Control, Dan Pink and the dust up at the fish and chip shop

Control, delegation and the dust up at the fish and chip shopThere was a bit of a dustup at the fish and chips shop last night. A young chap who was preparing our order, looked up and asked the owner whether our order had salt on it..

The next two minutes was interesting.

The owner stomped over and starting roughly pulling apart the fish and chips that had just been wrapped. “Did you check the order” she asked, in a somewhat exasperated tone. “Well, no. I thought I would just ask you”, the young man stammered. There followed lots more slamming around, as the owner duly salted the chips and rewrapped the order, whilst her assistant stood by somewhat haplessly.

Now, we don’t know if this has been happening all evening. Or what the precursor to the situation is. Maybe the chap really is hopeless. Maybe she has told him over and over again. Who knows?

So, what happens when we intervene rather than teach?


I’ll just do it myself

But what we do know, based purely on the way that the incident played out in front of me, is an all too common situation that occurs in workplaces all around the country every single day. That is:

 “For goodness sake, let me just do it myself.”

If you ask the person who intervenes, invariably there will be a list of excuses that goes something like that:

  • It’s easier to do it yourself than teach the other person;
  • You think that you can do it better;
  • The other person is overloaded and you genuinely want to help them;
  • You believe that it’s your job;
  • You are frustrated that it is taking them too long to learn/do it properly etc..

The reality is though, most of the time, that’s your own frustrations taking over. It doesn’t solve the longer term issue of teaching the person what to do and how to do it. And importantly, why it matters that they do it in a particular way (if indeed it does matter).

I can imagine that if the owner had taken the time (albeit at a busy period in service) to take the young chap aside to explain the process, why it’s important, the impact when he interrupts her – that it would be much more impactful than him standing by helplessly, looking somewhat embarrassed.

Dan Pink and what he says about it all

Dan Pink tells us that motivation comes from mastery, autonomy and purpose. By intervening, the manager takes away the opportunity for the employee to gain mastery and autonomy. This is a minor incident, but you can see how they start to add up, and how that can create a general feel of lack of motivation.

As it is, she interrupted what she was doing, he is no better off really, and the customer witnessed some pretty ordinary managing.. Perhaps there is a better way.

Key Takeaways

  • If an employee hasn’t “got it” – a good starting point is US – not them. How have we taught them? Or do we rescue them? Is it easier to just intervene?
  • And if they still haven’t got it – are they the right person?
  • Look back on Dan’s model of mastery, autonomy and purpose. How are you giving your employees the opportunity to have those elements in their jobs?


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