From the Editor: Just Like Family

A family vacation stirs up a lesson in employee autonomy.

When something goes wrong at your shop, your first instinct as a manager is probably to jump in and fix the problem. It’s usually the wrong thing to do.

That lesson struck a chord with me during a recent family getaway. We stayed in a hotel suite with separate sleeping and living rooms. Our adult daughter, a night owl, took the rollaway sofa bed in the other room, while our son (then 12) got one queen bed and my wife and I the other. The arrangement had worked well for us in the past, though in hindsight, our son was younger then and a very deep sleeper.

I woke up the first morning and realized that Sam was gazing steadily at me from across the room. With a pretty good idea of how he would respond, I asked him how he had slept. It was a question he had been waiting a very long time to answer.

“Well, I’ll tell you how I slept,” he began. “You two were snoring so loudly that it woke me up at 3:00. I stared at the clock for four hours waiting for it to stop.” He imitated the noises we made. He gave us new nicknames. (My wife’s was “Toy Snory.”)

He was still in mid diatribe when I went to see if my daughter, Liz, fared any better. She had not. “This mattress has got to be 100 years old,” she began before I could manage a morning pleasantry. “There were springs sticking in my back and it squeaked every time I moved.”

While my wife and I debated whether to ask for a different room, the kids worked out a solution to their dilemma. Liz offered to take the queen bed that night while Sam went to the sofa. She didn’t take note of how readily he agreed.

The second morning came, and I awoke to find what appeared to be a combat bunker on the other bed – a deep wall of pillows and chair cushions that Liz had fashioned into a foxhole, which had proven to be neither soundproof nor, thankfully, airtight. In the other room, Sam slept contentedly; he had the good sense not to gloat during the tense breakfast that followed, and was amenable to his sister’s suggestion that they share the sofa bed for the rest of the trip. Crisis solved with no intervention from the parents.

The moral for managers? We sometimes forget that our people don’t need us to solve their problems. They know their processes better than we do. Their ideas will be on point. More importantly, they’ll own the solutions they develop on their own and continue to refine them, rather than resenting ineffective decisions handed down from above. (Imagine how Day Two of my vacation might have gone if I’d been the one to suggest that the kids trade beds.) All we need to do is create an environment where people feel empowered to make decisions on their own, while providing the support they need and an open line of communication.

But perhaps not too open. I did need to have a chat with my kids about interpersonal diplomacy after being called “Four Snore and Seven Years Ago” one too many times.

Check out more from Screen Printing's October/November 2017 issue.

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