there was free food involved either... maybe the bribe statement went beyond "if" I left...

My mom really impressed me that day, as she did on so many other days.  She took great pains to consider my feelings as well as the feelings of my new friends.  I strive to imitate her in that.
In business, as a manager, there are a lot of potential situations that can leave an employee feeling embarrassed, and/or angry.  Here are the ones I try hardest to avoid:

Reprimands:  Reprimands should never be made publicly.  I'm not going to lie, there have been times when someone has acted in a way that infuriates me.  I have wanted to grab them by the arm, and walk them out, yelling the whole way.  I have never done that, however I have slipped with angry retorts.  Invariably I have regretted those later.  It never does any good to respond to someone angrily.  Especially in front of a group of their peers.  It just upsets them more, and makes you look unprofessional.  So what should you say when faced with an unruly employee?  I found what works best for me, is buy a little time.  "Let me give that some consideration and get back to you."  Then, when you get back to them, do so in a more appropriate setting.

Chewing: Mistakes are not dog bones, so stop chewing on them.  There are some mistakes that can stay with a person for far longer than it really should.  I have seen people leave a company due to one mistake they made that no one would get over.  It is important that everyone recognize, and respond to mistakes.  What I try to avoid is harping on them well after the lesson is learned.  Most people know when they have messed up.  It is OK to point out the issue, and help them identify how to keep it from happening in the future (in private... see above).  It is even OK to remind them of their new process (not the mistake, but the process) if you see them slipping.  But bringing the mistake up every time you talk to them isn't going to motivate them to do better.  In fact it is likely to make them give up on improving.  "He'll always remember me for XYZ, I'll never live that down.  No use in trying."

Fired/Laid Off/Quit:  I always get the question "What happened to ..." after someone leaves.  Employees get to know one another, and they are concerned.  However, commenting on someone's departure is a bad idea.  Setting aside the legal ramifications for a moment, it can be embarrassing to the employee if they were fired or laid off.  And by process of elimination if you tell people when person X quits, but won't say anything about person Y... they probably didn't quit.  My policy is to stick with suggesting they reach out to the individual if they are concerned.  Regardless of why the person left, it can be gratifying to know you are missed enough for a co-worker to reach out.  Is there a chance the employee will bad mouth you. Yes.  It has happened before.  I hope that I have built up enough report with my team that they are well armed to make their own decisions.

Awards (Birthdays/Births/etc..):  I am a fairly outgoing guy.  I love to receive recognition in front of large groups (I originally wanted to make a living on stage, and recently got back into it at a small local theater).  It was very difficult for me to grasp that some people are morbidly afraid of being pulled up in front of a group of people, even to be recognized for something they have done right.  Generally speaking there are some people I'll call out in front of the group, and others I'll take aside.  It is difficult sometimes to look at someone and know.  Unless it is blatantly obvious which group then belong in, I'll simply ask them.  "I wanted to thank you for XYZ in front of the team so they will know you went the extra mile for our success.  How do you feel about that?"  Usually the ones that don't want to be publicly recognized will immediately look uncomfortable.  Sometimes the best thank you is a heartfelt and hand written note that is hand delivered.

What pitfalls am I missing?  What else should we try to avoid in order to keep from damaging our relationships with others.

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