Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Where's The Decaf?!!

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

Call me insane, but I keep trying really hard to like the very convenient bakery just outside my subway stop. Over and over again. 

In fact, my obsession with forcing myself to like this bakery has taken me there every week for the past five years, as I've become determined to not give up. No one likes a quitter, right?

Don't blame the macaroons for their chaos.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I'm enamored with structure, of a place for everything and everything in its place. Structure is beauty; structure is comforting. And approaching the display case of this particular bakery is an exercise in the most beautiful, comforting display of perfectly structured rows of macaroons, among other pastries, but truth be known, I just never get past the macaroons. The pastel colors, the row after row of sugary goodness, I almost hate to ask the attendant pluck one out for me, for fear of upsetting the well cared for display.

If the story of my long term courtship with this bakery could end there, it would indeed be a happy ending.  But it never does, and every week, myself and my insanity continues on, and moves one step up closer to the counter, whereupon without fail, every time, I feel the tension in the air, so thick you could cut it with a knife.  Or should I say, cut it with one of those cute little soft-edged butter knifes.

Where's this tension coming from?  Am I suffering from low blood sugar, projecting my discomfort onto those nice kids behind the counter, blaming them for my cravings? Last week I suddenly figured it all out.

What I've noticed, after piecing together the memory of those visits which I still could (after all, five years of weekly visit is a really, really long project), is simply that the staff doesn't work together well. And it's not because, I believe, they are dysfunctional people, or bad apples of some sort, misfits of society that somehow all found themselves there behind the same counter. They just have no structure to refer to. No macaroon of management to comfort and guide them.

Where's the decaf?!!  

It wasn't the first time I'd heard the cashier shout something like this back over his or her shoulder. And believe me, after five years, I've seen at least a couple dozen rotations of staff behind that same counter. Yet the irritation, the tension, the disconnect among all of them, is the trend which binds every new generation of these workers together.

It's right there! 

Well why don't you tell me?!!

Can't you see it?

Well if I could see it, I wouldn't be asking again!

And on, and on and on.

There's variations on these themes over the years, but what's clear is that everyone is consistently frustrated, everyone is consistently agitated, and everyone probably four hundred times per day is comparing and explaining themselves away to their co-workers, all trying to figure out how, during any given moment, to communicate with each other about what the other is doing or someone needs. 

This isn't a lack of good workers behind the counter - this is a lack of very simple and easily trainable standards; a shortcoming of good people management skills. A lack of their manager training them to know and perform the duties of each person on the team and then holding each of them responsible for doing so, of the barista simply saying the word "decaf" as it's set on the counter next to the register, and the cashier then knowing it's just been laid down.  

When you multiply this process by several hundred times per day of teas, coffees, and macaroons served... oh how much nicer and gentler an experience it would be - for everyone on the team, and for all the customers at the counter, who, like myself, are a tad bit uncomfortable watching staff fight over who said or didn't say what. Week after week. Year after year.

Have you noticed this also can happen on private estates?  

How similar is this to those domestic staff teams where, instead of communication being defined and engaged, everyone is left to try and figure it out on their own, and everyone comes up with their own, personal standard for how tasks at the household should be done? And for how staff members should be sharing information, especially that is critical to providing good service to those who are signing their paychecks every two weeks? 

The circumstance becoming where not the manager sets the standards, yet instead whichever domestic worker is talking the loudest, or bullying everyone else on staff the most, or being the most passive-aggressive toward their co-workers... sets the standards? 

And occasionally, on private estates as in other small companies, someone - not in an officially titled management position - takes on the role themselves and leads the other staff in a positive manner, despite not being officially assigned to do so. In circumstances such as those, where the officially titled manager cannot (or, is not allowed to because of a non-supportive family office or employer) actually manage their staff for successful outcomes, that can always be hoped for... but can it be depended on?

I'm no Einstein.
But I'll bet that he liked a good macaroon. 

I still love looking at the display case of macaroons. And as insane as it sounds, I'll probably keep going back to that same bakery every week for the next five years too, hoping that a manager one day steps up to the plate and has the courage to manage their staff, to support and help them understand how beautiful the interaction can be among everyone who is working not simply for a common and beautiful product, yet working together for a common and beautiful service experience.

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