“Never complain - always occupy yourself with solutions.”
This simple yet important maxim was brought home to me with stunning force years ago while working at a California resort. Here’s the story:
Marjorie was the friendly head cashier at the resort and reported to the controller, who, as can be expected from someone in that profession, was a stickler for detail and accuracy. Among Marjorie’s duties was the task of safeguarding the resort’s large cash reserve bank and making change for the many cashiers. Her small office located in the administration building was frequently crowded with employees seeking change. Quite naturally, it was also a scene of noise and confusion.
One day on my walkabouts I stopped in to chat with Marjorie and was surprised to find her crying at her desk. When asked what was wrong, she responded tearfully that she was in danger of losing her job. Unaware that this was so, I asked why. She then related to me that, on multiple occasions during the past month, the resort bank came up short. Each time she was counseled by the controller, but at the last counseling her exasperated superior warned her that further shortages could result in termination. She went on to say that no matter how careful she tried to be, her bank was once again short. Through her tears she said she was sure she’d be fired this time.
As I sat across the desk from the distraught woman, I tried to calm her, but nothing I said could reassure her. Finally, in a sharp voice I said, “Marjorie, are you stealing from us?” Shocked, she looked at me incredulously and said quietly, “No! I could never do that.” Having gotten her attention, I said, “OK, then, let’s try to find out where the problem is.” I then listened carefully as she described her daily routine for me.
Slowly, in response to my questions, she began to realize that counting errors were the natural consequence of the confusion of multiple employees engaging her in conversations while getting their change. Marjorie’s native friendliness and outgoing personality were making it difficult for her to concentrate. I suggested that rather than going meekly to the controller to report yet another shortage, she should confidently go with a carefully thought out analysis of what was wrong and what steps she would take to overcome the problem.
As the two of us sat there reviewing the current procedures, Marjorie drew up a short list of how she could avoid future shortages.
- Replace the door to her office with a Dutch door that would remain closed and locked, thereby keeping employees out of her office.
- Require employees seeking change to line up outside the door. This way she would deal with only one person and one transaction at a time.
- Keep the large safe closed and locked while maintaining a smaller “par” change fund in a locked drawer at her desk. This way only a smaller amount of money had to be monitored and counted with each transaction.
- Keep a log of all the change needs by each employee. Over time this record would allow her to establish the par fund at the appropriate level – neither too large nor too small.
- Establish a policy that change for the largest cashier banks would only be made by appointment. This would allow her to be prepared for and deal with the largest transactions in a methodical way.
- Establish set procedures for counting out change. Employees seeking change would use a change request form that itemized their needs. She also would establish a specific routine for multiple counts of tender and change while keeping tender separate from the par bank until all counts verified the transaction.
By the time I left her office, Marjorie had calmed down, galvanized by her plan to eliminate future problems. The next day she stopped me in the lobby to tell me that the controller was thrilled by her proposed “solutions” to an ongoing problem. He didn’t want to fire her; he just wanted the problem solved.
Buoyed by the sense that she was now in control and that her job was no longer in jeopardy, Marjorie confessed that her preoccupation with the potential consequences of the shortages blinded her to a solution. She said it was a hard lesson learned, but one she would never forget.
It also made a great impression on me – one that I too still remember.
Excerpted from Leadership on the Line: A Guide for Front Line Supervisors, Business Owners and Emerging Leaders, Ed Rehkopf, Clarity Publications, 2006
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