First Line Managers Don’t Let Catch Phases Catch You

One night working as the motel auditor at the Ramada Inn at Tuscaloosa a strange thing happened. The restaurant manager gave me some insight in a phase I will not forget. After the bar closed, she and her friend came past the front desk on their way to another party. She said these profound words to me in a drunken slur, “Jim McGriff, “make it happen.” The rumor was she made it happen with the motel owner; that is how she went from a waitress to the restaurant manager. I guess I made it happen, in a couple of months I took her place as the restaurant manager.

Catch phases are troubling to me; these phases can lead a first line manager and his organization to the wrong path and dead ends. I think the Enron sales floor had a few catch phrases like, “make it happen” and “whatever it takes.” The banks before the loan crises may have used a few. These phases can have a devastating effect on your organization. I have found, most times, managers who have limited knowledge of the business use these catch phrases. They resort to these catch phases because they cannot give you a better direction for action. These phases sound good to them.

Remember in the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gecko said, “Greed is good.” Mr. Gecko’s success was because of insider trading. In Deming’s fourteen points he gives the admonition to not motivate by slogans. He states they never work. Catch phases are nothing but slogans. Sometimes, they are not official, but they are slogans. Sometimes they work too well.

Just what does “Make it happen” mean. Front line managers can make certain things happen within their scope of operations. Sometimes market forces dictate what is possible. The oil embargo of 1973 devastated the occupancy rate of the motel I managed in Birmingham. When companies stopped travel our commercial business dropped; as did our profits. I went door to door trying to sell our motel. Some company managers asked me what I was doing, no motel manager ever called on them for their business. Still to no avail, the District Manager fired me. The explanation was I could not sell the motel. I could not change market forces no matter how hard I tried to, “Make it happen.”

“Whatever it takes,” This is a catch phase I hate. If carried to the extreme can lead to unethical decisions. In 1978, my company promoted a new chemical dispensing system for restaurant dishwashing machines. I sold a few. When I got the sales report, it showed I sold 53 units. I sold 3 units. I informed my district manager, he said not to worry, too much trouble to change. Within a few weeks I got a bronze belt buckle in the mail. It was the award for achieving my goal. Then I knew, the 53 units were not an accident, I got a belt buckle; other salesmen said the district manager got a bonus. I look at that buckle now and then to remind me never to do, “whatever it takes.” I know that this may seem minor. This is the point, unethical decisions seem minor; but, can often lead to failure for you and the company.

“You cannot teach an old dog a new trick”, this is one I hear many times form employees and managers. To this I reply, “Aren’t you glad we are not dogs.” This comment attempts to roadblock any changes for an individual, department, or company. They are telling you don’t even try. A cashier retired because we started an electronic cashing program. A lineman retired because we started a new order dispatch system. These employees did the right thing. This attitude is real. First line managers must encourage employees to change; but, employees who will not change must move. In today’s changing world, we must change to survive. If we do not, we become “dead dogs.”

Be careful, the catch phases you use imprints your organization. Remember, we are not only what we eat, we are what we hear

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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