Connecting participation and attendance: The anti-results-driven world

posted by Jeff | Thursday, September 26, 2013, 11:24 PM | comments: 0

My coaster nerd buddy linked on Facebook to an opinion piece in the New York Times about the ridiculous phenomenon of participation trophies. In the comments that followed (which included a frightening statistic about recent college grads bringing a parent to interviews... really?), there's a correlation there about grownups equating attendance at work to performance, and the entitlements that should come with it. I never connected those dots. We're setting that expectation with kids now.

I've been fortunate (or picky) to not ever work anywhere long term that had specific and "required" hours. There was one awful place, but on the same day that I interviewed elsewhere, they decided they didn't like me questioning the policy and showed me the door. Indeed there are places that still believe that simply being present is the same thing as being productive and adding value. Heck, Cedar Fair, a company I've watched very closely, used to be like that in the old regime. A lot of people spent more than a decade there only because they put the time in... it didn't matter if they got results.

The more excellent modern businesses don't behave like this. I think my favorite version of this concept, which I admit most businesses are probably not ready for, is Netflix. They don't even have a vacation policy beyond encouraging people to take time off when they feel it's appropriate. Think about what that means. The company trusts you to take the time when you think it's best, and it judges you strictly on the results and value you deliver. If you don't deliver results, you don't get to work there. That lack of attendance scenario doesn't work in every situation (things like police and teachers come to mind), but I think it's fair to say that most white collar office jobs could work that way.

And back to the kids, I can't think of any bigger way to start setting them up for failure. If every kid that plays a sport is a winner, they all think they're special, even though none of them are special. If there's no incentive to add value, and showing up is good enough, how is that helpful?

I sucked at every sport I tried to play. Even volleyball, which I really loved, I was awful. I got cut from my high school club team. Twice. It wasn't until my second time in college club tryouts that I got there. I didn't really get good at any of it until I had several years under my belt of teaching kids to play. Now it comes naturally, but I had to work my ass off to get there.

Because I'm optimistic about these kinds of things, I do think that the younger generation who does show up to work every day, does just enough to get by, and is frustrated by their lack of professional development, will eventually come around and figure it out. If anything, perhaps they just had the wrong expectations set for them, and they'll adapt. Heck, my generation was told you just had to bust ass in college and you'd be successful. We didn't view it as an entitlement, but we did think there was at least causation there. That expectation was false.

I'm trying to keep this in mind in daily parenting. Simon is 3 and a half, and at that age, his emotions can get pretty intense when something isn't going his way. My first instinct is to let him get his way to spare us all the emotional drama, but that won't do him any favors. I have to set the expectation that sometimes you just don't get what you want.


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