What You Allow, You Teach

September 30, 2011 by  Filed under: Management 

“I am going to have to write you up, Miranda, for being late,” I hated the way that sounded and I hated that I was the one saying it as the last word rolled off my lips, but I knew it had to be done. A few years earlier her being late probably wouldn’t have mattered all that much to me, but I was a different person now. A few years earlier I also wanted to be the cool boss with a cool environment for my employees to grow and be creative in, but that was no longer how I felt. It didn’t take me long to learn that there was no way to have a successful business that required employees without the placement of proper leadership and rules. I also learned that the best way to establish these rules was to make them clear and lead by example. If I was going to show up early every day for my shift I expected my employees to do the same. If I didn’t reprimand this employee in particular for being late this one time, then she will despise me for doing it when she is late a second time or when I have to fire her because I can no longer count on her to open the store on time. I learned that if you gave someone who you were paying and inch, they will always without doubt try to take a mile.

This was at a place in my life when I had the pleasure of opening my second vintage clothing store. At the time I was running two warehouses, two retail locations and directly or indirectly managing 15 different employees at different locations. I had managers and a system in place, but because of my personality and work habits I was often directly involved with employees of all different levels when I was around. Because we were operating vintage clothing stores many of our employees were younger and from a different generation than I was from. At the time I was in my early thirties and many of our employees were between 18 and 25 years of age. I am completely aware that on the large-scale of things, I was not that much older than them, but when it came to work habits they had a completely different opinion of work ethics than I was use to.

To the young employee Miranda who stood there in front of me ten minutes late to her shift I was a nagging boss that had to nitpick at every little thing. “That is not fair.” She said as she removed her scarf and heavy coat, “I show up early everyday to my other shifts and don’t get a reward, I don’t understand why I can’t show up late just once without you having to write me up?”

Interesting as it may be I completely understand that perception and perspective rely more upon the thought process of the individual than the anatomy of the facts. As David Foster Wallace once said during a commencement speech given to a group of graduating students at a prestigious liberal arts college, “The exact same experience can mean two entirely different things to two different people depending upon what belief system or template the different individuals are using.” A child’s thought template can be similar or completely different then their piers or parents, in the same way a spouse or coworkers opinion may differ from that of their counterparts. This is similar to listening to an Atheist and Christian describing the same near death experience on a layover in an airport bar after their airplane nearly fell from the sky. To one individual there was a divine intervention when God decided to save them and everyone else on the airplane, to the other there was no intervention at all, just a small mechanical failure that the pilots worked out with their vast knowledge and understanding of aviation science.

Perhaps to this young girl there was hardly a consequence for breaking the rules as a child, as much as there was a reward for doing her own thing which at times coincided with what she was being told. This seems to be a common parenting technique even today as I recognize some of my piers raising their children in similar way. I can’t help but feel bad for these kids and their parents as they develop a belief template that could one day cause their children difficulty holding down a relationship or working well with others. These parents have difficulty understanding that their children require direction and at times discipline or no one will want to be around them, including the parents. It would almost appear as if these parents do not seem to understand that when they allow their developing child to do bad things without a consequence, they teach them that it is alright.

To my employee Miranda, and for the sake of argument, according to her belief template she was right, I was a tool for punishing her for showing up late and not giving her rewards for showing up early. This was what she was taught growing up, why should it be any different now in the workforce?

I understood her gripe, but was in no place to agree with her, “You are rewarded everyday,” I said much to her amazement, “How so?” she responded in an almost downgrading sing-song way a child would question their parental authority, “By the fact that you get re-scheduled, and get paid.” I said although I could tell from the whimsical expression on her doubting face that this old man gibberish was difficult for her to hear let alone comprehend, “you see Miranda,” I continued on, “we get applications from people every day that can work a cash a register and sale vintage clothing just as well if not better than you, what we are looking for is the ones that can do all of this plus show up on time… so we can count on them.”

I took a management course one time as I was attempting to sharpen my skills as a young leader. One of the things that stuck with me even to this day was a topic that one of the speakers was discussing about the latest generations entering the work force. The speaker explained that the baby boomer generation of workers was a group of workers that were set in their ways. On the whole they were a disciplined group of workers that had a strict code of ethics and conduct, but if you wanted to teach them something new or update the technology that they were accustom to using you would have a battle on your hands. They didn’t like change and they didn’t like being taught new things. On the same note the generation X and Y were another group of good workers with a strict ethic and conduct; however they always want to change things up. If you brought in individuals from these generations to your workforce they will most likely want to update your systems or change the way things were done in an attempt to increase productivity. This can be either good or bad for a business depending upon the direction the company is going. Then there was the NOW generation, a generation subsequently raised by absent parents.

The NOW generation was a generation of workers whose parents were so consumed with working that they avoided conflicts like raising their children. This was a whole new generation of children raised by televisions and day cares that were barely taught consequences for their actions. This narcissistic generation of workers entering our workforce was the laziest and most unproductive generation of workers that this country has yet to see. These workers were convinced that the universe did indeed revolve around them and found it difficult to perform even the simplest of tasks like showing up to work on time or at all. They did not understand the importance of teamwork or getting along with their coworkers, but did know how to complain about rules and regulations to anyone who would remotely listen to them.

They found that in most cases paring up these workers with someone from the generation before them would only cause problems. The workers from generation X and Y were focused on improvement and were determined to succeed, but at the same time lacked the patience to work with someone who complained or who was not motivated to learn. Ironically enough this was unfortunate because in most cases, these were the parents to this unproductive generation. The speaker went on to say that they felt it was best to pair up the new workforce with workers from the baby boomer generation so that they could learn good work ethics and responsibility from those set in their ways with a ‘can do’, ‘no BS’ attitude.

This whole concept of being replaceable was not only difficult for Miranda to understand, but a whole slew of workers that I had the pleasure of employing over the next few years. If I would allow them to show up late once without writing them up, I taught them that it was alright to show up late whenever they wanted. If I allowed them to take ten cigarette breaks during a four hour shift or not greet a customer as they walked in, I taught them that this was alright and acceptable behavior.

Ricky Coburn has over 15 years experience working in the Recycled Clothing Industry. He is a contributor to http://thatsmeinsideyourhead.com and has written articles and manuals on “How to Hire the Right Employee’s” and “How to Open A Profitable Vintage Clothing Business” for more information check out http://dustfactoryvintage.com.

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