If you haven’t been around a college student lately, you’ll perhaps have forgotten how very young they are, and how little real-life work experience they have. That certainly was the case for me, as a freshly-graduated college student taking a manager position at Kaser Blasting & Coatings.
Thankfully, the Kaser powder coating team was small, and consisted mostly of people my own age.
This was not the case on the blasting side. Kaser’s only blasting employee at the time was quite a bit older than I was, and far more knowledgeable about blasting. While this presents a potentially-tricky dynamic for young managers, in my experience, a little humility goes a long way toward building mutual respect. I had to prove that I was willing to work and learn. I had to prove that I was willing to listen. I had to seek his input when making the schedule, and I had to value his feedback when he gave it. To this day, I still do.
Not everything was smooth, of course. In the early days, I was a firm believer in the power of yelling. I truly believed that that was the most effective way to get an employee’s attention.
While there is a time and place for making a strong point, I’ve learned that my personal frustration is a waste of everyone’s time. Sure, I could spend hours stewing over others’ mistakes, and then give them an earful about it. But when that’s all done, we’re still no closer to having resolved the problem. Why spend a whole day on useless emotions?
Now, I try to state my frustration calmly, and switch my inner monologue into problem-solving mode as quickly as I possibly can.
I’ve learned that while it will always be tempting to play the blame game, it’s much more productive to ask myself what the mistake reveals about Kaser’s processes. What steps led to this error, and what fail-safes could we put in place? How do I, as the manager, make it impossible for this kind of mistake to ever happen again?
It will always be easier – and far more effective – to adapt processes to the team, rather than expecting the team to adapt to the processes. Protocols can be reinvented much more easily than humans can.
Ultimately, managers, the buck stops with us. Mistakes are inevitable, and they won’t always be our fault; but as long as we’re in charge, it’s our job to respond productively. This requires humility. This requires adaptability. This requires introspection. This requires us to wonder what we ourselves can do differently going forward.