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When “Experience” Counts

We didn’t have a hierarchical structure at Toy House. While my dad was still there I did have the mantle of Vice President, but that was mostly to satisfy corporate rules. We didn’t have a manager or assistant managers or department heads. The closest thing we had to any kind of structure were the “key” employees—informally named because they had the keys to the building. They had the final say when I wasn’t in the building.

In my last group of key employees, none of them were hired because of their retail experience. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds and brought interesting skills to the table, but only one of them had worked in a similar environment (and she was hired because of skills she had shown in other non-retail jobs).

Yet there they were as my confidants, the inner circle of people I trusted the most with the safety and security of my retail business. They all shared a few traits such as the ability to stay calm in stressful situations, the ability to look at problems from the vantage point of what would be best for the customer and for the store’s reputation long term, and the ability to take charge of a situation if needed.

None of those traits are taught in typical retail training programs.

You are about to hire your seasonal team to help you get through the holidays. You already feel the crunch of the busy season. You worry if you will have the time to properly train your new seasonal staff well enough to serve your customers at the level they expect. Because of your fears and worries you make the single biggest mistake most retailers make in their hiring process.

You put too much emphasis on having “retail experience.”

Your thought process is that the more retail experience they have, the less training you need to do. I found out the hard way just how wrong that thought process really is.

First, understand that most other retailers don’t have a training program in place for their front line staff. They teach you how to clock in. They teach you how to read the schedule. They teach you how to run the register (if that’s part of your job). But the rest you pretty much have to pick up on your own. Therefore someone can have years of retail experience and still be lousy at it.

Second, recognize that your customers have a higher expectation from you and your staff than they do from most other retailers. So even if a new employee did get some modicum of training, it might not be anywhere close to the level you want them to have. Therefore all that “experience” ends up being a detriment, and you spend more time breaking bad habits than you do installing good habits.

The only “experience” that counts is their experience that shows they have the character traits you need. 

  • Do you want someone to be helpful? Find someone with experience being helpful and see whether they thrived in that position, regardless of where they worked.
  • Do you want someone to be a quick learner? Find someone with experience having to learn things quickly and see how well they did. (Did they grow in position and get promoted or stay stuck in one spot?)
  • Do you want someone who can solve problems? Find someone with experience doing a job that had problems needing to be solved and see how they did.
  • Do you want someone to be able to motivate others? Find someone with experience motivating others and see how well they did.

When I finally learned the lesson to stop hiring just because they had “retail experience” and started focusing on hiring for character traits, I found that my new hires without retail experience were often my best employees. They brought fresh, new perspective to the role while having the personality to meet my customers’ needs. Plus, I spent less time breaking them of their bad habits.

I know it is counter-intuitive. Heck, I read several books on hiring that echoed the sentiment of Harvard Business Essential’s book Hiring and Keeping the Best People that said, “The number one factor is experience on the job.” 

I beg to differ.

Experience counts. But it is the quality of experience, not the location of the experience that makes the difference. In retail, in management, in jobs where people skills trump specialized training, personality traits are far more important than having done a similar job somewhere else. 

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re hiring high school and college-aged kids, they often won’t have any retail experience. Their academic and extra-curricular careers, however, tell you a lot about their personality and whether they have the traits to be successful on the job.

PPS Since I couldn’t find any books teaching what I found worked best for hiring and training, I wrote my own book—Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. When you want your team to be considered “beautiful, useful, strong, and long-lasting” you’ll pick up this book.

I’m Looking For Work

Since closing up Toy House last December I have been writing, speaking, coaching, sailing, selling, and singing for my supper. It has been an interesting adjustment from the steady paycheck of selling toys. It has been filled with highs and lows and stimulating conversations when people ask me how I’m enjoying “retirement.” I’m a few decades away from that word. I need to work.

The past few days I have thrown my hat into the ring for some full-time job openings in southern Michigan.

Yes, I am looking for work. 

This is me. Always smiling. Always ready to help.

Here is my resume: (Please excuse my bragging—that’s what resumes are for, right?)

27 years as a Team Builder: Developed, Organized and Led Team Building Activities utilizing Low and High Ropes Courses, Wilderness & Experiential Activities, and designated tasks to promote better communication, cooperation and trust for groups ranging from adolescents to corporate America. Led and Facilitated Training Programs to teach others to be Team Builders. Wrote and published blogs and articles on Team Building.

24 years as a Purchasing Agent: Created and Managed Open-to-Buy programs for multi-million dollar retail store. Negotiated Terms with Vendors. Made Purchasing Decisions for millions of dollars of inventory. Designed Merchandising Displays including Revamping 16,000 square feet of display space. Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Inventory Management, Pricing, and Financials,

22 years as a Marketing & Advertising Director: Developed and Managed Advertising Budgets between $20,000 and $120,000 annually. Made Advertising Purchases and Created Content for TV, Radio, Newsprint, Billboard, Direct Mail, Email, Facebook, In-Store Signage, Business Flyers, and Press Releases. Conceived, Organized and Hosted several public and private Marketing Events. Made Public Appearances at Networking Events, on Radio, and TV. Built websites for www.ToyHouseOnline.com and www.PhilsForum.com (among others). Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations. Wrote book on Advertising called Most Ads Suck (But Yours Won’t).

21 years as an HR Director: Hired, Trained, Scheduled and Managed a team of 12 to 30 employees. Created an Employment Manual and Training Program. Planned, Organized and Led monthly Staff Trainings and Meetings. Led Workshops, Seminars and Webinars on Hiring & Training and Customer Service. Wrote and Published a Book on Hiring and Training called Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel: Turning Your Staff Into a Work of Art. 

27 years as a Speaker/Teacher: I have given over 100 seminars to other businesses, led over 100 training workshops for staff development, facilitated over 100 team building events, conducted over 100 presentations on shopping to customers, and taught over 100 classes for new, expectant fathers at our local hospital.

9 years as a Writer: I have written four books, dozens of magazine articles, hundreds of different advertising content, and 788 blog posts (counting this one.)

I am looking for work.

You can hire me to do Private Coaching, one-on-one, in the area you need the most help. (For a lot of people that has been hiring and training.)

You can hire me to do Presentations and Workshops. My Customer Service presentation takes a unique approach by helping you define each point of contact a customer has with your business and measures your performance at every step along the way. Like my Hiring & Training presentation, this works with any type or size of business. In fact, it was a manufacturer who paid me the highest compliment telling me I had given him the “million-dollar idea” he needed to take his business to the next level (as he flew away on his private jet.)

You can hire me to help you revamp your Marketing & Advertising. Whether temporary as a coach/consultant and/or to help you create new content, or full-time as a Manager or Director, I will bring insights and skills that will move the needle for your business.

You can hire me to Write. My specialty in writing is to teach and persuade. I’m sure you can figure out how to use that in your business.

I’m not a perfect candidate. Most people look at my resume and get hung up on the fact I have Bachelor of Science in Geological Oceanography from the University of Michigan. That was 28 years ago. I barely remember that child (but I still know more about shoreline erosion than anyone really needs to know.)

Or they want to discount the above experiences because I didn’t do it in corporate America. I can see that. Of course, I did all those jobs simultaneously (plus twelve years as CEO and CFO) for a store that in 2009 was named “One of the 25 best independent stores in America!” in the book Retail Superstars by George Whalin. That’s not corporate America, but it does speak to my ability to learn and my ability to stay organized and focused while juggling a lot of responsibilities in a fast-paced environment.

I’d be happy to discuss these and any other reservations during the interview.

I am looking for work. Do you know anyone who can use a guy like me?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I apologize if this post sounds too much like bragging. I really do need more work. I want you to know I’m not just a blogger who thinks he knows something about business. I have walked the walk. I have made many mistakes and learned from them. I don’t have the business degree, but I did have the toughest teacher ever—real life! You get the exam first and then you get the lesson. Please share this post with anyone you know who could use a guy like me.

PPS You know my Core Values are Having Fun, Helping Others, Education and Nostalgia. My ideal job is teaching and helping others. It is what I do best and I enjoy it thoroughly. My second passion is marketing & advertising, finding new ways to drive traffic. That and Free Cell are my two favorite puzzles to solve. If the right opportunity comes along, however, I’m game for just about anything that lines up with my values.

Where to Spend the First Million

Reports are that Toys R Us has secured $3.1 billion in financing to get them through the holiday season. Thanksgiving is only nine weeks away. I have a plan for the first million dollars they should spend that will change the culture in their stores immediately and just in time for the critical holiday season. It will take about seven weeks to fully implement. Have David Brandon call me ASAP.

There are 866 Toys R Us and Babies R Us locations in the United States. I would fly the 866 store managers in to headquarters for a full day of training. That training would include a morning segment and an afternoon segment.

The morning segment would be all about toys and play value including:

  • The Importance of Play Value on Child Development
  • The Elements of a Great Toy
  • The Different Ways Children Play
  • Smart Toy Shopping

The afternoon segment would be all about hiring and training a staff plus how to raise the bar of customer service and would include:

  • Determining the Character Traits for the different positions on the team
  • Interviewing Techniques
  • Developing a Training program for New Hires
  • Developing a Continual Training Program for current staff
  • Raising the Bar on Customer Service

The morning would be about changing the way the company as a whole looks at the products they sell and gets them to shift their mindset away from “selling toys” to “solving problems” or “helping children develop.” As I explained previously, this is the direction they should have taken back in 1998 when Walmart surpassed them in overall toy sales. This is where they should have gone to reclaim their throne as the “king of toys.”

The afternoon would focus on raising the bar for the staff by finding better people, training them better, and creating a lasting program to continually raise the bar on their servicing of their customers. Even a big chain like Toys R Us that doesn’t offer a lot of fancy services like free gift wrapping or year-round layaway can still find new and better ways to treat customers by meeting and exceeding their expectations.

The managers would end the day equipped with new skills for hiring, training, and managing their staff while also teaching their staff and their customer base about the importance of their products and why customers should be choosing to shop at Toys R Us for all their toy needs.

Not only would Toys R Us see a profound shift in customer satisfaction this holiday season, but with better hiring of the seasonal staff, the managers would have a better pool of employees to change the culture of their stores going forward. Better hiring skills have a cumulative effect year after year.

The cost to TRU breaks down like this …

  • 866 managers flown in for training x $800 per person for flight and hotel = $692,000
  • Assorted costs for training room, lunches, and printed materials = $58,000
  • Fee for me to do 7 weeks of training (at 25 managers a day, it would take 35 days to see them all, or seven 5-day weeks) = $250,000

It would be the best million dollars they spend all year. But they better hurry. Thanksgiving is only nine weeks away.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re an independent retailer you’re hating this post. Everything I just explained that TRU should do is exactly what sets you apart from the category killer and big-box discounters you compete against. If you’re an indie retailer, though, you have secretly been scared that if the category killer in your industry ever “got it” and decided to do what I’ve outlined, it would make your job that much harder. Here’s the kicker. Do it first. Do it before they get smart.

PPS My rate may seem a little high, but that’s because I’m here to help my fellow indie retailers and small businesses succeed. If the chains want me, they’ll have to pay. You, however, can hire me to do all that for your business at fraction (very small fraction) of that cost. Get a couple of your fellow local retailers to join you and you can split it even further. Call me.

Working “On” Part 5 – Evaluating Progress

We all dreaded the blue sheets. As camp counselors at Storer Camps, we had to write up an “evaluation” of every camper in our cabin. The blue sheet was the worksheet we used. It had spaces for us to mark their daily activities and a few questions where we wrote short answers about their time at camp including what they seemed to like most, their strengths, and areas where they struggled.

The blue sheet dates back several decades. I remember my mom getting them from my counselors back in the 1970’s. I remember my own trials writing them late at night by flashlight on the porch of my cabin just to get them done on time. I remember turning them in to my director for approval only to be asked to rewrite them because of penmanship or to change a word or phrase. No time off until your blue sheets were finished and approved.

I also remember reading them as a parent and appreciating the thoughtfulness and insight that went into them. It made my boys’ camp experiences more meaningful. It gave me an outsider’s perspective of my children, a valuable measure of their growth.

Evaluations can be viewed as measuring sticks. They show you progress when you compare them to previous evaluations. They are also maps because they show you where you are in relation to where you want to go.

You are already using tools to evaluate your business. Your Profit & Loss and Balance Sheet are two of those tool. Your GMROI and Turn Ratio are also tools used to evaluate your business. These are easy tools because they measure hard, fast numbers.

If your Game Plan, however, is to exploit your Competitive Advantage of having better people offering better services, you have to have a map that shows you where your staff members are in relation to where you want them to go. You have to have a tool for evaluating their progress.

Some consultants believe in commission sales as the tool to evaluate your staff. If their numbers are going up, then life is good. The problem is that commission sales don’t always work in every type of retail store, nor are they truly an accurate predictor of someone’s selling skills since luck and timing and many other factors outside of pure selling skills have an effect on the numbers.

Some believe in written evaluations—blue sheets for your staff listing their strengths and areas they need to improve. I tried those and got frustrated by them. Although they measured, they didn’t map. Plus they took a long time to process and complete. They were as discouraging as they were encouraging. On top of that, if you don’t evaluate fairly and honestly without emotion using concrete, specific examples of problems needing to be fixed, these written reports could come back to bite you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Written evaluations are best for documenting unacceptable behavior to protect yourself in termination cases, but they don’t work as well for motivating your staff to improve.

Here are the concrete steps I suggest for mapping a path for your staff.

  • Talk to them. Sit down every so often and just have an informal conversation.
  • Ask questions. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what they are working on. Ask them what they have learned from the training program (that I know you have implemented.) Ask them where they see themselves in the big picture of the store. Ask them if they understand their purpose for being employed. Ask, ask, ask.
  • Give them praise. Praise them for what they have done, what they have learned, and where they are. Roy H. Williams said, “What gets measured gets managed, but what gets measured and rewarded improves.” Praise is often enough of a reward to get the improvement you seek.
  • Offer suggestions. Based on your observations of their work, coupled with their own beliefs of where they are on their journey, give them suggestions for what they can “work on next” to reach the goals you have already spelled out for your team. Give them concrete action steps such as reading certain articles or books, or watching certain videos, or working on a specific task.

Do it informally and do it often. Formal evaluations are scary and make your team afraid of you. Because of the amount of work involved, they also happen too infrequently to be of good value. Informal discussions following the format above build trust and help motivate your team. Plus they give you a much quicker read on the talent and potential of your current players so that it is easier to spot new, better talent when it comes along.

Combine these conversations with a kick-ass continual training program and you will see the progress before your very eyes.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS There are many who might disagree with this procedure. There are valid arguments for a formal evaluation process. If you are a small business with only a handful of employees, however, a formal evaluation process could be (or at least feel) overwhelming. Your true goal for evaluating your staff is to see where they are and motivate them toward the ultimate goal of being the best at serving your customers. Daniel H. Pink in his book “Drive” points to three things that intrinsically motivate your staff—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. A simple measuring stick of growth compared to where you were previously is Mastery, but a map of where you are in relation to where you want to go is Mastery and Purpose.

Working “On” Part 3 – Hiring a Manager

I’ve only been flown in for an interview once in my life. I went to the Catskills in New York to interview for a position running an experiential education and wilderness trip program. I was a perfect candidate for the job. Not only did I have the experience running a similar program in Michigan, this program also had a strong bike program and owned a fleet of several dozen bikes they had to maintain. I had spent my teenage years assembling and fixing bikes at Toy House. It was a perfect match!

I figured I had the inside track on this job. They flew me in so they must have thought quite highly of me. I had the perfect skill set. I also knew the other two candidates. Both were currently working in the program where I was interviewing. Both had previously worked for me. Neither had the experience in a managerial role I had.

Although I thought I interviewed well, I didn’t get the job.

Only later did I find out the guy doing the hiring had always and only promoted from within. He flew me in only because his boss demanded he interview someone outside the company. I didn’t have a chance. I never had a chance.

Hiring from within makes sense on the surface. You’re hiring a known quantity. You’re hiring someone who already knows your culture (and likely fits in). You’re hiring someone who already knows your procedures. You’re hiring someone who is already loyal to you. The risks seem low.

Laurence J. Peters published a management theory in 1969 about the promotion and hiring from within now called the Peter Principle. According to Wikipedia, the concept is “that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and ‘managers rise to the level of their incompetence.’ “

The risks may seem low, but the downside to the Peter Principle is that you end up with incompetent people at every level of the organization because you elevate people until they are no longer competent. Does that sound like a good plan?

You need to hire your manager the same way you hire anyone at your company. Make a list of all the traits and skills necessary for a person to be successful on the job. Then figure out what you can teach your new manager and what that person needs to bring to the table.

When you make a list for a sales associate you get different traits than your list for a store manager. A perfect salesperson is great at selling. A perfect manager is great at teaching and motivating. Yes, one person can be good at both. But if you are promoting your best salesperson to manager just because they are your best salesperson, you might have made two positions on your team worse off.

Your manager is most important hire you will make. Your manager is the person who gives you the most time to work on your business instead of in it.

Here are concrete steps you can use to find a great manager.

  • Make a list of the skills needed to be a great manager. That list better include the ability to teach, the ability to motivate, and empathy. You probably need to throw trustworthy onto that list, too, and the ability to learn.
  • Make a list of questions you can use to identify those skills in your candidates. Here are some on ability to teach and trustworthiness. Tell me about a time where you had to teach someone else a new skill. How well did it go? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to keep your word. How did you rectify that situation later?
  • Talk to your current staff, especially the high performers who are great in their current role, but not necessarily skilled for the next role. Many people feel the need to want to move up the ranks. Your best salespeople might feel resentment if you pass them over. Talk to them about the importance of their current role and why you need them in that position. If it about money, give them a raise. If they are truly your best salespeople, they are worth it. If it is about power, give them responsibilities that fit with their skill set. They feel better, you feel better, and you haven’t promoted anyone to the level of incompetence.
  • Move “industry knowledge” lower down your list. Sure it helps if someone is as enthusiastic about your niche in the market as you are. But it isn’t nearly as important as the ability to learn, the ability to teach, and the ability to motivate other people. Given the choice between hiring someone who can step in and lead the team while they learn the products or someone who knows the products but is still learning how to lead, you know the smarter choice.

Your goal is to get the most competent people into every position possible. The manager role is the most important of all those positions.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the Peter Principle in almost every place I have worked. I have even been guilty of it a few times myself. It never seems to end well. The easiest way to prevent it from happening in your business is to look at each role as being a separate position requiring separate skills, not a benefit or reward for time served or a promotion for those who do best in their current role.

PPS My son wrote a college entrance essay on “Leadership”. He identified empathy as being the most important character trait of a great leader. I couldn’t argue with his premise at all. Hopefully he still has that essay saved somewhere so that I can use it in a future post.

Working “On” Part 1 – Scouting New Talent

In 1989 my parents bought a new computer for Toy House. It was an IBM AS400, It had three hard drives and a whopping 999kb of storage (yes, almost an entire megabyte!) The whole unit was about the size of two large microwaves stacked on top of each other. Don’t even ask about the ridiculous cost for that thing and the accompanying cash registers and work stations.

My parents didn’t know much about computers at the time, just that computers and data were the new thing to propel retail to the next level. We were ahead of the game … indie retailers weren’t computerized, heck, UPC codes weren’t yet “universal” …for a moment.

Fast forward a few years. My mom and I were reading an article about Walmart’s computer system that rivaled the US military at that time. Data was the new buzzword. Everyone was marveling at the data these new computers could churn, such as the fact that 63% of the people who bought a collector Barbie doll at Walmart also bought a candy bar. Our near megabyte of storage wasn’t up to that task.

Back then Walmart was winning the “big data” war. Today Amazon has a stranglehold on that one. It is their competitive advantage.

While data and the technology to collect that data are incredibly important, they aren’t our calling card. They aren’t our competitive advantage.

Image result for recruitingOur advantage is our staff. A carefully selected, properly trained staff can do far more than data. Data can tell you that people who bought a plastic model car also bought a plastic cement glue. People can tell you which glue, why one glue is better than the other, and how to use it in a fraction of the time that surfing online would take you. People can show you the options, give you the tips, find you the right solution (including the solution you didn’t know to search for), giftwrap your package, carry it out to your car and make you feel good about it all.

Therefore, you have to have the right talent to keep your competitive advantage.

Amazon is always looking for, even developing, the next new technology to keep their advantage. You need to always be recruiting new people.

As I promised, here are some concrete actions you can take to help your recruiting process.

  1. Make up business cards with your contact info on the front and these words on the back, “Thank you for providing wonderful service! I would love to talk to you about a job opportunity.” Hand these cards out to people who give you the kind of service you desire in your store. Unlike the NFL, there are no tampering laws. (As a courtesy, however, don’t go stealing your fellow indie retailers’ peeps.)
  2. Groom your customers. Plant seeds in the minds of your top customers about working for you. First, they already believe in you and share your values. Second, they know your products. Third, they know the level of service you already aspire to bring. As you serve them, look for the customers that would fit best on your team and start dropping the subtle hints.
  3. Always take applications. First, if your laws are anything like Michigan’s, you have to accept applications. If someone asks, “Are you hiring?” your response should be, “We are always looking for great people.”
  4. Train your current staff. The only way you’ll truly know if the new people you find will be better than the current team is by first giving the current team every chance to improve. This is the NFL model. The scouts look for potential. The coaches are the ones tasked with helping individuals reach their potential. Help your current staff reach their potential and you’ll know exactly what potential you need from new recruits to get better.

If you do these steps well, you will have a pool of talent available to you for when one of your employees decides to move on. You’ll have the talent to call on for the busy season. You’ll have good people on your sales floor and in your office all the time. You’ll have your one competitive advantage.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Even though #3 is important, do not have a “Help Wanted” sign up in your window or on your door or anywhere for that matter. It sends a scary message to customers that you are under-staffed and that people don’t want to work for you. It also doesn’t help you get qualified applicants. Instead you get a lot of applicants who just need to be “looking for work” to keep their benefits. The people who really want to work for you will ask if you are hiring.

If you need to advertise for new people, do it through a carefully crafted help-wanted post on your social media and/or website.

The One “After” That Makes the Most Difference

I’m in the process of preparing my house to sell. I spent Sunday cleaning out the basement and garage. One big thing I did was pull thirty two cans of paint out of the basement. Thirty two cans of paint colors no longer in use in this house. Some cans were quite full. Others were so empty it was a surprise anyone kept them.

A couple of cans had been put away so hastily the lids weren’t even on tight. We call that “dried paint.” Fourteen of the thirty two cans are opened in my garage drying out to go to the dump. Eighteen cans have enough paint to be useful and will get recycled this Saturday. (Nine cans are left in the basement for touch-ups and for the future owners to dump when they change colors. Yes, the lids are checked for tightness.)

You know I don’t like cleaning up and putting away everything. But I know it is necessary. If you do it right, you have paint cans marked with the date the paint was purchased and the rooms where it was used. If you do it wrong, you have “dried paint.” 

The same thing happens with the hiring process.

You did all your prep work properly. You attracted a stellar group of candidates. The interviews went well. You found the right person. Now what?

My dad, being the introvert that he is, told me the way to train the new staff was, “Give them their uniform. Show them where the bathroom is and where to hang their coat. Then send them on their way.” His philosophy was that if you hire good people, they’ll figure it out.

We had a big enough staff that his method kinda worked. The veterans on the team took the rookies under their wings and taught them what they could. Those that got it, stayed. Those that didn’t, left. Because we hired so many seasonal employees each year, we were able to pick from a large group of candidates those that we wanted for the slower months.

Knowing that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, however, I wanted more than that. I wanted the worst member of my team to be the best member of anyone else’s team. That meant not just having a kick-ass hiring process, but also having a kick-ass training process.

Taking a page from my dad, I allowed, even encouraged, my veterans to do the teaching. The only difference is that I made them accountable. First, I took my veterans aside and did some extra training with them on the stuff they would be teaching to make sure we were all on the same page. Then I created a checklist of all the things the new hires needed to be taught. 

On day one of your employment you would receive this checklist. Each time a veteran taught you a new skill, that veteran had to initial that line on your checklist.

The checklist served two purposes.

  • It made sure new employees were taught all the skills necessary to do the job properly.
  • It held all the staff accountable to make sure everyone was doing/teaching the job properly.

If a new employee was taught a skill but couldn’t do it to my satisfaction, I went to the veteran who initialed it on their checklist to see how they were teaching that skill.

The level of consistency and the level of competence went up across the board. It even got my veterans discussing best practices and best ways to do everything.

When your staff is having debates over the best ways to serve customers, you know you’ve put the paint away properly.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS To create your checklist, first make a list of all the traits and skills the “perfect” employee would have. Then separate the list into “teachable” and “non-teachable” traits. Hire the “non-teachable”, train the “teachable”. The better your list, the better your hiring and training.

PPS If you want some fun paint colors for free, stop by and see me before Saturday.

A Place for Everything

This week marks my last week on the water as the sailing instructor for YMCA Storer Camps. Next Monday I have to do my least favorite job—putting stuff away. I hate it. I hate cleaning up. I hate filing papers. I hate organizing and sorting. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love it when things are well-sorted, organized, labeled and put away properly. I love it even more when somebody else does it.

Image result for ymca storer campsDon’t judge me. You have something in your business you hate to do. Maybe it is managing your social media. Maybe it is running your special events. Maybe it is your bookkeeping. Sometimes you can hire others to do it. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do it yourself.

I’m biting the bullet for four reasons:

  • It needs to be done.
  • It’s my job to do.
  • I know exactly how I want it done.
  • I want to make life easier for those who come after me.

I’m spelling this out to give you some ideas how to muscle through those things you don’t like to do. Yes, it takes some justifying. Yes, it takes some convincing of the mind that it will be worthwhile. Yes, I have scheduled when I’m going to do it. Yes, I have already gathered supplies I need to do it right. Monday will go smoothly and quickly and I’ll feel a whole lot better when it is done.

When you find yourself in this situation understand that you are not alone. We all have that one thing (or two) we hate to do. Whenever possible hire someone amazing who loves to do what you don’t want to do. If you have to bite the bullet and do it yourself, remind yourself why you want it done right and then schedule time to do it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Scheduling is the key. It is too easy to put off the things we hate to do if they aren’t on the schedule. They’ll never be a high enough priority to make it to the top of your to-do list on their own.

PPS “I want to make life easier for those who come after me.” That reason fits in with my core value of Helping Others. If you can find a reason to do what you don’t want to do that aligns with one of your core values, you’ll find the job a whole lot easier to do.

How to Find a Master

(Note: this is a longer post than usual. Set yourself some time to give it a good read and bookmark it so that you can come back to it as necessary.)

You’re the Jack-of-all-Trades. You’re at least mildly competent at all aspects of your job. Like you, your store is mildly competent, too. But you want to take it to a higher level. To do that, you need to either become a Master at the aspect where you’re least competent (or the thing you least desire to do), or hire a Master at that aspect.

BECOMING A MASTER

Image result for masterBecoming a Master means training, taking classes, reading books, watching videos, studying other experts and Masters, practicing and experimenting, recording and measuring your progress. Becoming a master takes times. And in the process, you have to steal time from your other duties.

If you have lots of free time on your hands, take the aspect of your job where you are the worst and become a Master at it.

Chances are pretty good that you don’t have lots of free time, and where you’re the worst is usually what you also like to do the least.

FINDING A MASTER

Finding someone else better than you to do what you don’t want to do (or can’t do) is the faster way to get your business to the next level. First, you get that part of your business up and running at a higher level right away. Second, you free up more of your time to do what you do best. Third, the combination of those first two will make you enough money to pay for that Master.

Here is the recipe for finding that Master:

  • Define the Job clearly including tasks and how success will be measured
  • Define the skills necessary for doing the job well
  • Write a clear and concise hiring ad that spells out the skills you wish to hire
  • Post the ad in smart places
  • Offer to pay above-average wages
  • Create a training program to train the necessary skills that you want but weren’t part of the skills you wish to hire
  • Be clear and unwavering on how success will be measured

For instance, if you want to hire someone to take over your social media presence, you might do the following …

Social Media Manager: This person will be responsible for making sure the business has a social media presence that is updated daily, consistent with our Core Values, and in line with our in-store promotions and events. This person will engage customers, respond quickly and professionally to comments and questions, and grow our online presence by double digits every six months. This person will be able to handle complaints quickly and positively. This person will be able to work with the sales clerks and other staff to make sure posts are relevant to what is happening in the store. This person will answer directly to the owner. This person will be monitored weekly for postings and consistency of message, measured monthly for growth and engagement, and evaluated every six months for progress towards goals.

Skills: This person will be someone who is creative, loves to interact with others both in person and online, knows how to de-escalate a negative situation, has good spelling and grammar skills, knows how different social media work and how to use them best, is tech-savvy, is dependable and reliable, has a strong understanding about the needs and wants of our customers, understands the ins and outs of our industry, puts the needs of the company first, and understands how he or she will be measured.

Help Wanted Ad: Are you a social media marketing genius with a track record of success that loves to engage with customers and turn them into fans? Do you have a background in marketing and advertising? Do you love to be creative and different? Can you spin anything and everything positively? Do you like working in an environment where you know exactly how your success will be measured? Are you worth more than the average pay for this type of position? Please apply at:

Posting: Post on your own online page. Post in LinkedIn and Facebook groups for Social Marketing. Post on Twitter.

Salary: A quick Google search shows that social media managers make on average $15.22 per hour. Armed with that knowledge and the knowledge of your local economy (is it greater or less than the national average?), you might want to offer at least $17-$20/hour or more to attract a higher level of applicants. If you get a true Master, it will be money well spent. My grandfather always believed you cannot pay too much to a great employee.

SORTING THE APPLICANTS

Once you get applicants, you need to sort the wheat from the chaff so to speak. The first round of weeding out is simply removing anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements you listed in your ad. If the person didn’t explain in their cover letter or their visit to your store why they fit the criteria you listed, they won’t be good at communicating with your customers. The second round for a position like this would be grammar and spelling. You don’t want poor grammar or spelling undoing your social presence. The third round is where you start to choose who you want to interview. You look for keywords in their cover letter and resume that signal their Core Values and see how those match up with yours. You also might look for things like longevity in a position, commitment to work, growth in job titles and responsibility. Most importantly, you’re looking for people who love to do this more than you do.

Once you have your interviewees, you need questions that will draw out the information you want. People in interviews are ready to tell you what they think you want to hear. The way to get around this is to ask questions about things they did rather than what they think. Actions speak louder than words and tell you more about their personality traits than philosophical questions. Some might embellish the facts a little, but for the most part they will be more brutally honest. The key phrase I like to use is, “Tell me about a time when …”

  • Tell me about your most (least) successful social media campaign. What did you do? How well did it work? What did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about the hardest customer/person you ever had to deal with online. How did it go? How was it resolved? What did you learn from it?
  • Tell me about the hardest thing you had to do at your last job. How did you accomplish it? What did you learn from it?

If you’re a long-time follower of my blog or read my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, you know that I preach hiring the unteachable skills and teaching all the rest. The same applies to hiring a Master. The only difference here is that the “unteachable skills” are actually teachable skills that are above your level to teach. In this situation, experience on the job carries more weight, depending on how much training and learning came from the experience. That’s why each of the previous “Tell me about …” questions concludes with, “What did you learn?” You might get answers where you wonder if the learning is happening before your eyes because they never thought about it before now. That’s okay as long as there is learning and it appears they are learning the right stuff.

The training program you set up in this situation is primarily to teach them the ins and outs about your particular business and products (note that knowing your industry was not in the ad because it is not a trait your applicants need to bring to the table). You will also teach them what you already know about your particular customers and how they like to be reached, and teach them about your Core Values and what you hold most dear.

The final step, however, is the most important. Once you find your Master and define the way they will be measured, you need to step back and let them work their mastery. Measure as planned. Ask for clarity as needed. As long as they are hitting their benchmarks, let them be the expert you hired.

You have the blueprint. Go take your business to the next level.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The example above is hastily written to give you the idea of the steps to follow. The more thoroughly you define the job and how you will measure success, the better you can create the definitive list of skills for the job. The better your list of skills, the better you can write a Helped Wanted Ad that identifies people with the skills you wish to hire. The better your list of skills you want to hire, the better the interview questions you can create. The better you know your Core Values, the better you can identify the kind of people who will fit in best.

PPS If you need a Human Resources person because hiring and training is the skill you lack the most and wish to give up, you have to at least become reasonably competent in the short run. The above blueprint will help.

Jack of All, Master of None

I bought a multi-tool the other day. Since I no longer have my own bike shop to fix up my bikes I bought a multi-tool designed specifically for fixing bikes. It even included spoke wrenches. Eighteen tools in one little package. I got my first chance to use it a couple days ago. You can probably guess what happened. Like most multi-tools, it did a competent job (except for the spoke wrenches that failed miserably), but it wasn’t all that easy to use. Having the individual tools for each job would have been a whole lot better. It leads me to ask this question …

My bike multi-tool. Love the wrenches and options, hate the spoke wrenches.

Is it better to be a Jack-of-all-trades-Master-of-none, or incredibly amazing at one skill?

If you’re an indie retail store owner, you’re probably going with Jack. You wear many hats. You have to know your Products well enough to be a competent buyer. You have to understand Retail Math to get your books balanced, keep your inventory in check, and keep the cash flowing. You have to know something about Marketing and Advertising and Public Relations to keep attracting new people. You have to know Human Resources so that you can hire and train a staff to help you run the store. You have to understand insurance and leasing laws and tax rules. You have to know how to manage people, products, and crises.

In fact, you’re so busy playing the role of Jack, you have a hard time getting really good at any single element of it.

That’s the life of an indie retailer. At least that’s what many indie retailers believe. But let’s look at the big picture.

If you play the role of Jack and do everything mildly competent, what do you have? A mildly competent retail store. If, however, you hired someone fantastic at one element, while you were mildly competent at the rest, how would your business look differently? How would that change if you found several people, each with a specific skill you lacked?

Sure, it is a risk to hire someone else and turn over parts of your baby, your business, to that person. At the same time, it is the only way  to grow past mildly competent (and that’s assuming you are mildly competent at all elements of running a store). 

Sure, it is an expense to hire someone else to do a job your’re already doing. At the same time, if they are truly a Master, they will more than pay for themselves by taking your store to the next level. Plus, they will free you up to spend more time getting better at the things you do.

Jack can get the job done, but only a Master will get you to the next level. 

Here’s my challenge to all of you multi-tool Jack retailers out there. Go find a spoke wrench that works incredibly well at truing a wheel. Go find a socket wrench, too. And maybe a fantastic screw driver with a solid head and a perfect grip. Hire someone better than you to do jobs you’re only mildly competent at doing. Then take your free time to become a master at the stuff you’re already pretty good at doing.

Not only will your store grow leaps and bounds, you’ll have a lot more fun running it.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’ve been a Jack most of my life. It is hard to accept that you aren’t great at everything and that more often than not, you are better off getting help from someone better.  Fortunately you do not need a twelve-step plan to break free of this Jack habit. Just two steps will do.

  1. Pick one of your job duties or requirements that you either hate doing, or recognize that you aren’t that great at doing.
  2. Hire someone else that is incredible at doing that particular job or duty and let them do it.

It pays more than it costs.

PPS The key phrase in all of this is “someone better than you” at that particular skill or job. Next post I’ll talk about how to find that person.