All you have to do is…

How many times have you seen an employee (yours or at another establishment) looking bored?  Have you seen them looking at their phones, staring off into space or doing things they shouldn’t be doing?

This couldn’t be YOUR fault, could it?  Of course not. It’s the kids these days. They don’t want to work, they just want to play on their phones.

And when we view them as half-brain dead zombies, that’s how we treat them. And that’s how we train them.

When giving instructions to your employees, how many of you have ever said, “all you have to do is…”?

If this has been your training strategy, you might want to think about what you are really asking them to do.  Whether you realize it or not, what you’re saying to them is that they don’t have to think, they don’t have to act, and there’s no brainpower required for this activity.

Then what happens when the one activity they ARE supposed to do isn’t required?

They get bored. People, by our nature, need challenges and for our minds to be active. So, we’ll find ways to KEEP our minds active if the task in front of us isn’t fulfilling that need. What might this look like for your employees?  Yep.  Texting.

A few years ago I heard T. Scott Gross talking about how we have idiot-proofed so many of our jobs.  Rather than take the time to find the right people and prepare them for the role, we dumb down the responsibilities so any Joe Schmoe could do it. But as T. Scott says, the only person willing to do an idiot-proof job is an idiot.  Do you see the cycle we’ve created?

Are your jobs “idiot-proof”?  If so, I challenge you to put some challenge back in those roles.  Let your employees use their brains and their talents FOR you, not in spite of you.

Will this take extra time, because you now have to work with your employees to help develop the right skills and judgements?  Yes.  But wouldn’t you rather spend your time doing that than hiring and firing and hiring and firing a bunch of idiots?

That’s what I thought.

Thanks for reading!


About the author: It took Matt about 45 minutes to write this post. When asked, he tells people it took him 25 years to write his first book, The Myth of Employee Burnout, because it includes experiences and insights from his entire career to this point.  He’s really hoping the second book doesn’t take nearly that long!

4 thoughts on “All you have to do is…

  1. Great post! Not only does it bore them, it’s downright degrading. In essence it really is telling them that they are an idiot, but that’s OKAY because the job is idiot proof. This reminded me of a book I read about a year ago called “Heads in Beds,” a memoir-esque recount of this guy’s experience in hotels, and he would refer to a housekeeping manager giving a “pep talk” at the beginning of the day and repeatedly saying, “You’re job is very. Easy.” as he would slam his clipboard. And then he wondered why his turnover was so high.

    It seems that the alternative is much more effective- tell the staff how difficult you know their job is, and commit to softening the burden when and where you can. “Your job is NOT easy. There is a lot that you need to do. I get it. And I will help as much as possible.”

    • Thanks, Josh – and great points about emphasizing how a leader can support people in challenging roles. It’s about expectations, right? Set the bar high and help them get there or set the bar low and be disappointed when they get there. :o)

  2. Great post – it reminds me of the engagement graph in your book. I’m sure if you plotted challenge instead of manager engagement across a season the results would be similar. I remember once when I started a pretty basic job our team was well ahead of deadlines, delivering great results, morale was high. Our leader was pushing (but not too much – there certainly is a fine line) us to meet pretty tough deadlines. One day she said “we are well ahead of the other teams – so why doesn’t everyone slow down and feel free to take more times with things. No need to rush anymore.” Morale and performance began to suffer – and go figure, the much more relaxed deadlines weren’t met by many.

    In the service industry I think it is easy to recognize employees just for those great guest interactions but are they ever praised for helping impact the company’s goals (whether that means the leader ties that service interaction back to a goal or a completely different action)? How many food service hosts are told “good job, you kept the line moving tonight!” vs. “your actions tonight helped us serve X more people than average which helped us come in well over budget tonight”?

    • Thanks, Andrew! I hadn’t thought about that graph in terms of challenge, but you are probably right. It really is about influence.

      I also TOTALLY agree with your comment about the feedback we give. Moving the line is great, but having a clear understanding of how you impacted the company is even better. We can take that a step further… “because we came in over budget tonight, and have been exceeding our numbers all week, we’ll be able to look at upgrading the POS system, which I know has been something you and your teammates have been asking for.” If they weren’t driven just by knowing the company did well, now they see how it directly impacts them.

      By the way, how was California?

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