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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.

Retail is More Like Football

I am a Detroit Lions fan. There, I said it. That’s the first step to healing, right? I got to watch my Lions play yesterday. Owning a toy store was probably the best thing for this Detroit Lions fan. I never got too invested in their season because I knew I’d be too busy on Sundays in November and December to pay attention to the team. The let down each year wasn’t as bad because of that.

Related imageLast year’s record-setting eight come-from-behind-in-the-fourth-quarter victories was quite exciting, followed by another season-ending debacle all too familiar to die-hard Lions fans. Lots of people want to blame the coach. Others want to blame the now highest paid player in the league, quarterback Matthew Stafford. Some want to blame the organization as a whole. I’m in the latter category.

Although teamwork is important in all of the major team sports, it is at its highest in football. A great goalie in hockey or a mega-star in basketball can change the tide in those respective sports. Baseball is a team sport built almost exclusively around individual actions and talent. But football is truly about eleven guys doing their prescribed job in sync with each other. And even that isn’t enough.

Success in football only happens when the entire organization is in sync and performing at peak. Success happens when the front office brings in the right kind of talent and personality to fit the values of the coaching staff. Success happens when the scouts figure out the best schemes to combat the opponent’s tendencies that also fit with the talent available. Success happens when the coaches are able to teach the players the right schemes and the players are able to execute those schemes.

Individual talent is important, but not the only thing. The Lions had Barry Sanders, arguably the best running back in the history of the game, and still managed to miss the playoffs almost every year.

Retail is far closer to football than the other sports. To be successful you have to have a game plan that not only fits the talent on your team, but also takes into account the talent and tendencies of your competitors. To be successful you need more than just a mega-star, you need a team working together. You might have the best salesperson on the planet, but all her hard work can be undone by an unskilled cashier or dirty restroom. She might not even get to use her skills if your website fails to deliver or the person answering your phones hasn’t been trained.

You can limp through retail with a bunch of mediocre 8-8 seasons, and even earn a living doing it. For some, that is enough. For those of you reading this blog, that isn’t enough. You want to taste the champagne.

So let me ask you …

  • Are you putting in the same kind of effort a football team puts into the scouting of new talent?
  • Are you studying your competition to help you create game plans for how you will beat them?
  • Are you hiring coaches (managers) who can teach your game plan to your team?
  • Are you evaluating your game plan on a regular basis?
  • Are you evaluating your talent and their ability to execute your game plan on a regular basis?

All football teams do this. The ones that do it best win divisions, win playoff games, win Super Bowls. Your competitors are doing this. When people talk about working “on” your business instead of “in” your business, those bullet points are the place for you to start.

Huddle up. Your season is upon you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the coming weeks I will give you concrete actions you can do for all five of those bullet points. In the meantime, start figuring out what you need to do to give you more time on than in. You’re going to need it (and it will definitely pay off).

Handling the Unruly and Rude

I was talking with some fellow retailers at a trade show recently and the discussion came around to the perceived higher level of rudeness and unruliness among customers. I say “perceived” because everyone felt it, but no one had actually measured to know if it truly was more than before. Our guts said “more” but it could also be that we were more sensitive to it. It could also be that those who were rude were no larger a crowd, just louder.

While there are many theories why there might be more rudeness and unruliness in the world, we felt it best to focus instead on how to diffuse the angry, rude customers when they showed their ugliness. One thing became clear in our conversation …

When you answer rudeness with rudeness you get more of the same. 

It is entirely justifiable to treat rude people the way they treated you. But it doesn’t make things better. It doesn’t even feel good to you except for a fleeting moment. More often it just escalates the situation. An eye for an eye and everyone goes blind.

At the same time, simply ignoring it doesn’t help either. When a customer treats you or your staff with extreme rudeness, you have to stand up for yourself and your team, otherwise you are condoning that behavior. How you stand up for yourself, however, can make or break the relationship you have with that customer.

Understand that rudeness often comes from ignorance, entitlement, or someone simply having a bad day and taking it out on you. Rarely is it intentional and done specifically to harm you. More often the person being rude doesn’t even recognize it.

Here is the phrase I found most helpful when confronting a rude customer …

“I’m sorry. Is there something wrong?”

This puts the burden on the customer to explain her behavior. Often this question is all it takes to turn that behavior around, especially if their rudeness comes from having a bad day.

Sometimes they do have a problem and this question gives them the space to air their complaint. Having someone listen to their complaint is another quick way to end rudeness and unruliness. Most people just want to feel that they are being heard.

Sometimes their problem is legitimate. They have a real reason to be unhappy. If that is the case, follow up with this question …

“I’m sorry. What can I do to make it right?”

Over my twenty-four years of retail I have asked that question dozens of times. Never once has a customer asked for more than what I was already willing to do to make it right. Not once. More often than not their answer was far less than I planned to do.

Notice how both of those questions address the behavior without stooping to similar behavior? Both of those questions get to the root of the rudeness, whether it comes from ignorance, entitlement, or just having a bad day. Both of those questions put the burden on the customer to justify his or her actions in a non-confrontational way.

I have asked those questions of some of my favorite and best customers. I could have just “fired” them and told them to take their rudeness elsewhere. Instead I treated them with dignity and kindness without letting them get away with their behavior. Their behavior changed and it paid off huge in the long run.

You can debate all you want on whether there is more rudeness, whether we are more sensitive to rudeness, or whether the rudeness just seems to stand out more.

Me? I’m more interested in finding tools that work to diffuse difficult situations when they arise and turn unhappy customers into evangelists for your brand. I hope you are, too.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Those two questions work in many situations beyond retail. Try them and see what happens. I believe you will be pleasantly surprised at the results.

PPS I have only asked one person to never set foot in my store again because of rudeness, and he was a sales rep.

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.

When the Boss Plays Favorites

I spent the summer of 1992 working for the Los Angeles Unified School District teaching team building and leadership skills to inner-city kids. It was one of the most meaningful and wonderful jobs I’ve ever held.

Part of it was the difference we were able to make in the lives of these kids. Part of it was the camaraderie of our team.

Dana, our fearless boss, had a style I have tried to emulate ever since. He treated everyone on the team equally. He gave everyone an equal chance to do the jobs. He gave everyone a fair shake at learning the roles we had to play. He never played favorites with any of us.

Image result for playing favoritesBelieve me when I tell you it is hard not to play favorites. As a leader, you tend to rely on one or two team members you know you can trust. You give them the better shifts. You give them the better duties. You forgive them quicker.

The problem with playing favorites, even if done unintentionally, is that it destroys morale on the team. Your staff sees it when it happens. Those that aren’t the favorites will either resent it or resign themselves to not feeling any need to improve.

Here are some ways Dana kept from playing favorites.

He made us all feel special. Dana went out of his way every day to praise everyone on the team both privately and publicly. He made sure you knew what you were doing well. He made sure everyone knew what you were doing spectacularly. That constant praise, especially in front of the group, of everyone meant that he valued us all equally.

He gave us all equal treatment in job assignments. Everyone got to lead. Everyone got the “shit detail.” Everyone got support roles. While it might be easiest to give all the solos to the best singer, Dana’s job was to turn us all into the best. He made sure we all got the chance to shine.

He was honest and honorable in his words. There was nothing he ever said to any of us that could not be repeated. He told us straight up when we screwed up (and made sure we learned from our mistakes). He only spoke in positive terms of growth and learning. He never gossiped.

If you’re playing mind games with your team; if you’re keeping secrets within and from your team; if you’re gossiping about team members to other team members, you’re creating a culture of favoritism. Take it from Dana. If you want a crack team from top to bottom, you need to keep favoritism off the table.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you only feel like you can do one thing, do the first one listed above. Make every single individual on your team feel special and important and noticed. Praise them constantly both publicly and privately. You will change the culture almost instantly.

PPS I am a big believer in the ideal of “best players play”. Retail isn’t little league where everyone gets a medal for participation. But it also isn’t the Major Leagues where you better be ready when you get there. Your job as manager is to teach people up and get them all to play like all-stars. When Dana gave us activities to lead, he first made sure we had the skills to lead.

The Scary Truth of Averages

“Have you ever noticed that everyone wants to be normal but no one wants to be average?” -Roy H. Williams

Did you hear the one about the statistician that drowned in a river with an average depth of three feet?

Image result for averagesIn business, everyone wants to know the averages, the average cost of rent, the average sales per square foot, the average level of inventory, etc. Averages are interesting. They can be a nice benchmark, but they can also be misleading, and sometimes downright dangerous.

Take, for example, average inventory at cost (a number you should all be tracking). If you were an average toy store doing around $500,000 a year in sales, your average inventory at cost would be around $100,000. But if you are that same toy store, your Thanksgiving to Christmas sales will likely be around $200,000, or pretty much all of your inventory if you only had the average on hand. As nice as it would be to sell to the walls, so-to-speak, you know you can’t sell it all. You also know you need some inventory in January for birthdays and post-Christmas.

Just trying to keep your store at the average will kill your holiday sales. You’ll need a lot higher inventory to start the busy season and much lower inventory the rest of the year. Rarely will you ever have the “average” amount of inventory on hand.

Another problem with that average is that $100,000 worth of toys looks a whole lot different in a 2,200 square foot store than it does in a 1,100 square foot store.

The bigger the store, the more creative you may need to be with your merchandise to keep the store looking stocked and full. The smaller the store, the more creative you may need to be with your merchandise to fit it all in. Sometimes your store space dictates your inventory levels more than just sales or industry averages.

Averages are a nice starting point, but it is worth exploring all the reasons you might deviate from the average, and be okay with those reasons.

For instance, my payroll at Toy House was a significantly higher percentage of our expenses than the average toy store. But I could afford that because my rent was significantly lower. Our sales per square foot was extremely low compared to the average, but that was because we had wide aisles to allow for shopping carts, four cash registers lines, a large gift-wrapping area, and a stage with seating/playing area—in other words, a lot of square footage not used for showing merchandise. Our average ticket, thanks to shopping carts and toy demos however, was significantly higher. Each deviation from the norm was on purpose and with a purpose.

I do many talks about the financials of independent retailers. Whenever possible I try to use an average store for that industry. But I remind everyone in attendance that these numbers are average and they should be striving to be spectacular. If all your numbers are average, you haven’t found the place to stand out and make a name for yourself.

In retail, there isn’t a prize for being normal.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The upside to averages is that they give you a quick check of the health of your business. If you have a number way off from the averages and you don’t know why, that might be a good place to focus your time and energies on changing. The downside is that you don’t ever want to be an average store. You are destined for greater than that.

PPS Rent per square foot and sales per square foot go hand in hand. You need to be selling at least 10x more per square foot than what you pay in rent (if your profit margin is around 50%). That’s a far better benchmark than average rent or average sales per square foot for your industry. Those averages tell you nothing.

Don’t Get Stuck in Irons

As I tell my sailors every morning, we cannot control the wind, but we can control the direction of our boat and the trim of our sails. Time and time again we talk about how sailboats cannot sail directly into the wind, only at angles to the wind. When your boat is pointing directly into the wind, it is called being in “irons” because you feel shackled and cannot move forward.

Image result for sailboat in ironsYoung sailors learn quickly, however, that they have to turn the boat through irons to get from one angle to another to go upwind. To turn successfully, they have to fully commit to the turn. Make a gradual or wishy-washy turn and they risk getting stuck in a position where they cannot move forward.

In fact, one of the commands we shout during turning is, “Hard to the lee!” which means the helmsman must push the tiller hard to the leeward side of the boat to make the boat turn. We don’t say, “Easy to the lee,” or, “Gradually to the lee.” The command is “Hard!” Commit fully to the turn and do it hard and fast.

That lesson applies to your business as well. If you need to change your business—maybe change the way you are advertising, or change the way you are hiring, or change the way you are pricing, or change the way you service your customers—the best way to make that change is hard and fast. Commit fully to the change and get it done.

When sailboats turn fast, they do tip a little. Smart sailors are prepared for this and use it to their advantage to keep their boat speed up. When you make hard, fast changes, your business will tip a little. If you have prepared well for the change, you’ll be back up to speed quickly.

If you try to make a gradual change, however, you’ll get stuck halfway between the old way and the new way. You’ll give the employees and customers who hate change (no matter how necessary) more time to build up their defenses against it. You’ll be stuck in irons, unable to complete the change and move forward.

You cannot control the economy, but you can control the direction your business is facing and how you operate it. When it comes time to make a change, pick a direction and go there hard and fast.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Change is not easy. Even in sailing I teach my kids to first commit hard to one direction and don’t change directions until necessary. We also plan our changes well in advance. Take all the time you need to plan your change so that when you start the change, you can make it hard and fast. The better you plan, the more smoothly it will happen. I spent most of 2005 and part of 2006 planning a new layout for our store. We were able to move every single product and every single shelving unit in a 30,000 sq ft store including the location of our six cash registers in just three days. In other words … Plan Slow and Change Fast. That’s how you keep a sailboat and a business humming along.

PPS Sometimes the wind changes directions and you find your boat stuck in irons without warning. The faster you notice, the easier it is to adjust your boat and get unstuck. Sometimes the economy or the industry or the traffic changes. The faster you notice, the easier it is to adjust your business and get unstuck.

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.

Some Things Change, Some Things Shouldn’t

I saved one item from the Toy House when we closed. One item that had endured the entire 67 years of our existence. One item that had served one single purpose, unchanging, for the store’s entire life. It was the metal box we used to hold our layaway cards. If you ever had a layaway at Toy House, your name was on a card in that box.

The cards changed over the years. We updated them with different logos. We went to duplicate paper when our printers changed. We added services to our layaway program. We even made a major point-of-sale software provider change the way their programming did layaway so that it matched our level of service.

The layaway program changed, but the box remained the same.

Any business that has been around ten or more years knows how drastically business can change. For most retailers, your product changes every year, sometimes several times a year. Your marketing changes as your market changes. Employees come and go. Customers come and go.

But change is scary. That is why we cling to the known. We hold onto what we remember. We defend the status quo. We use marketing that worked before even if it isn’t working now. We sell products long past their peak. We hold onto employees long past their usefulness.

The layaway box reminds me of one simple truth. When something you are doing is no longer productive, you need to change it. The box did its job quietly, efficiently, and unassuming. The layaway program, however, went through many changes to accommodate the needs of the customers.

Here is your summary of what should change in your store …

Never Change: Your Core Values, Putting Your Customer First

Don’t Change Now: Anything that is productive and efficient

Change Now: Everything else

Change doesn’t have to be major. Sometimes you just need a little tweak here or there to raise the productivity and efficiency of a program or policy or employee. Paint a wall. Try a new product line. Change the terms of a policy. Move a display or two. Upgrade the phone system. Reprint signs. Reword your phone message. Add a new training program.

Notice also that I didn’t say eliminate. Just like you, your customers like what is familiar and comfortable. Make your changes simple, customer-centric, and obviously better for everyone. It will still feel familiar and comfortable, only better and more productive. As credit cards became more common, our layaway program became less used. We tweaked it to fit the needs of those who still loved it, without getting rid of it entirely.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS The accompanying photo was taken in 1957 at the original store on First Street. That is my grandfather, Phil Conley, who founded Toy House. The layaway box is in the foreground and pretty full. Grandpa taught me a lot about Core Values and Putting Your Customer First.

PPS I don’t know what I am going to do with that box quite yet. I’m open to suggestions.