Why we should give ownership of their jobs to our employees

Although I have touched on the subject before, two recent incidents have brought me back. An event I organize was severely disrupted by failures in catering at the venue, and I gave up queueing in a branch of a well-known pharmacy chain because only one assistant was serving as opposed to four or five who were having a nice chat in the corner.

The catering problem was in part to do with lack of supervision. There was no one available to tell the waiting staff what to do and how to deliver a buffet on time. Presumably they were told to report to the kitchen and were handed the food when it was ready, which was at least twenty minutes after it was supposed to have been. They then carried what they were given into the room where the event was taking place (incidentally a room too small for the number of attendees advised in advance to the venue).

Our venue employees also failed to note that the equipment to keep the food warm was not switched on, there were insufficient plates and hardly any cutlery, and the fruit salad should have been delivered before the main course (it was breakfast).

There were other issues, but I have given enough details to demonstrate what was wrong, which was that the staff had not been properly trained if they were trained at all; they were not asked to think for themselves or did not feel that they had sufficient authority to act on their own initiative in the face of obvious problems. The manager was not in, but if the staff had been able to respond quickly to the large number of requests for additional items of food, cutlery and appliances, it would have meant less disruption. If someone had looked at the whole picture and dealt with it, our problems would have been minor.

I do not suppose that the venue employees are well-paid. However, everyone has to start somewhere, and in addition to essential training there needs to be the sort of management that encourages initiative and through that, progression to greater things. I started as the office boy, but I accepted my lot because I knew that if I got the simple things right it would lead to more responsibility. I made the tea (or coffee), remembered who took sugar and who didn’t, did everyone’s filing, and bought chocolates and ordered flowers for the boss’s wife. I could use my initiative to help people out, including choosing the chocolates and the flowers.

It is not good enough to have our staff just follow orders. They need to know what is expected of them and that should include using their common sense and asking for anything extra they need to do their job. Of course that means that they must feel comfortable in being able to talk to their bosses and that they will have a friendly ear, and even if their suggestion is not immediately considered they should know that their having asked a question will not counted against them. It should be accepted as being motivated by good intentions.

At the end of my event the manager did finally arrive. He apologised and blamed the staff for being stupid and ignorant. However, the blame was his in my book. He wasn’t there when needed, and he had not given his staff authority or motivation to deal with any problems in his absence.

In a factory or a closed office environment one might get away with a one-off failure if it is rectified quickly. In providing a service to the public, mistakes can be very costly for the reputation of a business. This is why I believe managers must take ownership of their responsibilities, but also why employees should be given ownership and responsibility too, with the carrot of reward and recognition for stepping in when needed.

Have you seen similar situations? Do you agree?

© Jon Stow 2010

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