It was 1983 or 1984, and Fuddruckers had just opened their first gourmet hamburger restaurant in the area, just a couple miles from my house. I was 16 years old at the time and eager to work. My friend Warren and I both applied for jobs there, and we found ourselves on opening night of the restaurant parking cars for customers. Though not a usual feature of a high-end fast food restaurant like Fuddrucker’s, the parking lot was tiny and the opening night crowd was huge. Throughout the night, Warren and I went from parking cars, to bussing tables, to checking coats.
As the days I went by, the opening day tumult subsided and I found myself working in all areas of the restaurant. I made french fries, I worked at the cash register, and I helped to bake the hamburger buns. Towards the end of one of my night shifts, I was working the cash register, right near the kitchen. We would be closing soon, and I saw we were almost out of baked beans, so I went ahead and dumped the few beans that were still there, washed out the pot, and was now a little bit closer to being able to go home.
And of course, the next person in line ordered beans. The beans I had just thrown away.
My manager was disappointed that I had discarded any food before the restaurant had closed for the night. We found a way to accommodate the customer, and the manager had me cash out my register. I was called into his office while he filled out a formal report…you know, about the beans. He made me sign the form, about the beans. I felt terrible. And then the most wonderful thing happened.
He told me he needed to send the form to the corporate office, so he turned his chair around to a big grey machine next to his desk. There was a phone receiver and keypad on the machine. He punched in a number, and fed the beans report into the gray box. I heard a weird high pitched noise, and the beans report was magically sucked into the grey box.
“What is that?” I breathlessly asked.
“It’s called a fax machine. I’m sending the report to corporate headquarters over the phone lines.”
I was gobsmacked. I didn’t understand. Somehow, the paper form was being squeezed into the phone lines and sent all the way from Highland Park, IL to Dallas, TX. I had never seen a fax machine before, and it was wonderful. He was punishing me for the mistake I had made, and all I could do was to ask about the technological miracle I was privileged to witness.
“What is that thing?”
“Where is the form going?”
“What is that noise?
“How does this work?”
I was kid, and this was over 35 years ago. Yes, I made a mistake by throwing away the beans too early. However, reflecting on this situation now as a technology professional and occasional mentor, my manager also made a mistake. My manager. made the mistake of not recognizing and acknowledging the enthusiasm and joy that the young employee in his office was showing for the brand new technology of the day.
When we introduce change in the workplace we often gird ourselves for negativity and confusion in response. Our colleagues are sometimes averse to change, and often react negatively when asked to revise the way they work, their habits, or their daily routines. We are so prepared for negativity that we may find ourselves flummoxed and unprepared when people actually react with enthusiasm or interest.
I’m sorry that I spilled the beans, but I’m also sorry that my manager did not recognize the amazing opportunity he was presented with. I was so intrigued by the fax machine, by this cutting edge technology I had never seen before, and I can’t help but to wonder what would have happened had my manager acknowledged that enthusiasm and excitement. Maybe he would have asked me to work in the restaurant office a couple of hours a week. Maybe he would have showed me other new technology and processes being utilized at the restaurant.
Had the Fuddrucker’s manager lifted his head up from his form, and freed himself from worry about the few wasted legumes, maybe we could have moved beyond the negativity of the moment together. Maybe I would have found a previously un-imagined possible career. Maybe I would have found a mentor.
Or thinking of this in a different way…
Had I introduced the new procedure at work, and amidst all the complaints about the impending change I had paused to recognize the one colleague who expressed support and agreement with the new procedure, I could have worked with her to help me achieve implementation throughout the organization.
Had I rolled out the new software, and I heard genuine eagerness to learn the new platform from one seasoned manager amidst the complaints of everyone else about learning something new, I could have collaborated with him to strategize engagement techniques for the rest of the organization.
Negativity is easy enough to deal with, because we deal with negativity so often. The real challenge is how to deal with positivity and enthusiasm, and how to put that positivity and enthusiasm to work for us, our project and our organization.
I’m sorry about the beans, but I would have liked to have learned more about the fax machine.