I’ve seen it a hundred times and I’m sure you have, too. The kid behind the counter could not care less about being there. He’s having a lousy time. His service (or lack thereof) translates into a lousy time for you as a paying customer.
While it’s easy to blame the kid, I blame the manager. You see, this kid’s boss has let this kid exist in this way in this business. The manager has failed to do that which is necessary to ensure this kid will be successful. And if the kid simply can’t be successful, the manager has kept the kid around, which is also a failure. Worse, by doing nothing about it, the manager implicitly condones this kid’s behavior.
"But wait," some may say by way of objection, “Isn’t a paycheck enough?” No, no it is not. A paycheck is a transaction and it suggests that, once you’ve hired an employee, your work is done. In fact, once you've hired an employee your work has just started. Because it's relational.
Yes, in a perfect world, people would come to work fully formed. They would have all the skills they need. They would be ready to work. And they would be as enthusiastic on the 1,000th day as they were on the 1st.
Yeah, that’s great. If only it were that easy.
But it’s not that easy. It never is. The job of the manager is to ensure employees have everything they need (e.g., tools, skills, training, feedback, etc.) to be successful in the job. Further, it's the responsibility of the manager to ensure employees maintain the same level of enthusiasm for the work on the 1000th day as on the 1st. The old “you-get-a-paycheck-so-you-should-be-happy” management philosophy went out in the 1970s along with the “two-hots-and-a-cot” style of parenting.
In his post, Learning from the factory/dealer divide, Seth Godin differentiates between management and leadership. Whereas management is about maintaining control to minimize deviation from a proven strategy or formula, leadership is about getting people to voluntarily commit to doing what you want them to do. The word Godin uses to describe this is “enrollment,” as in getting people to enroll, to voluntarily subscribe, to opt in.
Suffice it to say one is not better than the other. Management and leadership have different applications. The circumstances under which each will be most effective will be different. In cases like the situation with the kid, to be successful, we must leverage the “enrollment” aspect of leadership.
Companies seek out my services because they have difficulties with workforce. The problem, they say, is with their people: their people don’t have the right skills or the right attitude. They lack work ethic. “These days,” employers lament, “It’s hard to find ‘quality’ people.”
What are these businesses to do?
Yes, sometimes employees are toxic – and they gots to go. Same with people whose egregious violation of the rules cannot be tolerated. Get ‘em out. Some employees truly lack technical skills and, no matter how hard you try or they try, they’re just never going to get it. And sometimes people just aren’t a good fit for the role. You’re perfectly right to let these folks go. It’s better for you. In the long run, it’s better for them.
But those are the exceptions to the rule. Mostly, when the finger of blame for lazy employees and their lousy work ethic points to anyone, it points back to the employer.
Wait, what? How can that be?
Mostly, it’s not that employees are bad people. They simply don’t get it. They don’t know truly and deeply what it is that the boss wants from them. They don’t feel it. And, on behalf of all managers everywhere, I truly understand how much this sucks to hear: That’s not on them. That’s on the boss.
All employees want to do inspiring work, and they want to be valued and respected while doing that work. If employers are not doing the things for their employees so they can be inspired—so they can feel valued and respected—they are not going to be enrolled in what the employer wants. Employees will show up. They’ll probably do the minimum. They’ll collect a paycheck. (They'll possibly alienate a few customers along the way.) But they don’t know enough to know any better. They don’t feel it enough to give any more.
So, when it comes to lazy, lackluster employees, it’s mostly because they are not ENROLLED in what is expected of them. Just because an employee has signed on to work for a company, that doesn’t mean the employee has signed on.
It’s hard work to get people to do what you want.
Unfortunately, employers today have no choice. If companies want their people to be better, they can’t simply hire them. They must enroll them.
The kid in the example above? He didn’t care. He didn’t get it. Some will argue that’s on him. But we all know, deep down, it’s on his manager.
Seth Godin closes his essay with this advice to employers on how to accomplish this:
Hire the right people, walk away from those that aren’t on the journey.
Celebrate the right contributions.
Develop a culture, a language, a way of being on the path.
Commit to the journey.
Raise the standards, repeat the process.
Andrea J. Applegate is president of Applegate Talent Strategies, LLC, a firm that advises employers on their people practices to ensure they can attract, retain and engage their best workforce.