Losing Control, the Right Way


Since I spend roughly 1/4 of my life at work, it was bound to show up in my blog at some point. So, to prepare you for this post, let me explain what I am not doing anymore.

I am not working in the library profession. I am not doing academic instruction at a college. I am not pouring concrete or substitute teaching. I am not woodworking, or organizing the musical portions of a contemporary church service. I am not even assisting a college registrar in the mailing and delivery of transcripts.

Those are all part of my past.

Nowadays, I work for an internationally-recognized food service organization that specializes in preparing and serving whole-bean and brewed coffee & tea beverages along with a few food items. I won’t name any names, but their logo is green and white, and has a siren inside a circle. And it’s not a mermaid as many people believe. Sirens have two tails; mermaids only have one. Study your mythical monster biology, people!

I’ve been with this company for over sixteen months, this time. I also worked for the company for almost 2 years, between 2007 and 2009.

Anyway, that’s a specific as I’m going to be about my work. I don’t have the luxury of complaining publicly about customers or employees, and it’s not my place to promote or demean my company. In fact, it would be quite unethical for me. So you’ll just have to read between the lines, or if you absolutely need to know about my work specifics, ask me in person.

Anyway, during these three and a quarter years with the company I’ve slowly clawed my way up the ladder to a minor supervisory role.

In October 2013, I spent 40 hours studying for a food services license. I learned all about bacteria, and how to clean kitchen tools, and cross-contamination. I learned about food handling, and improper food handling. I learned about pest control. I studied the FDA Food Code and HAACP (Pronounced HASS-ip) a fancy acronym that describes how to perform quality control on all of the above).

I also learned about money management, and a bit more about people management. I learned about employee motivation and customer satisfaction. I learned about safety protocols, and when to call emergency services, and when to call the store manager.

I’m not an expert in any of this. I only know enough of any of these subjects to make me dangerous (it’s like the old analogy of handing a toddler a loaded weapon). In fact, none of this training prepares you for the time management predicaments of running an actual shift.

As a supervisor, I’m responsible for all that: keeping the store running, and cleaning the store. Money. Inventory management. Health inspectors. I’m also in charge of making sure the staff stays productive and happy, and that the customers leave feeling satisfied.

It took me exactly one botched shift to realize that one person can’t do it all. I have anywhere between one and five people (depending on the time of day) to help me keep the place running. I’m responsible for making sure it doesn’t all blow up in our faces.

Now, I’m very good at making espresso drinks. I’m excellent on the cash register. I’m a very decent and efficient store cleaner. I can brew a mean pot of coffee, deliver you a pastry and cook up your sandwich with minimal interruption to the general ebb and flow of store service. I wouldn’t have ever been promoted if I couldn’t do these things.

The problem is, It’s not my job to do all this anymore. It’s my job to enable my co-workers to get this stuff done. I need to give them the time, resources, motivation, whatever it takes, so someone else can do a big fat load of dishes, or clean up that chocolate milk spill on the lobby floor.

I’ve come to realize one fact in very short order: the staff I serve with, they are my arms and legs. Not because I can’t do something or because I’m too lazy to perform a task, but because I need them to make the store a success.

Without them I don’t get anything done. I can’t do it all myself. I’m not sure I’d even want to try. Management is constantly an exercise in giving up control. I do the things I have to (i.e., making sure people are getting their meal breaks; deploying employees to their strengths without burning them out; cash management and dealing with whatever health inspections come our way) and let the others do the coffee brewing, or ringing up customers, or running the espresso machine. Generally speaking, I’m required to oversee the welfare of the shift I’m working, and make sure it’s all getting done. That means tat often I will end up making drinks, or ringing up customers; even taking out the trash. But it’s not the important part of my daily routine anymore.

And it’s not that I am unable to do these things. Technically, I wouldn’t be a supervisor if I couldn’t perform these tasks. But to be successfully, you have to lose control. It’s quite a challenge, and a hell of a paradox. Sounds like a Chinese proverb in fact. I just hope I can keep doing it successfully for the weeks to come. I can only assume that the more people you manage, the better (or worse) it gets. My vote is for “better”.

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3 thoughts on “Losing Control, the Right Way”

  1. That’s precisely the dilemma that every good individual contributor has faced when moving into a management role, and everybody I know who’s done it has found it rather disconcerting. Doug Hanhart said it this way (in reference to IT people): “The job of a manager is to provide the vision and pizza, and then get out of the way.”

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