I recently had the excellent experience of judging a regional DECA event.
If you’re not familiar with DECA, that’s OK. I wasn’t either. In fact, even after looking at their website, I’m still not exactly sure what they are other than an organization or club for high school students where they can learn about business, marketing and entrepreneurship. (More specifically, I really just want to know what DECA stands for, though it appears to not be an acronym.)
Judging the contest consisted of learning a role play scenario in which I was a kid at a local fast food restaurant who took to my Facebook and Twitter account to say negative things about where I worked. Each student had 10 minutes to come to my table, pretending they were my manager, and explain to me the principles of the business, what I did wrong, why it was bad and to mete out the punishment.
Many of the students came to the table prepared to tell me what I did wrong, why I did it and how they were going to punish me. Most of them took the task at face value and chose suspension without pay. After the first few students, it was somewhat uninspiring.
But then one of the students showed up and did two things that blew me away.
First, she made a point of explaining to me something I try to drill into everyone who’s ever reported to me over the past 20 years: If you have an issue with something happening in our workplace, please come and talk to me about it right away.
Complaining doesn’t solve problems. And when you complain, you become a cancer. Whether you take to social media or just complain to a workmate, you are now starting to eat away at any faith the personnel has in the company and their immediate management.
If you really want to fix something, you have to take the issue to someone who can do something to change it. Preferably, you’ll bring a solution, as well. But that’s not required. As a manager, I can’t fix something I don’t know about. And as a paid employee, part of your job responsibility is to do everything in your power to make yourself and everyone around you successful. That’s why it’s imperative you bring up issues as you see them.
Especially in marketing, I’ve always told my teams that we have to be our own harshest critics. The work we do is going to be seen by many people, and we have to be tougher on it than anyone so that when it goes public, it’s been thoroughly vetted.
The second, and even more impressive thing she did, that no one else did on this day, was to use this incident as a coaching opportunity. Instead of giving me some sort of punishment, she told me I had to coordinate a class on social media expectations and then teach it to the other employees.
This was a great solution on several levels. First, I was going to have to learn the policy and understand it to successfully teach it. Second, by having to articulate it to my peers, I was going to have to understand it in a way that would make sense to me and my colleagues. Third, by having me teach it, my workmates would hear it from one of their peers, making it more impactful.
This solution was innovative and appropriate for the situation. And she was the only one to come up with it.
I always love it when I meet people who have an interesting or unique way of looking at things. I find it inspiring, and it gets me excited to head back to work the next day.
This is a thank you note to that student, who made me realize there are kids coming up into the workplace who are going to be very effective workers and managers.