One sentence that irritates me more than anything else is, "Let me check with my manager." But why do we have a workforce incapable of providing an answer or solution without the manager's help?
In my book, I discuss some ridiculous practices and experiences I’ve had in the past, hoping that some will resonate with you. My aim is to help us become conscious of the infantile treatment of adults and to have some serious conversations about it. As I live and work in Dubai, some of the practices discussed will not be applicable to all of you. Still, I hope they will provide insight into what’s happening on the other side of the world and serve as a deterrent in case you are considering infantilizing your adult workforce.
Learning & Development Chapter
When we really want to know or learn something, we usually find a way. We sign up for a course, watch YouTube videos, read books, research online, or ask somebody.
Let’s compare this to the learning process in hotels and other organisations. Staff are herded into classrooms and bombarded with content. The management doesn’t really care whether they are interested or have learned anything. The aim is training delivery. Employees begin to associate learning with classroom sessions or spoon-feeding, as I call it. Most learning and training happen in the flow of work, on the job, yet, when I ask people about their learning experience, they often say, “I am not learning anything.” This sentence bugs me for many reasons, mainly because it reeks of dependence, which equals control!
Training or Learning & Development is where adults are infantilised in multiple ways. Firstly, adults are often spoon-fed because we fail to acknowledge that they can independently build their knowledge and skills. Unfortunately, this doesn’t encourage people to think for themselves, find information, or find new ways of doing things. It fosters dependency, lack of decision-making, accountability, and responsibility. It has given birth to the notorious phrase of “Let me check with my supervisor/manager.” Those of you who live in the UAE or any of the GCC countries will hear this daily. Why? Because here, we have created a culture of childlike dependency.
I often hear managers complaining, “They can’t think for themselves!” or “If you don’t tell them there is a wall, they will walk into it!” Well, maybe, but whose fault is that? Who gets upset when workers mess things up instead of using it as a learning opportunity? Who is the one who takes over tasks to “eliminate” their mistakes? Who doesn’t show any trust in their capabilities? Who has created the environment in which they have developed this level of dependency? You, the manager. You would say, “Yes, but…” I know it is hard, frustrating, and a very long process to shape them into independent individuals, but once you get there, the reward feels phenomenally good!
I remember the shock I felt when I moved to the UAE from London. My staff would come to my office for every small thing related to their job. “Can I do this?” “Can you help me with this?” “Can you tell me that?” or “Can you speak to the guest?” Back in London, I had 40-50 highly independent people who managed themselves and others, including guests, so it was shocking to me why anybody would ask those very basic questions. The reason is complex, somewhat cultural, and educational, but I had none of it.
After a month or so of being there, I called a meeting to inform them that I would provide comprehensive training for their roles (there were no training records, so I had no idea what they were trained on), and from then onward, they would have to manage themselves. I dedicated two months to train the team, test their understanding and application, and gradually transitioning them to independence. Of course, there were wobbles. Sometimes they would come and ask me a question that they ought to have known the answer to or ask me to make a decision that was for them to make. In cases like that, I would say, “You have been trained on this. What would you do?”
After nine months of doing this, I issued a new SOP (Standard Operating Procedure). Upon its implementation, one of the supervisors said, “Miss, I think this is wrong.” Hallelujah!! This was the moment I had been waiting for! Now they were at the stage where they were not afraid to point out my mistake. This is what I had wanted. We reviewed her points together and changed the SOP accordingly. This is how you build independent teams who oversee their own, their team’s, and their managers’ development. Believe you me, those nine months helped my own development in ways I never imagined.
Trust is a crucial component when managers decide to treat adults like children, which shows in the main comments I get from them. They are often concerned whether somebody will misuse the trust given to them. My answer to that is simple. You will always have a few bad apples, and you will always have people who are just not designed for independence. Instead of punishing your entire team or even the organisation, weed out those few.
As a hotelier, I always think of the anti-theft wardrobe hanger misery. There must have been some people who stole the hangers, and now we are all punished with a stupid anti-theft hanger that makes it impossible to hang clothes on it. Sound familiar? Let’s not do that to our staff.
You will find more case studies tips on how to create and lead a mature team in my book The Corporate Kindergarten: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BT6YJDN2