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The Power of the Smile Story

Every staff meeting started with “Smile Stories”, moments since the last meeting when we did what we set out to do and made the customer smile. Some of my staff wrote notes to themselves to remember all the stories. Others wrote notes to each other to remind them of their stories. At some meetings we spent three or four minutes sharing stories. At other meetings we spent ten or fifteen minutes. I never capped the time on this part of the meeting. It was too important.

Toy House Character Diamond and Core Values
The Toy House Character Diamond – our Core Values that drove our business.

The Smile Stories served multiple purposes.

First, they kicked off the meeting on a positive note. When you open a meeting with good news, it makes the people in attendance more open to listening and sharing. When you open with bad news you put people on defense and they clam up. So always start your meetings with something to celebrate.

Second, the Smile Stories got everyone into a sharing mood. If your meeting is simply for the purpose of telling people something, don’t meet. Send out a memo or an email. The reason you bring people together to meet is to allow for give and take, back and forth, engagement with your audience. Our Smile Stories got the staff engaged and talking early on, which always led to more engagement when we got into the training segment of the meeting.

Third, the Smile Stories reinforced our purpose. Our stated purpose for Toy House was, “We’re here to make you smile.” When we celebrated Smile Stories, it was clear to the staff why we were there and what we were supposed to do.

Fourth, the Smile Stories reinforced the training the staff had already received. When we shared stories of how we made customers smile, we were using concrete examples from which others could learn. Often the staff would even mention how a technique we discussed at a previous meeting worked well for them. Often within a story I would find a teachable moment that I could use to strengthen what we were already learning.

The first step for making your meetings with your team better is to figure out your “Smile Stories”. Find that and you will see your meetings, training, and productivity start to rise.

I’ll be covering this and a whole bunch of other tools for making your meetings something your staff looks forward to attending at the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop on April 26th. Looking forward to seeing you there.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Stories are more memorable than facts and figures. My new book coming out later this spring cites numerous studies that show how we remember the feelings we get from stories as if we lived them ourselves. Stories are also better teachers. It is no surprise Jesus spoke in parables. We learn best by example. Stories are concrete examples of abstract principles and ideas. We’ll also be covering the power of the story in this workshop.

 

What is Your Food Name?

My father is 100% Polish. My mother is mostly English. For about three straight years, however, I was Italian. Everyone called me Phil Pepperoni. No it wasn’t because of my fondness for a certain doughy, saucy, meaty culinary delight. No it wasn’t because I was extra cheesy (okay maybe a little). It was because of a game I played at the start of every group I ever worked with in a Team Building situation.

It was a simple name game. We stood in a circle and each person had to come up with a food that started with the first letter of their first name. I would always start by calling myself Phil Pepperoni. The trick here was the person to my left had to say my name and food and then his or her own name and food. The next person started with me, then the person to my left, and then their name and food so on and so forth until the person on my right had to try to remember every single name (and food) in the entire circle.

This game was a great ice breaker that worked to set the tone on many levels.

First, it helped me get to know all their names. If they didn’t know each other, it helped them get to know everyone’s names, too. Names are powerful. Calling someone by their name creates a stronger bond that helps people learn to trust each other.

Second, it forced people to be creative. Since we were going to be talking and thinking and being creative throughout the day, getting them talking and thinking and being creative right off the bat made it easier as the day went on. Some people really have to be creative in this game, especially if your name is Xavier or you are the fourth Kristen in the circle. (Think about it.)

Third, it gave people a chance to shed an old image and start a new persona. On an established team there are already roles and perceptions and labels that inhibit true teamwork. By giving yourself a new name, you get to shed the other labels and be seen in a different light. Instead of being Fred the Whipping Boy, you get to be Fred Filet Mignon.

Fourth, it taught lessons such as the power of repetition. No one forgot the food name of the person to my left because everyone in the circle had to say it. But the person on my right had to work hard to keep her food name on everyone’s minds.

Fifth, it taught the power of listening instead of just waiting to speak. Many times people would be so focused on what they were going to say that they forgot to listen to the person who went just before them.

Sixth, it got people to laugh. Strong emotions such as laughter help ideas become stickier in our brains. The moments we remember in our lives almost always are associated with strong emotions of Love, Laughter, Hope, Gratitude, Fear, or Anger. I have had people run into me years after doing a Team Building event and immediately say. “Hi Phil Pepperoni!” 

Seventh, it helped identify who were the leaders in the group who paid attention, remembered names, and helped others out. Plus it helped identify who needed to be coaxed into doing things, who had discomfort in group settings and discomfort in being in the spotlight and would need extra attention to make sure they didn’t get trampled throughout the day by more powerful personalities.

Eighth, it gave people a reinforcement of the team building lessons when everyone got back to the office. One manager told me people were still using their food names months later. Another told me that they finally had a great way to tell Michelle Maple Syrup apart from Michelle Mango apart from Michelle Mustard apart from Michelle Minestrone.

And you thought it was just a silly game to learn their names.

-Phil Pepperoni (Wrzesinski)
www.PhilsForum.com

PS We’ll be playing this game and whole bunch of other games, plus learning how to lead them and use them to build a stronger team at the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop on Wednesday, April 26th. This is a Jackson Retail Success Academy™ event in association with Spring Arbor University for anyone who manages three or more people. There are still spaces available.

Talent, Practice, and Luck

One day I would love to go to The Masters in Augusta, GA. I have watched it on TV so many times that I know every green instantly before the announcers even tell me the hole. I love golf. Love to play it, love to watch it. Especially this tournament.

These guys are amazing!

Image result for the masters

I have played golf all my life. I know it takes three things to be successful at golf – Talent, Practice, and Luck. Then again, you can say that about pretty much everything.

Talent in business is the skills you hire.

Practice is the training and preparation you offer.

As the Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Unfortunately many businesses, especially retailers, think the only preparation they need to offer is training for new hires. That would be the equivalent of trying to play The Masters after six weeks of golf lessons. Not enough preparation for the opportunity.

That’s why part of the focus of the SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS workshop I’m offering on April 26th includes creating an ongoing training program to help your staff be better prepared for the opportunities that arise. Talent alone won’t win the day. Experience alone won’t make you lucky.

If you manage three or more people, this workshop will bring you the kind of luck that wins major championships. Sign up today!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I would take tickets to a future Masters golf tournament as barter for my services. I already know where I would stay and what I would do on the course.

The Team, The Team, The Team

If you know me well, you know I’m a Wolverine. Been one since the day my grandfather took me to The Big House at seven years old. It was the only university I applied to attend. If you know the University of Michigan and follow their football team, you’ve heard the immortal words of the late, great football coach Bo Schembechler, “The Team, The Team, The Team,”

Heck, if you’re a sports fan of any team, whether it is women’s gymnastics or men’s lacrosse or anywhere in between, you understand the power of teamwork and cooperation and working together as one unit. Ask any coach in America and they’ll take amazing teamwork over individual stardom every day.

Image result for bo schembechler the team

Why is teamwork that is so important on the playing field so neglected in the workplace?

I used to work on a team for the Los Angeles Unified School District. There were five of us on the team and each week we worked with inner-city LA teenagers at the Clear Creek Outdoor Education Facility in the Angeles National Forest north of the city. We did team building exercises with these kids. We taught them about nature and an outdoors they rarely experienced back home. We had bears foraging our dumpster, snakes slithering under our cabins, and coyotes howling at the moon.

And we had a Team.

At our staff meeting before each group arrived, we discussed who would lead each activity. That was the only person assigned any task. It was naturally assumed that the other four people would do everything else to support the activity and make sure the entire event was successful.

Now, on some teams, this might be a recipe for disaster. If something doesn’t get done, there would be plenty of people to step up and say, “Not my job.” The NMJ’s are killers to productivity and morale.

On our team, because we were hyper-focused on the experience we offered these adolescents, that was never the case. If one of us saw a job undone, we did it. Period. Everything was our job. There was never any resentment because we all had each other’s back and we all had the overall success of our guests as our goal. It was the most amazing work experience of my life, one I still think about to this day.

What made the difference?

When we weren’t leading team building exercises with the kids we were doing team building exercises with each other. We were all experienced at leading these exercises so we spent the summer creating new exercises to try with the kids. We tried them out with each other first. Our leader, Dana (he was a top-level college wrestler in the ’80’s, would love to find him again but I can’t remember his last name), worked with us all the time on communication, cooperation, problem-solving and trust – the core elements of any team building.

It made a difference for us. More importantly, it made a difference for our students (customers, clients, guests…).

This is why I am leading the all-day workshop SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS here in Jackson on April 26th. I want to teach you Team Building skills so that you can build your team to this level.

If you manage three or more people, you have a team. That team needs a foundation in teamwork that you can bring to the table through what you train and how you train. This workshop will show you how to do it the right way.

Space is limited. Sign up today!

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Our team disbanded when the LA Unified school teachers went on strike in October 1992. When we headed down the mountain after our last group, we didn’t know it would be the last time we saw each other. I headed back to Michigan and joined a new team that was as dysfunctional as my previous team had been functional. The difference? Leadership. Be your team’s Leader by learning how to build your Team.

Spotlight on Managerial Success – The Class!

You’ve hired a manager. Someone to help you run the day-to-day operations of your business. Someone to be in charge when you aren’t there. Someone to handle personnel issues and make sure all the tasks like stocking, straightening, cleaning, and serving the customers gets done. Someone to schedule (and train) the staff. Someone to give you the free time to do your jobs of buying inventory and drawing traffic and crunching numbers and plotting strategy.

You want a manager who is Reliable, Hard-Working, and Decisive.
You want a manager who is Compassionate, Empathetic, and Service-Oriented.
You want a manager who can build a Team, Communicate Effectively, Teach and Resolve Conflicts.

They have to bring some of those skills to the table. That last line of skills can be taught.

Here is the program I have designed to teach those teachable skills to you and/or your managers.

First we’ll start off the morning by doing some Team Building exercises, both to break the ice, and to show you how to incorporate such exercises into your training programs. You’ll learn a handful of activities you can run yourself, including how to choose the right activity for the level of your group, the steps necessary to build a team the right way, and the techniques used to apply the lessons from the activities to the actual workplace. This is the stuff big corporations pay big bucks for. This is the stuff I did almost exclusively in the late 80’s and early 90’sand incorporated into all my staff trainings over the years at Toy House.

Second, we’ll spend some time doing Communication exercises that help you become a better listener and a better, more clear communicator. You’ll learn how to make yourself easier to understand, how to persuade people to see your point of view, and how to get your directions followed more precisely. Poor communication is most often the cause of breakdowns of teams. It starts with you. Get this right and you have won more than half the battle.

That will get us to lunch. We’ll take a break.

After lunch we’ll delve into identifying and fixing problems. You’ll learn how to settle Conflicts between staff members that makes everyone feel valued. You’ll learn how to get others to buy-in to your philosophies and ways of doing things. (You’ll learn skills that top FBI negotiators use to always get their way even while creating a win-win situation.) Plus, you’ll learn how to keep your team motivated to do their best work. Here’s a big hint – money is not the only or even the best motivator. In fact it ranks fourth. You’ll learn the other three in this class.

Finally, you’ll design your own training programs both for new hires and for continued training & development of your current team. You’ll learn skills that help you Teach in a way that everyone remembers. Some people are born to teach. Others have to learn. You can learn.

If you are the owner and you have a manager…

Ask yourself how much time you would save having a manager trained in those skills.
Ask yourself how many headaches you would save having a manager trained in those skills.
Ask yourself how much money you would save having a manager trained in those skills.
Ask yourself, would you be willing to give up your manager for just one day to save all that time and money and headaches?

The first SPOTLIGHT ON MANAGERIAL SUCCESS class will be in Jackson, MI on Wednesday, April 26 from 8am to 4pm.

Because this is the inaugural class, the regular price of $250/business has been lowered to only $50/person. Yes, only $50/person!

I am offering it through the Jackson Retail Success Academy™ in association with Spring Arbor University. The class will take place in the Hosmer Center for Entrepreneurship at the SAU Downtown Jackson campus. (Take this class and you’ll become a JRSA™ Alumni which gets you discounted pricing on many other JRSA™ offerings.)

Space is limited to the first 18 people to register. Click here to sign up today.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you’re not in Jackson or can’t easily get to Jackson, get in touch and we’ll figure out how to do this training closer to your home.

PPS If you’re not sure if you should take this class, answer this question. Do you manage three or more people? If you said Yes, take this class.

Training for Store Managers

My trip through the malls recently has me wondering… Where is the true breakdown in the staff training? You can start with the store managers since ultimately they are responsible for training the frontline staff, but that begs the question. Are those managers properly trained to be a store manager? In a chain store you could ask the same question of district managers and regional managers all the way up to the top. (In an independent retailer there is only you and/or your store manager – are either of you trained for that role?)

According to the National Retail Federation, there are approximately 3.9 million retail establishments in the United States employing almost 29 million people. If you consider that each one of those stores has either a store manager or an owner/operator working as the manager, that means there are at least 3.9 million people in the United States who have the role of manager (and likely another three or four million assistant managers). 

Hammond Hardware 2015 Jackson Retail Success Academy

What training are you giving yourself or your managers?

Are you training your managers on Communication Skills so that they can better relate to and communicate with the staff?
Are you training your managers on Teaching Skills so that they can better share what they know with the staff?
Are you training your managers on Team Building techniques so that they can create a better team culture?
Are you training your managers on Conflict Resolution so that they can keep harmony on the team without just firing someone every time there is a problem (or worse, just sweeping it under the rug)?

Would you send your manager to an all-day workshop that covered those skills? (Would you attend a workshop like that yourself?)

Managers may or may not be in the position to make the decisions on advertising, hiring and firing, and inventory. But the one thing all managers do is manage people. The “soft skills” like Communication, Team Building and Conflict Resolution are necessary for managers to be successful, but are brutal to learn by trial and error. They need to be taught.

You should be hiring managers who already bring the traits of Compassion, Empathy, Leadership, and a Service Mentality. You can train all the rest.

I am developing a program just for managers that teaches those soft skills. How much would that be worth to your business?

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I’ll be doing this program here in Jackson first to fine-tune it before taking it on the road. Let me know what it would be worth to do such a training in your town.

One Little Problem, One Big Mess

I went down to the basement this Sunday to turn on some lights and make sure it was presentable for a house showing in three hours. It wasn’t. At the bottom of the stairs I encountered a huge puddle of water and a steady drip, drip, drip from the floorboards above. There were only two things that could have put water in that area – the dishwasher and the refrigerator. I turned off the water to both of them and grabbed a mop.

The carpet remnant laying in the area was soaked. All ten by eleven feet had sucked up a fair amount of water. I rolled that carpet up and out of the way and started mopping. I figured if I could get the area clean and dry, I could worry about the source of the leak (which had stopped) later.

It wasn’t until Monday night that I found it. I fixed it with a .40 part from the local hardware store.

A small leak in the supply line to our refrigerator ice maker had dumped an entire bucket of water into our basement and almost derailed a house showing.

Isn’t that the same with business? A little leak can cost you a ton of business.

An employee who isn’t trained and ready for the floor gets shoved out there because of a shortage of staff and through no fault of his own angers the first two customers he faces.

A common problem grows into a huge hassle with Yelp reviews and threats of lawsuits because someone didn’t listen closely enough to the unhappy customer.

A mis-tagged price change upsets a regular customer who quietly becomes an un-regular customer.

A rarely-updated website gives out wrong information that causes a customer to search elsewhere for a product you have.

A Facebook page gives out the wrong hours and a customer stays home even though you were open.

An employee cluster discussing last night’s show misses a customer needing help who doesn’t want to bother the group discussion.

A missed note about being out of copy paper keeps you from printing off the directions to your customer’s favorite game and being her hero.

These are all small leaks, but they can fill a lot of buckets with the missed sales and missing cash. Some say you need to work on the big leaks first. But those are obvious and already get your attention. Keep an eye out for the small leaks, too. Although harder to find, those are easier and quicker to fix and will pay off dividends.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Fortunately, the refrigerator was a cheap and easy fix. Better yet, not knowing if it was the dishwasher or the refrigerator, I found an even smaller leak in the dishwasher that my buddy, Alan, was able to fix before it became a bigger problem. Sometimes it pays to go looking for little leaks and fixing them now before they become big leaks.

PPS When you find a small leak, your first reaction is to do a temporary fix, figuring you’ll get back to it later. Pro tip: you never get back to it later. Fix it right the first time.

Fascinating Interview with Half of Neiman-Marcus

Digging through old files I found a magazine article my dad had buried a few decades ago. It was a gem of an interview with Stanley Marcus of Neiman-Marcus fame. I had to keep checking the date on the article because I swear it could have been written today (other than the fact Stanley Marcus died in 2002 and the age of 96). Here is just one excerpt from the interview…

INC.: Other [retailing] myths?

MARCUS: That stores “own” their customers. Nobody owns anybody anymore. This is show business, folks, and you’re only as good as your last performance. And if it was lousy, shoppers could probably find identical merchandise three doors down in the same mall.

Yeah, Marcus said that in the June 1987 issue of Inc. Magazine. Nineteen frickin’ eighty-seven, thirty years ago, long before eCommerce, back when anyone could make money in retail.

I was in a large mall last Saturday. An incredibly busy mall. The Cheesecake Factory was quoting a four-hour wait for service! There were shoppers everywhere in the hallways, but not so much inside the stores. It was easy to tell why.

I visited nine different stores and only one store greeted me. Four stores asked if they could help me and four stores ignored me completely. Yet many had the exact same merchandise, or at least close enough. The trip almost became comical when an untrained salesman in an over-staffed store with too few customers had me fighting back laughter at his expense because of his poor approach to selling me. I felt bad for him afterwards, knowing that it likely wasn’t his fault. No one had ever trained him the right way to sell his products (or, as in his case, to even know his products).

At least this mall was getting to keep its Macy’s and Nordstrom’s stores (we’ll see how long Sears holds up their anchor position) for what that may be worth.

Mr. Marcus, you see, also predicted the demise of the department store in that interview, pointing out how the discount stores were in a race to the bottom, other retailers were maximizing service and maximizing selection, but in-between were the department stores giving neither the best service nor the best price.

That was true in 1987 and is even more true today. The businesses succeeding today are either the best in service or the best in price (or in some cases, like Costco and Amazon, best at both). Even this busy mall had stores that obviously weren’t reaping the benefits of all the traffic.

Stanley Marcus was quite prescient. If I were you, I’d take his advice. Choose to be the best at service or the best at price and then go about figuring out how to do that.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Being best at price is the easier of the two, but you won’t be in business long. Being best at service is incredibly hard, and also incredibly rewarding, as long as you’re committed to staying the best. You can start by poking around the Customer Service articles on my Free Resources page for some ideas.

The Power of the Network

I went to a networking event a couple nights ago. I knew walking in that the likelihood of picking up a high-paying speaking gig from this event was incredibly low. In fact, the idea that I would be able to pick up any speaking gigs from this event never really entered my mind. I went for one reason, to strengthen my network.

A lot of people have told me over the years that they hate networking events. They never meet anyone who wants to buy from them. Those people, like most people at these events are missing the point.

I bet if you asked a room full of people at a networking event how many were hoping to sell someone, every hand would go up. Then if you asked how many were there to buy something, not a hand would be raised. In fact, I know this is true. A buddy of mine asked those very questions while giving a keynote at a networking event. What he said next was advice I have never forgotten…

“The first one of you ‘sellers’ who changes his or her mindset into being a ‘buyer’ will be the most successful person at this event.”

He wasn’t telling you to actually buy someone’s services, but instead to listen to what they have to offer. Most of us are polite enough to hear someone else’s sales pitch, but we aren’t really listening, just waiting for the moment to jump in with our own pitch. If you go in with the mindset of a buyer, however, you are actively listening and actively thinking through your own databank of people you know who might need this service.

You take that approach and three things will happen…

  1. You will strengthen and enhance your own listening skills which will help you no matter what you’re selling.
  2. You will connect a person you know with a service they need. That’s always a good thing.
  3. You will earn some reciprocity. As soon as you refer someone to a business contact, that business contact will be looking for ways to repay you.

That’s how Networking is supposed to work. Don’t turn your nose up at the next Chamber outing. Try taking a different approach. Try being a buyer in a sea of sellers. It is not only more effective, it is a heck of a lot more fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I only met two new people at the event, but more importantly I reconnected with a lot of people and got up-to-date on what was happening in their businesses. I’ve already made a couple referrals heading their way.

Not My Job

The downside to writing a job description for each position on your staff is that you can never remember to list everything that position needs to do. Something will eventually get left off the list. Or if you do remember everything, the list is so long no one reads it, let alone memorizes it.

I had an experience last night that was clearly the case of, “Not My Job.”

I had a sit-down meal in a fast-food joint. Ordered french fries with my meal. You know the drill in these restaurants. They give you an empty cup and you get your own beverage. Want ketchup for your fries? They have those little paper cups and the big vat of ketchup. Two pumps and you’re loaded.

Except last night.

Somehow they timed it perfectly. There were only two paper cups left at the ketchup stand. I grabbed them both. I was about to tell the gal behind the counter they were out of cups, but as I started filling my cups, the ketchup ran out, too. Both nozzles on either side of the drink dispenser were dry. “You’re out of both ketchup and these little cups,” I said to the young lady.

And I got the look. You know the look. “Why are you telling me? That’s Not My Job.”

Fifteen minutes and several packets of ketchup requested by frustrated customers later and still not a single employee had addressed the issue. Apparently it wasn’t only Not Her Job, it wasn’t her job to tell anyone else about the problem, either.

Do you have any NMJ employees?

Here are two ways to solve that problem…

  1. The first line of any job description, no matter what the position, should read, “Do whatever is necessary to make sure the customer has an awesome experience.”
  2. Only hire people who care.

Our tag line at Toy House was, “We’re here to make you smile.” When new employees ask me their job description, I start with, “Your job is to make customers smile.” Then I show them how to answer the phone, run the register, ask questions, suggest the proper toys, giftwrap packages, offer tips, carry things up front or out to their car, sign them up for the Birthday Club and email newsletters, build a relationship, occupy their child, counsel them, teach them a new game, oh yeah, and sell them stuff.

The second part – hiring people who care – saves you all the hassle of writing up a lengthy job description. Hire someone who cares and they will do whatever it takes to get the job done well. The one thing they don’t care about is whose job it is to get something done. They only care that it got done.

You find those people by asking questions like…

“What do you care about?”
“Tell me a time you went above and beyond what was expected of you…”
“What are your biggest pet peeves?”
“Have you ever done someone else’s job for them?”

Just hiring warm bodies won’t grow your business. I would have written a different blog if the gal had looked me in the eye and said, “I’m so sorry about that. Thank you for letting us know. We’ll get on that as soon as we get a free moment. In the meantime, can I get you some ketchup packets? How many do you need?”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Don’t get me started on the overflowing trash cans or the ten-minute wait for the fish sandwich or the cold apple pies. You can’t afford that kind of help at any minimum wage.

PPS When you decide you want a better staff, buy the book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel. The steps are there for turning your staff into a work of art.