Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A $15 Mistake Worth a Fortune

Photo by A. MacRae

When I was sixteen I learned a vital management lesson.

I was working graveyard shifts at a gas station. Early one night a group of boys bought a couple dollars of merchandise and paid with a twenty dollar bill.

Two minutes later, a paramedic came in to pay for his gas and informed me that the same boys were outside celebrating their good fortune. It seemed that a dumb clerk (me!) had given then change for a $20 when they had only paid with a $5.

I recorded the error and, in the morning when the store manager came in, I reported my mistake. Sure enough, I was missing $15.00. Although this was my largest error, I had been short several times before.

Then my manager did an interesting thing. He took me to his office, had me sit down, and said something I've never forgotten:

"You're a bright kid and I know you can handle what I'm about to tell you...When an employee isn't doing something, there's one of two reasons. It's either will or skill. Either they don't want to do it, or they don't know how." He let that hang in the air a moment, and then asked which I thought applied to my situation.

I was never more than a few pennies off from then on. For me, it wasn't about the skill to make change accurately, but it was a matter of being motivated enough to pay attention to what I was doing.

Effective managers believe in their staff and understand that their team members require both will and skill.

Will is a matter of motivation, environment, and desire. Skill is the practical ability, training, and resources to do something.

However, emerging managers (and many a frustrated veteran) often address the wrong issue when trying to help their employees. Providing training when a person lacks motivation won't help. Creative incentives or consequences when the real problem is a lack of resources or training won't help.

Next time a team member is struggling, take time to analyze the situation. Is it will or is it skill?

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to look at Influencer for a thorough approach to will and skill.

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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