June 17, 2007

Load Up the Car … It’s Vacation Time

By Paul Bieber

How often do you truly get to take a vacation? If you are like most of us, including me, vacations as youngster were spent visiting grandparents and other assorted relatives. Vacations were not for fun, be on your best behavior, OR ELSE!

When my family starts I will never let that happen to my kids.

Except we lived on Long Island while Elaine’s parents lived on Cape Cod, and mine in Sarasota, Florida. You guessed it. And when we went to Florida, we couldn’t go to Disney because Grandma and Grandpa wanted to spend every day visiting their friends showing off the two most beautiful and smartest grand kids in the world. Even though my Mom was right, it sure was boring.

On the Cape we would take all morning to pack lunches and sunscreens to go the three miles to the beach getting there by three in the afternoon. The saving grace was evening baseball at the Cape Cod League.

What does this have to do with the glass industry? Well, Even though I was having all the fun in the world, I called in every day. Whether it was CRL, Floral Glass or Oldcastle Glass. When I was just a rookie, I couldn’t afford to miss a single call from a customer. When I was a rookie manager, I couldn’t miss a single call from an employee to help solve a problem. Becoming the top dog, I would spend an hour a day on vacation calling to hear messages, and of course, shape the world.

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a young manager was thinking that I was the only person who could solve a problem or make a deal. I wanted my staffs to find me, even on vacation, rather then stick their necks out.

I thought this was a benefit to them…they wouldn’t have to make the wrong choices.

Finally, about fifteen years ago I learned the magic question to ask when an employee tracked me down–what would you do if you couldn’t find me? It turns out my people were a heck of lot better than I had given them credit for, because they could and did begin to make the right calls.

Call ins became short and shorter as people began to make and implement their own decisions. Finally realizing my people were great allowed me more time to grow and move into new ideas and products as our people successfully did the day-to-day work.

The world of computers helped too. Reading a few minutes of e-mail is better than an hour of phone calls.

Here is my advice to every manager. Train your people to handle all but the most significant problems. Praise them for making decisions rather than letting indecision rule. If you disagree with their decision, teach them in a positive way what might have been done differently. Leave clear lines of authority that should be accessed before calling you on vacation. When this works out, you will have trained a great staff.

Also, turn off your cell phone, your Blackberry and your pager. Enjoy your vacation. Remember … hot dogs taste better at the ballpark.