How Do You Solve A Problem for Maria?

How Do You Solve A Problem for Maria - Marshall Atkinson

Maria has a problem.  She’s been employed in your shop for about eight months now.  Maria really loves her job, and working in the decorated apparel industry suits her.

She’s smart.  Good with her hands.  A quick learner.  Creative.

That’s why you hired her, remember?

But what’s she’s not is engaged.  No, not the same engagement because her boyfriend went to Jared’s.

Engaged the other way.  With her job.  Frankly, the problem is with your shop culture.

It’s locked down tighter than Fort Knox.

When you think back to the initial job interview you had with Maria, you sure promised a lot.  Sure, you were looking for a great employee, but part of an interview is selling the company to a future staff member too.


The first few weeks on the job Maria came into work early, and always wanted to stay late.  She was constantly buzzing around helping.

Don’t you remember commenting to one of the company managers about her when you noticed her hustling past you with a huge smile on her face?  As corny as it sounds, you even said, “Wow, that’s engagement!” about her.  “She sure loves her job.”

She’s Not Smiling Now


Maybe Maria hasn’t noticed that she isn’t as happy as she once was, but you have.  That rockstar employee attitude has been replaced by one of a drone worker.  Maria comes in, does her thing, and then leaves.

What happened?

For starters, let’s take a look at your on-boarding process.  Sure, you are a modern shop, with plenty of snacks and drinks in the break room.  That’s great, but what she really needed was some help learning your system software and the esoteric part of the industry language.

Costco snack cornucopia doesn’t add to the bottom line.  Three kinds of trail mix and two different coffee machines are not engagement traits.

Every day for her first two weeks or so Maria left work frustrated, confused, and sometimes even angry.  That wonderful feeling of finding a great place to work was quickly replaced by tears and doubts as to why she took the job.

“We’re too busy to train you.”, is what she heard more or less by your company’s inactions.

Not to mention in a male-dominated business setting, she sometimes feels bullied by veteran staffers or management.  More than once she confided to her girlfriends, “Why do guys have to act like such juvenile jerks?”


Here’s What She Needed


It starts with an R and ends with espect.  Imagine how much Maria would be glowing if the onboarding process included a mentor for a few months.  Someone to help her get adjusted and learn the industry lingo.

What if there was a guidebook, crammed full of notes and “how-to’s” for using the computer system? Then as Maria made her way through her day she could double check to ensure her work was correct.

Even a simple bullet-pointed one-page cheat sheet would have been better than nothing.

Instead, what she received was a grudgingly harried tutoring session conducted on the last ten minutes of one Friday a few weeks ago.  The material that needed to be covered would have taken any normal person about thirty or forty-five minutes to explain.  That ten-minutes was all she received.  That was her training.

Pushed into the deep end of the pool.  “Hey Maria, hope you can swim!” was lesson number two from your company.

But hey, your department team lead trained her.  Box checked.


Forgotten Impact


The one thing that people tend to forget is that employees want to contribute.  They want to be heard.  They have ideas.

New people coming into your shop are one of the greatest resources you can have.  They see things from an outsider’s perspective.

“Why do you do it that way?  This way is better.”

Can you imagine the impact Maria could have had in your shop if she was engaged correctly?  Her outlook, viewpoints, and professional experiences could be harnessed to tweak something and improve it.

Chances are, she still sees things like your customers do when they look from the outside in.  But she’s on your team.

Until of course, she feels marginalized and made to feel like a dummy.  Because she’s new, her opinions don’t have gravitas.

Nobody has stopped to ask, “Maria, how are things going?  What do you need?” and honestly mean it.

Instead, when she wanted to start taking notes about a new concept that was being presented, she was ridiculed and made to feel stupid.  Her trainer actually said, “Notes?! If you can’t learn this without them then something must be wrong with you.”

Ah.  The do-the-bare-minimum, on-boarding hat trick is complete.  No wonder Maria has been in tears.

It doesn’t help that you, the owner, sit in your office and don’t really follow up to see what’s going on.  You just assume that everything is ok because “I would have heard something.”

Here’s the deal kiddo.  Unless you ask, you aren’t going to know.

Maria would have loved to have that conversation with you.



Be Kind, Rewind


Now, think about rewinding the story a little bit.  By the way, Maria could be Bill, Judy, Achmed, Carol or Anaya.

Maria could have your name or the name of your latest hire.  You know, that kid with the weird purple stud in the left nostril.

At one point, we were all new people at our jobs on the first day.  Up to our eyeballs in hope and enthusiasm.

Engaged employees should feel a genuine warmth and respect from your company at all times.  You need to show them that they matter.  They then will want to do a great job and will become rockstar employees if you don’t screw it up.

Ask yourself how empathy plays a part in your leadership discussions?

The first time you ask them, “Hey, tell me what you need to make this a better place” and then don’t listen to them or do anything remotely close to fixing the problem…that will be the last time you get honest feedback.

Remember, Maria isn’t going to quit this job in a few weeks over money.  She will always want more, but that’s not what drives her.

She’s going to quit this job because your company culture has failed her.  The number one reason people quit their jobs is bad management.

“This place sucks!”

One day she is going to be tired of asking for the same basic level of help that she’s been hinting at all along.

That’s the day her Indeed search starts again.  A few days or weeks later, she will be starting her new job and hoping this one will treat her better than your company.

Work is more than a paycheck for most people.




Engagement starts with letting your employees contribute to the problem solving that happens every day in your business.  The crazy thing is that owners or managers constantly hold onto their biggest issues like they were sacks filled with money.

Instead of letting their team contribute and help solve them, they keep banging away at the control freak button on their business dashboard.

What about Maria?

She would love the opportunity to help.  An engaged mind is a happy mind.  When you are put in charge of something that means that you are trusted and you matter.

That’s why Maria wants you to let her stretch a little bit.  Give her more, but train her to do it right.  Help her be successful. Give her your expectations.

So when she’s handling the inventory count or creating the marketing calendar or designing the new email signature…that means you don’t have to do that.  You can be spending your time doing other things much more critical.

When you delegate a bunch of these tasks off to other coworkers like Maria, your shop can grow faster.

So when you solve Maria’s problem, you just solved your own.



“I used to be a hot-tar roofer.  Yeah, I remember that…day.” – Mitch Hedberg

“He who hesitates is poor.” – Mel Brooks

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Robin Williams



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