The title of this post “But I DID bring it here!” is a reply I have been wanting to make to someone I dealt with earlier this week. Here’s the story:
(and note, I have intentionally not said what entity I was dealing with because I think the staff person was just a reflection of the communication system, not a bad employee)
Earlier this week, a local municipal transportation agency was doing a food collection promotion (titled “Caring in Motion”). If you donated two canned goods you would receive a free one-way bus pass; if you donated three canned goods you would receive a free round trip bus pass. Contributions went to a local agency that does a lot for hunger in our community. Although I don’t ride our local bus, I am a big proponent of mass transit (as well as eliminating hunger) and I have partnered with this entity before.
As soon as I saw the campaign announced, I shared it on Facebook (and possibly Twitter – I don’t recall). I stopped at the store that night and purchased canned goods to take to the main transportation plaza on the appointed day (and yes I got three).
When I approached the staff person behind her plexiglass shield, she had just finished dealing with a very unhappy customer who was dissatisfied with some aspect of our bus system’s routing. I approached her and asked if I could drop off my items. She was not prepared for that question. She said, “well I can’t give you a free pass” (I replied that was okay) and continued to act reticent about accepting my contribution. At some point I asked, “is it easier to go to that bus over there and hand it to the driver?” She finally opened a special little drawer in her plexiglass bunker where I could fit my items. And as I deposited my items, she said, “You didn’t bring it here.” (As in “I could get in trouble for taking these canned goods … the ones our agency encouraged you to bring and you then encouraged other people to bring … so let’s keep it between us okee dokee?”) I agreed somewhat non-verbally. As I was walking away, I was worrying about the negative experience anyone I told they could do the same thing might have. My worries were interrupted when she heartily yelled over her plexiglass-enclosed microphone: “THANK YOU!”
Why does it matter? For me, it mattered because I had put my name behind encouraging people to do this. Having dealt with volunteers in many capacities, I know how easily one small perceived slight or mishandled detail can deflate a volunteer’s altruistic motivation. More importantly, I was wishing that from a management and leadership perspective, she as an employee had been fully informed about the campaign underway and encouraged to participate and be thrilled that the public was interested in helping out. I know her job is often hard. This could have been handled so differently, so that our interaction was a positive point in her day, not something that made her feel like she was going to get in trouble.
In a post she wrote about “8 Things Collaborative Leaders Know,” Jesse Lyn Stoner said, “People want their organizations to be successful, and when given an opportunity to participate, they bring their best thinking and contribute fully.” In the case of how my contribution to “Caring in Motion” was handled, I just wish the interaction I had with the staff member had been different. Instead of “you didn’t bring it here,” I wish something else had been brought: some “caring in motion” perhaps.
Have you ever had a sense that someone you were dealing with was not fully engaged with their organization? What can managers do to increase opportunities for everyone to participate?
** Update: I ended up sharing this post with StarMetro, emphasizing that it was constructive feedback and the last thing I wanted would be for the employee to be criticized. I really appreciate the director’s gracious reply and receptiveness! One quote: “As always, I enjoy great feedback like this, since it helps identify areas that improvement may be needed.”
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.
Jesse Lyn Stoner (@JesseLynStoner) says
Great story, Paula, that clearly demonstrates the damage employees can do to the organization and to customers and/or volunteers when they have a negative attitude. I do believe that people naturally care and want to contribute when given an opportunity to participate. Sadly the staff member you were dealing with had not participated in setting up this worthwhile program and was poorly informed. This is what makes the difference between being invested and being disengaged.
Paula Kiger (Big Green Pen) says
Thanks for your comment, Jesse Lyn. I agree!