Dec 9, 2008

A place where kids can be kids?

I've never been to Chuck E. Cheese but I've been to a number of McDonald's Playhouses. With three kids, my wife and I sometimes cave in to all the whining around when we pass in front of a restaurant around mealtime. I've never thought twice of it, except for the bad habits associated with fast food. But that's a whole 'nother discussion!

What prompted this post, however, is the following article from the Wall Street Journal:

Calling All Cars: Trouble at Chuck E. Cheese's, Again -

The article mentions a number of altercations at Chuck E. Cheese locations, where police needed to get involved in order to break things up. What really got me was this quote: "... in some cities, law-enforcement officials say the number of disruptions at their local outlet is far higher than at nearby restaurants, and even many bars." Holy kiddie brawls, Batman! In a restaurant for kids?

At first, I was surprised. But when you think about it, it fits neatly in our current society. Anyone heard of soccer fights? Or hockey brawls?

A few days ago, Sean Avery was handed a six game suspension for an off-colour comment about his ex-girlfriends. This from the same league that handed Tom Kostopoulos a scant three-day suspension for a hit that cost Mike Van Ryn "a broken nose, a broken finger, a gash on his forward, some lost teeth, and a concussion." The same can be seen in little league where some parents encourage their progeny to duke it out with the other children, in a bid to establish their "superiority."

A few years ago, I coached my son's soccer team. He was only 7, but before the season started, league officials had all coaches attend a meeting where they clearly laid out the disciplinary rules for the season. It seemed that the previous year, there had been some nasty altercations between parents, as well as some parents taking it out on young children on the field. Last year, I saw some inklings of this behaviour from the parents of our nine-year old kids.

So is it any wonder that in a place designed for kids, but where they serve alcohol (duh!), adults would be so badly behaved?

In business, similar behaviour can be seen, but in more subtle ways. I will pass on the many instances of disgruntled employees who have gone over the edge, and focus on more subtle behaviours. These behaviours include intimidation, sabotage, and gossipping.

All of these behaviours can be devastating to the victims, to the teams, and to the companies involved. And whether you like it or not, it's not a problem with the employees. It's a problem with their manages.

Intimidation, sabotage, and gossipping cannot continue unless it is implicitly endorsed by management. How do you implicitly endorse such bad behaviour? Easy: don't do anything about it, lay blame on the person who complains, and don't give them an opportunity to seek help.

Not every one is well-equipped to deal with these types of work-related problems. Yet, when a manager tells an employee to "figure it out himself and not act like a baby," the results may not be what is expected.

An employee may choose to stop talking and not do anything, instead of confronting someone that he/she perceives as stronger and more powerful than he/she. This will affect his/her productivity. If the problem affects more than one person, then an entire team can be demoralized because of one individual. Tempers can flare, and people can easily fly off the handle.

I've seen teams go bad when one person caused problems for other team members, but management did nothing to intervene and stop bad behaviour. Eventually, overall productivity declined until the offending individual was let go.

What would I recommend to Chuck E. Cheese?  I would start by removing alcohol in all locations. Then, I would publicize that event because the fact that I am blogging about it (and I've never been there) is an indication that Chuck E. Cheese is probably getting a lot of negative publicity.

After removing the alcohol, I would take a look at the numbers to determine whether the incident rate goes down. With every incident, I would look for a common pattern and address the root cause, until Chuck E. Cheese, indeed, becomes a place where "a kid can be a kid."

Dec 5, 2008

Is this all the leadership we have to offer?

The recent melodrama of Canadian politics has made one thing clear: we have a dearth of effective leaders in our government.

An effective leader knows what to do and gets it done. His or her prime directive should be to put the enterprise first, and him/her after. Evidently, none of our current leaders seem to realize this.

Let's see, now:
  • Michael Ignatieff: he was pegged as the next Liberal leader. In that capacity, now more than ever, he should step up to the plate and take a stance. Instead, he chooses to sit back, be non-committal, waiting to step forward when conditions are favourable. Not the sign of a great leader: I will jump in when things favour me.
  • Stéphane Dion: I admire the guy's tenacity, but enough is enough. Wednesday's blunder makes Inspector Clouseau look like Stephen Hawking. Few people want him as the head of the Liberal party, yet he clings on like a desperate cat hanging from a tree limb. An effective leader recognizes when he/she is no longer helpful. Mr. Dion is no longer helping the Liberal party: he is severely hindering it. If there was an election today, Mr. Dion's mistake would probably hand a majority government to the Tories.
  • Stephen Harper: in a scant few days, Stephen Harper has tarnished his image as a strategic, competent leader and now appears as a self-absorbed, power-hungry man. He showed that he is willing to go to almost any length in order to hold on to power. In the last two months, he has twice shown that he is completely out of touch with his surroundings. Once, after proposing a measure that infuriated Quebecers and most likely cost him his majority. And now, the current political upheaval. His address on national television was one filled with fear-mongering, blaming, and finger-pointing. He has become the most polarizing figure in Canadian politics and for the first time in years, "sovereignty" has once again become the centre of political discourse.
  • Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe: both acknowledge that they need to rely on each other to get through the current mess. However, how long could such a coalition last? Mr. Duceppe has stated that he is willing to vote in favour of any measure that is favourable to Quebec. He has also pledged not to undermine the coalition for the next 18 months. But how will he vote if a measure is proposed, that does not favour Quebec?
  • Bob Rae: after dilly dallying, Mr. Rae seems to have donned his suit of armor and is ready to do battle. He stepped to the forefront of the coalition, ready to lead them to battle. Too bad the governor-general has scuttled his plans, for now. Nevertheless, he is the one that currently projects the best leadership qualities. He is calling for calm, and working to reassure business leaders that there is no 'crisis' in Ottawa, while simultaneously working with the other party leaders. In the past few days, he has decided to enter the leadership race and has stepped up to role of coalition advocate. If he does it well, keeps on message and maintains his enthusiasm until the Liberal leadership race in May, he may well become Mr. Dion's successor.
We're in the middle of an unprecedented economic crisis, with daily announcements of massive layoffs, dire warnings of tough times, and meanwhile, our government is putting more effort on saving its hide than it is on creating a better future for all Canadians.

When I look at our neighbours to the South, who just elected a unifying figure to counter eight years of disastrous PR, all I can think about is this: Is this really all we have to offer ourselves?