Literal Thinking

Real stories of workplace follies

Posts Tagged ‘personal responsibility’

Two girls in the cafe

Posted by A Friend on 4 April 2009

Girls in the Cafe One of our few personal indulgences is a lazy weekend brunch. We have been regularly going to this small café just a short stroll from our place in the last two months, and every time we ordered the same thing: bacon and eggs on toast, special request for the eggs to be scrambled, and a long macchiato.

We have had two ladies serving us alternately depending on the time and day, and the way they have gone about their business has been an interesting case study on good customer service and taking personal responsibility for us.

The first appears to be no more than 18 years old and is most likely a full time student waitressing part-time for extra pocket money. We observed that she is a very efficient worker and seems to know her way around the café very well. We actually half expected to confuse her with our order as it was not in the menu, but we were pleasantly surprised when she got our order right first time.

She made a mistake the second time we placed the same order with her: she took our money and order right, but she failed to tell the chef that we requested for the eggs to be scrambled. The scrambled eggs were really just a preference, so we let this pass without even mentioning the oversight.

We got her again around two weeks later, and we placed our usual order. To our surprise, and without our prompting, she said that she felt really bad about getting our order wrong the previous time. The mistake was not really a big deal to us, but it obviously was to her. Not only that, she remembered us, and she remembered to apologize. We were suitably impressed.

The second lady is more mature, probably in her early 40s, and she appears like she’s a career waitress. In contrast to the young girl, this one seems unsure of herself, and she totally got lost the first time we placed our “special” order with her: she actually had to ask around whether the order was possible, and we had to even tell her how much it cost (she charged us a dollar less).

As with the younger lady, we did not really mind the small inconvenience. This was after all a small neighborhood café, and it might have been possible that our request was not so common. We did not even mind when she repeated exactly the same mistake on two other occasions.

However, just last weekend, she stumbled again. This time, she actually got our order wrong, and instead of giving us the bacon and eggs on toast, she only gave us scrambled eggs on toast, a different item on their menu. We brought this to her attention, and she promptly took our order back to the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later, with our correct order. Then she said: “Apologies for that, it was the chef’s mistake.”

It was clearly her mistake. She took our order, so she knew exactly what it was. She would have given the order to the chef, and even if the chef got it wrong, she would have had the opportunity to immediately correct this before taking the food to us. She did not do this, and instead of just unreservedly apologizing, she decided to put somebody else in trouble to cover her own inadequacy.

The two girls are a contrast of each other. The former is a quick learner, is customer focused, and takes personal responsibility. The latter does not seem to learn from her mistakes, does not remember her customers, and is quick to blame others for her own shortcomings.

This story also shows that good customer service and taking personal responsibility knows no age boundaries. These can be learned at a very young age on the one hand, but can also be totally missed by more mature aged persons despite their years of industry experience on the other.


Posted in Case Studies, Small Business | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Personal responsibility

Posted by A Friend on 27 January 2009 When things go wrong at work, how quickly and how often do we blame the leader or the manager for the disaster? How often do we use or hear the terms “failure of leadership” or “failure of management” associated with workplace follies?

We encounter these terms regularly in our practice. And when we query people why that is the case, we often hear such reasoning as “They get all the credit for success even when all they do is delegate work, it is only fair that they should cop the blame for failure.” Such statement would have sounded logical, if only the argument was not delivered with a hint of management disdain.

We do not subscribe to the idea that leaders or managers should get all the credit for successful outcomes. Neither do we believe that they should absorb all the flack for unsuccessful ones. Rather, we are a strong believer of taking personal responsibility with everything that one is involved in.

We believe that each individual, regardless of their position in an organization, needs to look at themselves first before pointing the finger at anybody else when an undesirable outcome occurs. They must ask themselves first whether they did all they could to ensure a successful result before even contemplating the assignment of blame on others.

Take for example the case of Robert, a quality manager who felt as though he was forced to leave his previous job because of his boss’s seeming undermining of his work.

Robert used to work in a facility led by an offsite manager. The manager worked only a short distance from the site, but he would only pay Robert and his team a visit on average once every ten days.

Robert felt at best under appreciated and at worst targeted by this manager:

    A lot of the manager’s infrequent surprise visits to the site immediately followed a negative report that Robert filed; and 75 per cent of the time, Robert would only know of these visits from colleagues, after the fact.

    Robert felt that this manager deliberately undermined his productivity by burying him in paperwork with stringent and unnecessary requirements for detailed daily reports.

    Robert received reprimands in various instances when he initiated continual improvement initiatives (“Who gave you the authority?” was the oft-asked killer question), even when such initiatives clearly showed positive results in his department.

The lack of management, communication, and positive feedback was very demoralizing to Robert; and a strong argument could certainly be mounted about his boss’s lack of management capability, and even some signs of workplace bullying.

But then, we also asked Robert: “What actions did you take to resolve this perceived conflict with your boss?” Not surprisingly, Robert admitted that he did not do much. Robert said that he made some cursory effort to properly communicate with his boss, but he also quickly gave up when he was not getting his desired response.

Robert’s case and his actions and reactions are typical of people who are quick to accept their “sad plight” but are not too quick to see that there are in fact so many things under their direct control and influence that they can still do to rectify their situation.

In the workplace, people often feel bogged down by structures and bureaucracy and culture and politics that they find it hard to see opportunities that are available to them. They often only see restrictions and roadblocks and fail to consider that one of the most powerful first steps in seeing possibilities is recognizing limitations.

Robert’s boss might in fact have had targeted and bullied him into resigning. It would be easy for Robert to quickly point the finger at his manager as the antagonist in this sorry saga considering the evidence, but we believe that would also be a cop out.

Instead of wondering about people’s politics and motivations around him, Robert should have first looked at himself to see whether there were things that he could have done to improve matters and made sure he did them.

Robert would dearly want to be able to say that he did the best he could in the situation that he was in. But he did not, so he cannot.

In this instance, Robert is just as responsible as his manager in causing the management process to fail.

Posted in Case Studies, Leadership & Management | Tagged: , | 8 Comments »