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Are You Managing or Leading?

It dawned on me yesterday as I was writing the post on when to bend the rules, that you first need to be able to teach the rules and why the rules exist. It is that “why” that makes all the difference. It is that “why” that allows your staff to know when the “why” doesn’t apply.

If you go to Google Images and type in “leader versus manager” you’ll get dozens of graphics that all say similar things. One of those things they say is …

“Managers do things the right way. Leaders do the right things.”

I will tell you that not only do you want to be a leader, you want to lead your team to be leaders. You want everyone to do the right things by your customers all the time—even if that means bending the rules.

Especially when that means bending the rules!

Related imageTo do that, you need to do three things.

First, empower them to make decisions on the floor. Give them authority to bend rules as they see fit. Give them the ability to make the call so that they don’t have to constantly go “ask a manager.” Let them say Yes to the customer’s request and then figure out how to do it.

Second, train them to be able to make those decisions. Everyone on your team needs to know the rules, but also the purpose behind the rule and situations when the rule doesn’t apply (because it no longer serves the purpose). If you hire sheep, they’ll follow all the rules and could even be “manager material”, but if you hire compassionate problem solvers who love to help other people, they’ll be leaders once you arm them with the knowledge to know when and how to serve.

Third, encourage them every time they step out and lead. The first time your employee bends a rule to surprise and delight a customer she will be scared. Did she do the right thing? Was that what you wanted? Is she going to get yelled at? Those are normal reactions. How you react makes the difference between whether she bends another rule ever again.

Here is where your leadership comes into play. Chances are pretty good that her first bending of the rules won’t be perfect in your eyes. It won’t be how you would have handled the situation. But if you lead with, “That’s not how I would have done it,” I can promise you she won’t bend any more rules in the future. If, however, you lead with, “That was great to see you making that call! You made a difference for that customer. I might have done it a little different. The next time you do that, keep in mind …”

That second approach not only encourages her to do more, it green lights her to do more because you said, “The next time you do that …” She’ll be so excited, she’ll be looking for the next chance to surprise and delight a customer.

Remember, when it comes to rules …

  • Bend the rules when it will surprise and delight the customer
  • Break the rules if they aren’t customer-centric in the first place.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Most retail chain stores no longer do any serious training for their employees. Oh, they have a sixteen-page manual for how to do things right (especially when it comes to sexual harassment or anything else that might embarrass the company), but nothing about how to surprise and delight a customer. Just because they do it that way doesn’t make it right. If you want to be better than your competition you have to do things differently than the competition. Lead your team and turn even your part-time sales clerks into leaders. Don’t manage them into managers. Not only will your team perform better, you’ll make the world a better place.

PPS The big question is always, “But what happens if I spend all that time training them and they leave?” The better question is, “What if you don’t train them and they stay?”

Pay Yourself a Salary

Twice a month I teach a class for expectant fathers at Henry Ford Allegiance Health W.A. Foote Hospital. Fifteen years ago there was a guy at the hospital who pitched the idea of a class for new dads to show them how to change a diaper among other parenting skills. The hospital scheduled the class and then that guy took a job out of town. They called me because I was teaching classes on baby products at the store and because I had two young boys, both whom had interesting paths into this world.

This two-hour class is now one of my favorite activities each month.

I always start each class with introductions and I remind the guys sitting around the table that I am NOT a medical professional, nor have I ever played one on television. I just happen to be the father of a couple wonderful boys who has an interesting perspective on becoming a dad.

So let me preface this blog post … I am NOT an accountant, tax attorney, or payroll specialist, nor have I ever played those characters on television. I’m just an entrepreneur who has owned several small businesses and tried several different practices to see what worked best.

Image result for salaryToday I want to talk to you about the emotional and practical sides of why you, as a small business owner, should pay yourself a salary.

PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS

When you put yourself on the payroll, it legitimizes your business in the sense that you are working for money. It is no longer just a hobby. Sometimes that move alone will spark a renewed enthusiasm for you to work on growing the business. Sometimes that move will be what the bank needs to see before they loan you money. They want to know whether this is a hobby or a business.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Pay yourself what you would have to pay a manager, knowing that you can also take owner withdrawals from the profits. The top CEO’s at big corporations make a decent salary, but the bulk of those golden parachute deals is in stock options.

BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF YOUR FINANCIALS

When you put yourself on the payroll, you have a far better understanding of your costs. It helps you compare your business to industry benchmarks. It helps you understand just how much money you need to make to be successful.

At the end of the day it is an expense. If you’re on the payroll, it is easier to track that expense.

PEACE OF MIND

There is some peace of mind for getting a check every two weeks (or however often you pay). It helps your personal finances and takes some burden off the financial stresses at home.

MOTIVATION

At the same time there is also some new financial stress at work now because you have to make enough money each month to cover that new expense. This helps you dig down a little deeper to sell more, run a tighter ship or a tighter inventory, or just run a smarter business in general. When you know your expenses, you work a little harder to cover them. When you are only taking a withdrawal if there is profit, you might let a month or two slide.

SOCIAL SECURITY

The federal government does require you to pay into social security to receive social security when you retire. If you have only worked for yourself you might not have enough quarters of paying into the system to be eligible to receive from the system. Talk to your accountant or tax attorney for better advice on this.

PROFIT SHARING

If you are offering any profit-sharing with your employees, but your only source of income is the profit, you’ll be taking a much larger share of that profit than they get, which could cause some grumbling or misconceptions among the staff. If you take a salary, then your share of the profit, while still larger than theirs, won’t seem so astronomically large.

YOU GET PAID

At the end of the day, the main reason for paying yourself a salary is so that you get paid. You deserve to get paid. You’re working your tail off. If you don’t pay yourself a salary, it is easy to also not take a withdrawal because you’re worried about some bills coming up, or construction that just started, or some new equipment you want to purchase, or whether you are reinvesting enough profit back into the business, or, or, or …

There is always something that needs money. You are one of those somethings. You deserve to get paid. When you put yourself on the payroll, that happens. Plus, you find the ways to make all those other payments.

OWNER CONTRIBUTION

Sometimes you will need to give that money back because you don’t have the sales to cover the expense or you need to make that big inventory purchase, or you do have some new equipment you want to buy. Still pay yourself, then make an Owner Contribution back to the business. Talk to your accountant about the pros and cons of doing that.

DISCIPLINE

If you don’t have the discipline to make your quarterly tax payments, or keep solid records of your withdrawals, or keep money saved for taxes, putting yourself on payroll can also help with those issues. I know some people who gladly give more in taxes for the big refund check in April because, even though it isn’t the best use of that money, they know they are no good at saving it.

The bottom line is that you need to pay yourself one way or another. There are some distinct advantages for putting yourself on the payroll and paying yourself a salary each pay period. But like I said, I’m not an accountant or tax attorney. Talk to yours and figure out what will work best for you.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have had several doctors take my Daddy Class over the years. They have given me incredible feedback to make sure what I teach is medically accurate. I would love your feedback from your accountant if they believe anything I have said here is patently false or harmful. Thanks.

PPS Like I said yesterday, you should be making as much or more than your landlord. If rent is around 12%, shoot for at least a 6-7% salary and take the rest through owner withdrawal from profits. If you can get net profits around 10%, then you’ll have plenty to pay yourself and also reinvest in the business.

Roll With the Punches

I picked up my son from summer camp today. He was in the Counselor-in-Training (CIT) program out at YMCA Storer Camps. As I have always done with my boys after a session at camp, Ian and I sat down to talk about the experience right away while it was still fresh in his mind.

After regaling all the experiences, I asked my son what was the one thing he felt he really learned at camp these past two weeks?

“How to roll with the punches.”

Image result for roll with the punchesRolling with the punches is a boxing technique. As a punch is about to land on you, you turn or roll your body away from the blow to lessen the impact. At freedictionary.com they also define it as, “to adapt to setbacks, difficulties, or adversity so as to better manage or cope with their impact on one’s life.”

I’m pretty sure Ian meant the latter definition. His first cabin of kids had a few setbacks, difficulties, and adversity for him and his lead counselor to handle.

For business sake (this is a business blog after all) let’s break that definition down further …

We know what setbacks, difficulties, and adversities are. In business we all have them. Local economic woes, street construction, your favorite line of products suddenly discounted online, a bad review on Yelp, a 20% jump in insurance costs, the landlord wanting to raise rent, a new competitor in town.

You’re never without setbacks, difficulties, or adversity.

The successful boxer rolls with the punches. The successful business “adapts … so as to better manage …” Just like the boxer, you have to anticipate the blows that are coming so that you can adapt to them and lessen the impact.

Street closures? Are you following the news, attending city council and planning meetings, or subscribing to government emails? Are you going to public hearings to not only hear what is being done, but have your voice be heard to find ways to lessen the impact these closures might have on your business?

Insurance costs? Are you working with a good business insurance agent and agency that can shop your account around to find you a better deal or work with you when rates go up to help you be aware more quickly? Are staying on top of all your expenses before they blindside you with a punch to the gut?

Landlord raising rent? Do you see your landlord as an adversary or partner? How would that change the relationship? How much sooner and with better intent would a partner inform you of a rent increase than an adversary?

Local economic woes? Are you measuring your market potential for your community by tracking national sales for your industry combined with local household income and population growth (or decline)?

Got a bad review? Are you actively monitoring social media and sites like Yelp and Google for mentions of your business? Do you have a plan in place for how you respond? Do you know the right questions to ask before you respond?

The successful business owner is rarely blindsided with a gut punch. He sees most hits coming and can roll with those punches. The key is to know that there will always be blows. You know which punches hurt the worst, too. Put a system in place to help you see those punches coming before they land directly on your business, and you’ll know how, “to adapt … to better manage or cope with their impact.”

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Two of the most profitable years in the Toy House’s 68 years of business were in 2009 during the Great Recession, and 2014 as our local economy and market was dying out. Although we took a gut punch in the fourth quarter of 2008, we saw the punches coming in 2009 and 2014 and were prepared for them. I know you already wear a few dozen hats. Being involved in city politics and tracking other numbers that affect your business might not be in your wheelhouse, but they do make a difference in how well you roll with the punches. Only you can decide how many direct hits you can absorb before you’re knocked out.

PPS Every boxer also knows the better you learn to anticipate the blows, the better you can counter-punch, too. That’s how you get ahead in boxing, in business, as a CIT at YMCA Storer Camps, and in life—by anticipating the blows, rolling with the punches, and throwing counter moves.

Here is What Winning Looks Like – Sweetlees Boutique

Sometimes it is easy to talk about the mistakes retailers make and simply caution you to not make those same mistakes. I’d like to share with you a story of an experience that went right. A long-time Toy House customer, my boys’ piano teacher, and dear friend Jen sent this to me. In her words …

“Well, the basic story was this…. you know where it’s going right?

Image result for sweetlees boutique mason miI went to a small locally owned (in Mason, MI) women’s boutique, Sweetlees Boutique. (Because I will tell everyone about how amazing it was, and where to find them—160 E. Ash St, Mason, MI 48854.) The workers were so attentive offering to find you sizing, suggesting things they thought would look good on your body. They were fitting both my mom and I who couldn’t be more different in that department, and they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try. Amazing experience. Both my mom and I purchased something. It was our first time there and we will definitely go back again.”

Let’s unpack that to see what they did so right.

“The workers were so attentive …”

How many times have you been in a retail establishment where you couldn’t even find an employee, let alone one who seemed remotely interested in helping you? The Wall Street Journal just wrote Monday about the dearth of employees in retail stores. Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers since 2008. Think about that number when you’re looking for someone the next time you visit a department store.

Think even harder about that number when you’re making out the next schedule for your store. Are you making a schedule to minimize payroll or maximize sales? If you think of your staff as your greatest expense, you’ll do the former. If you think of your staff as your greatest asset, you’ll do the latter.

“… suggesting things they thought would look good on your body.”

At one time this was the norm in a women’s clothing store. It was the expectation. Anything less and you would be writing a different review. Today it seems new and different and special.

That’s the one good thing you need to understand. The overall bar for customer service has been lowered so far that just doing the things you’re supposed to do will make you stand out in the crowd.

A properly trained and properly motivated staff can do wonders for the way your store is viewed compared to the competition. While everyone is all worried about high-tech this and omnichannel that, going old-school will win the day more often than not.

“… they did a fabulous job, asking questions, and pulling pieces for us to look at or try.”

Once again, a properly trained staff makes a huge difference. This team knew that by asking questions they could get to know the customer better. Getting to know the customer better allowed them to pull better pieces that more closely matched the customers’ needs.

Every customer that walks through your door is there to solve a problem. The problem might be as simple as killing time. It might be as complex as buying the perfect series of gifts for the hardest person on your list. You don’t know the problem until you ask. (And you won’t get the answer you need if you haven’t first made a connection.) This doesn’t come naturally to everyone. You need to train your staff by showing them how, role-playing it, and practicing it. The stores that do that best are the stores that are winning.

“Both my mom and I purchased something.”

You have a lot of hurdles to overcome to get a sale from a first-time visitor. You have to make her feel comfortable. You have to figure out the problem she is solving. You have to present her with a valid solution. You have to overcome her hesitations and objections. You have to make her want the solution more than she wants her money. All of those are actual steps in a process. One misstep and it’s a no sale.

We call it browsing because many times customers want to go into a new store just to get a feel for the place. No pressure to buy, just a scouting trip to see if they like it. Sometimes you get lucky and they fall in love with a product by accident. That isn’t selling. That’s clerking. Anyone can do that.

If your sales team is waiting for the customer to come up to you, many of them won’t and you’ll have lost out. If your sales team hasn’t made a connection, unless she falls in love with a product by accident, she won’t be back, either. That’s on you.

“… we will definitely go back again.”

That, my friends, is what winning looks like. Bravo to Sweetlees Boutique. Bravo! Thank you, Jen, for sharing that story with us all.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS In the same message, Jen told me about another retail experience that didn’t end so well. I’d rather leave on a high note and save that tale for later. If you have story of someone doing it the right way, please share. Send me an email or find me on LinkedIn.

Policies for the Minority Hurt the Majority

The date for your annual family picnic has been set. You’re bringing your famous corn casserole. Your mom knows you’re bringing your famous corn casserole. She looks through the coupons from the local and Detroit Sunday papers and finds they both have the same coupon for your number one ingredient. She clips them for you. You also clip both coupons from your copies of the Sunday papers and head out to the store.

You get to the checkout line with your four identical coupons from the newspaper only to be told you can’t use them. The store has a new policy limiting you to only two identical coupons per transaction. You feel like they’re looking at you out of the corner of your eye because you’re trying to cheat them out of an extra fifty cents on a can of corn.

Heck, the time it took you to cut those two fifty-cent coupons probably wasn’t worth it, but now you’re walking out feeling judged, and just a little ticked off that the store has such a ridiculously strict policy for something that seems so innocuous. The cashier, feeling your pain, tried to use the third coupon, but it shut down the register completely and needed a manager’s override which only added to your feelings of shame as you could feel the eyes of everyone else in line behind you judging you as the criminal you appear to be.

Does that sound far-fetched?

That is what has happened at a large, Midwest grocery store chain. Apparently to cut down on extreme-couponers and people printing multiple coupons off the Internet, this large chain has reprogrammed their registers to only allow two of any identical coupon per transaction. Use a third one and the register shuts down. Your only choices in the above scenario is to either cause the people behind you to wait even longer while you make the cashier ring up two cans of corn separately or forego the extra dollar in legitimate savings.

Either way, you feel like crap and are probably thinking you’ll avoid that store the next time you have coupons.

Plus, the store really didn’t change anything. The extreme-couponers are still going where the best deals can be made. If that means they stand in the self-checkout line and ring up thirty seven transactions, then they’ll stand in that line. The money they believe they are saving is worth their extra time (and they don’t care about the people behind them in line.)

The store doesn’t save any money or make their business any better, either. In fact, they slow down the checkout as people with three or more coupons have the cashier do multiple transactions. And unless the coupon is provided by the store itself, the store isn’t saving any money. Jolly Green Giant reimburses them for every coupon plus a little extra for handling.

Most importantly, the store sends a loud and strong message to its customers. We don’t trust you!

Here is where the retailer went wrong …

The retailer saw a tiny percentage of customers taking advantage of a loophole or doing something they just didn’t like. The retailer then enacted a restrictive, me-first policy that negatively affected all of their customers, including the ones who never had any intention of “taking advantage” of the retailer. Those customers were just doing what most would call common sense, using the system in place to save a little money.

As retailers we do that often. We create rules to stop the minority by inconveniencing the majority.

We do it with restrictive return policies. I saw one store that had a 30-day return policy. Period. No exceptions. Remind me not to go Christmas Shopping there before Thanksgiving.

We do it with limits for credit card transactions. (See my recent post on that here.)

We do it with rules. I used to have a rule of certain items we wouldn’t giftwrap for free. When we realized the rule was me-first, we changed it to only restrict items around which the wrapping paper wouldn’t stay (like an assembled tricycle). 

The funny thing is that these restrictive rules never really stop the behavior we intend them to stop.

People who exploit loopholes will exploit loopholes. If you close one, they’ll look for another. Fortunately these people are the exception, not the rule. So treat them like an exception, not the rule.

Set your policies up to be customer-first.

Make your return policy as liberal as possible. If you have one person taking advantage of the situation, deal with that one person. I had a customer bring back fourteen puzzles one year, all because they were missing a piece. As it turns out, I only had fourteen puzzles returned that year. Those fourteen pieces were the only ones out of a million pieces we sold that were “missing.” I pulled the customer aside, explained this fact to her politely and respectfully, and told her she was no longer allowed to return any puzzles.

You may be surprised to know, she continued buying jigsaw puzzles from us.

Make all your rules less restrictive than your competitors. First, very few people will take advantage of you. Second, most of them are still making you money because they are shopping in your store. Third, no one walks out feeling shamed in any way.

Part of the goal of every transaction is to win the right for another transaction. Piss off your good customers and all you’ll have left are those trying to find another loophole to exploit.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, LL Bean just changed their incredibly liberal no-questions-asked-we’ll-take-it-back return policy because of people trying to exploit it. But if you look at it, the new policy is still far more liberal than any of their competitors, still fits their quality-first guarantee, and doesn’t hurt any honest customers in the process.

PPS I’m still trying to understand why this grocer created this new coupon policy. If the coupons were from the brands, the grocer would get reimbursed, so no harm there. If it was because of online coupons being printed multiple times, there are many ways to avoid that issue with today’s technology, or even by going old-school with a really strong legal disclaimer. Either of those would be preferable to being stuck in line behind someone trying to buy seven cans of corn and not understanding why the coupons his sister gave him won’t work.

Hire Me to Be Your Coach

I played the role of Father in The Nutcracker Suite on stage at the Michigan Theatre. I was in eighth grade. It was part of our LEAP class (Learning Experience for Academic Progress). It was a play more than a ballet, although we did have a dance troupe come in and do some dance numbers. I don’t remember much of anything about the play itself. I couldn’t tell you anything about the story, the other characters, or even my performance. About all I remember was I played the role of Father and I loved being on that stage.

Panorama of Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a large crowd
Phil Wrzesinski speaking to a packed house in Grand Rapids, MI

I’ve never really been afraid of standing on a stage in front of people. Oh sure, I had a kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering in my stomach moments before I took the pulpit to do a guest sermon at church. But those butterflies settled down the moment I began to speak.

Whether it is a crowd of 500 at a trade show conference, a group of screaming kids in the dining hall at camp, or a room full of revelers at a brewpub, I love to perform.

That’s why when I began building Phil’s Forum I focused on speaking and presenting, doing workshops and seminars and webinars. That’s what brings me the most joy (and people said I was pretty good at it.) 

But my real goal, my true focus of Phil’s Forum is about YOU. Your success. That’s all that matters.

That is the reason behind all the Free Resources for you to download. That is the reason behind writing over a thousand blog posts for you to consume. That is the reason behind offering all those classes, presentations, workshops, and webinars for you to attend.

That is the reason why you’ll find a new page on my website.

Many of you have contacted me about private, one-on-one consulting and coaching. While I often said yes, I didn’t have a plan in place for how to handle and structure those requests. Nor did I have a firm concept for how I felt I could best work with you.

Until now.

Coach /kōCH/ (noun) An instructor or trainer. A tutor who gives private or specialized teaching.

A Consultant is someone you consult for advice and opinions. A Coach is someone who teaches you how to do what you need to do to be successful.

I am chock full of advice. I give it away freely. You can shoot me an email with a question and it is highly likely I will answer it (for free). If you read this blog regularly then you can probably guess my opinion on a topic before you even ask. Lots of people get paid for their opinions. It always seems a little disingenuous to me. If you make your living that way, you always want to keep your client in a position of needing your opinion. There is almost a built-in need for keeping a client partially in the dark so that they don’t form opinions on their own.

A Coach, however, knows that his role is to teach you something so that you can do it yourself. A coach puts you in the best position to succeed.

I know this is mostly semantics. There are amazing consultants out there who really are more like coaches. They teach. They instruct. They help you grow. They never hold back.

Words, however, are important. Choose the right words and your advertising messages will sparkle. Know which words make up your Core Values and your business will attract the right people. I needed to know which word I wanted to use and why before I could be of best service to you.

I chose the word Coach.

If you want one-on-one, private, specialized instruction to learn how to:

  • Hire Better
  • Train Better
  • Serve Your Customers Better
  • Market Yourself Better
  • Manage Your Inventory Better
  • Manage Your Staff Better
  • Manage Your Cash Flow Better

Let’s get together for an exploratory meeting.

The first meeting is FREE. In that meeting we’ll discuss where you are, what problems you’re facing, what tools you might need to solve those problems, and how best I can help you. After that I’ll send you a few different proposals explaining what I will do, what it will cost, and how we’ll measure success. From there the choice is yours as to how much coaching you want.

While my love is still the stage and I hope to spend as much time there reaching as many people as possible, coaching is the next best way I can help you find your path to success.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Yes, I do coaching remotely. We’ll use phone and email to get the job done. (Or if you want to fly me out to meet face-to-face, I’ll let you do that, too. The best way to get me to town is to convince your local Chamber or DDA to hire me for a presentation and have them pay my way.)

PPS One thing I will ask of any client who wants my coaching services is for you to know your Core Values. You can download the new, updated worksheets here.

PPPS Yes, you can hire me to do stuff for you, too. I’ll run a Team Building event. I’ll write your Hiring ads. I’ll write your advertising messages. I’ll teach your staff how to sell. I’d rather teach you how to do those things yourself, though. That’s what serves you best in the long run.

Is the Retail Apocalypse Upon Us?

You have to be older than me to remember Shopper’s Fair. That was the first store that, back in the early 1960’s, was going to put my grandfather out of business. They were gone before I was old enough to spend my first dime. I do, however, have memories of Woolworth’s downtown and Montgomery Ward at Westwood Mall. I remember walking through Montgomery Ward, marveling at how big the store seemed. (I hadn’t yet been to Macy’s in Manhattan.)

Shopper’s Fair, Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward are gone. Each because of their own individual circumstances. Here is a list going around the Internet these days of current closures and stores struggling in retail.

Businesses often cite a variety of reasons for closing:

  • Poor Economy
  • Changes in Industry
  • Unfair Retail Landscape Slanted Against Them

The reality is that most closures happen because of a Lack of Cash Flow. 

When the money quits coming in, the stores don’t have the money to pay the bills, don’t have the money to replenish the shelves, don’t have the money to invest in technology, upgrade the infrastructure, or train the employees. Lack of cash starts a downward spiral that is hard to escape.

More often than not, that Lack of Cash Flow happens because of Bad Management. Bad management of:

  • Employees—no training on how to relate to today’s customers, build the relationships that matter, and make the sale
  • Inventory—old merchandise, too much merchandise, too little merchandise, the wrong merchandise
  • Change—not adapting quickly enough to the changes in the industry (All industries change. Some disappear. There is a distinction.)
  • Goals and Vision—not having a clear view of where you want to be today and where you are going tomorrow

Many stores have found ways to thrive in an unfair retail landscape slanted against them. Many stores have found ways to navigate the changes in their industry and customer base. Many stores have found ways to thrive (or at least survive) in poor economies. 

Bob Phibbs, aka The Retail Doctor, posted an amazing blog about the experience (or lack thereof) in music stores today that addresses the first bullet point above. As a singer and mediocre guitar player, I can relate to everything in his post. This is a problem abundant in retail right now, and one that can be easily addressed. Amazon isn’t winning customers so much as brick & mortar stores are losing customers. Go read it right now.

It will be the best thing you read this month.

Overall, retail is growing. The stores in the meme above are losing market share to their competitors because management hasn’t trained them well, positioned them well, or managed their resources well.

Is the Retail Apocalypse upon us? I don’t think so. Stores open. Stores close. Just ask Shopper’s Fair, Woolworth’s and Montgomery Ward.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I have seen the above meme used by the left to lay the blame for these closures at President Trump’s feet in much the same way many on the right tried to hang everything bad around President Obama’s neck for eight years. I have news for you. None of these closures are because of who is president or what the president has done. They would have happened under Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, you, or me.

PPS Yes, my store was a victim of cash flow problems. Our market share didn’t change, but our local market did. Because of shrinkage in population, household income, and the average money spent on toys, our market in 2016 was only 53% of what it was in 2007. Our store was too big for our economy. We could have shrunk it down to fit, but we wouldn’t have been the store you remembered. We chose to close instead (a choice discussed in the boardrooms of every one of those companies listed above). With Toys R Us closing, many have asked if I will reopen. Unfortunately, the market hasn’t improved enough to justify reopening.

The Final Word on Meetings

I’ve had the pleasure to serve on a few different boards of directors for both non-profit and for-profit organizations. All the meetings start the same. Someone will call the meeting to order, take a roll call, and then ask for approval of last month’s minutes.

At this point everyone reaches for the minutes that were printed and laid out on the table. Some of us had printed a copy of the minutes we got in our email the night before. We quickly scan those minutes for errors and corrections, while trying to remember what was discussed and assigned at the last meeting.

I’ve read these last-second minutes on occasion only to find I had agreed at the previous meeting to do something but never wrote myself a note. Talk about embarrassing.

I don’t blame the secretaries of these boards. As I said, I’ve served on several boards that work this way. They all would have the secretary send out an agenda and the minutes from the previous meeting the night before the next meeting. Everyone did it this way so it must be the right way, right?

Unfortunately it is the wrong way.

We’ve already discussed the three reasons for having a meeting

  • To share information with the team
  • To collect information from the team
  • To teach the team something new

I’ve shared with you how to share information, how to collect information, and how to teach something new.

There is one more critical element for making your meeting a true success. It is what you do immediately after the meeting has ended.

ACTION STEPS

You can call it the Minutes or the Summary or the Recap or the Assignment Page or the To Do List. The most important thing you can do after your meeting ends is type up everything that was discussed including all the assignments everyone was given and all the action steps everyone is to take and immediately post it and send it to your team.

Immediately.

While it is still fresh.

Before there are any questions about who said what or who agreed to do what.
Before anyone starts doing something wrong because they heard it wrong in the meeting.
Before anyone forgets what was just discussed.
Before anyone sinks back into the bad habits you just tried to correct.
Before you look at your own email or return that phone call that came in while you were meeting.

You need to think of this step as being a part of the meeting. Even though the assembly is gone, the meeting hasn’t ended until you’ve posted these notes.

This is a revelation I came to later in life. I wish I had thought of this earlier. It would have saved some embarrassing moments for several members on the boards I served (including myself). It would have reinforced lessons I was teaching in our meetings. It would have given those who learn better by reading than by seeing or hearing, another opportunity to fully understand the lesson. It would hold people accountable for the tasks they were assigned to do.

When you plan your next meeting, plan an extra fifteen uninterrupted minutes after you have dismissed the team to write and post your recap. Include in your recap:

  • What was learned
  • Why it was important
  • When and where it happens
  • How it applies to the job
  • Who is responsible for what

Heck, if you plan your meetings well, you can write up half of this beforehand.

Do this one thing and you’ll see the effectiveness of your meetings increase exponentially.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS I only served on one team where the minutes were distributed immediately after the meeting. Looking back, that team was one of the more fun and functioning teams on which I have served. Everyone was involved. Everyone was prepared. Everything else worked roughly the same as any other board or team. The difference was the follow-through. We were all on the same page, the printed page that we got about an hour after the meeting.

PPS Here is the Staff Meeting Planner I used for creating our meetings. When you look at the check box of things to do on the right, that last box says “Action List Completed”. Make that your favorite box to check and you’ll turn your team into rock stars.

Collecting Information the Right Way – Brainstorming

(Note: this is a continuation from the blog post “Why Have a Meeting in the First Place?”)

Back in 2011, after seeing me do the presentation Main Street Marketing on a Shoestring Budget at the 2010 Michigan Downtown Conference, I had a corporate sponsor sending me to do the same presentation for several downtowns across the state. It was during one of these presentations where I learned the acronym STP.

Same Ten People.

As the Main Street Program was being developed and launched in several Michigan communities, one element that made it attractive was how it involved several people to make it work. Most communities had the STP’s that did all the work, served on all the committees, and were the most vocal about everything that was happening. The Main Street Program got more people involved which gave more feeling of ownership to the community as a whole.

You can probably name the STP’s in your town.

Your team has STP’s, too. Same Two People (or three if you have a bigger team).

Every time you go looking for feedback in a meeting, these are the people who dominate the conversation. These are the people who either have the ideas or shut the other ideas down. These are the keepers of the flame who love to say, “But that’s not how we did it last time.”

It is because of these STP’s that you roll your eyes at the idea of brainstorming. “It doesn’t work. I’ve tried it. We didn’t get any good ideas. We couldn’t stay on track.”

Brainstorming, however, can work wonders if you do it right.

Plus, it can be a fun activity for the staff because they get to actively contribute and be part of the meeting. They get to share and shine.

Here are three tips for making your brainstorming sessions more effective:

  1. Post the meeting time and topic at least 24 hours in advance.
  2. Focus on quantity, not quality.
  3. Understand that your best idea will come after the brainstorming session, not during it. (But you need that session to get to the best idea.)

POST IT

When you post in advance that you are going to have a brainstorming session about a certain topic, your introverted staff will have some time to think about the topic. Extroverts talk to think, but introverts think to talk. Give them advance notice and they’ll be much more willing to contribute ideas at the appropriate time. Your STP’s are extroverts. This is one of the reasons they dominate. You didn’t give your introverts enough time to prepare.

QUANTITY

When you make quantity your goal, you keep the STP’s from shutting everything down. They are the ones who say, “That will never work.” They shoot down every idea as it comes or at the very least start discussions on each idea which leads to fewer ideas being shared. There is a time and place for discussing the merits of each idea. That time is NOT during the brainstorming session.

Here are some techniques for getting quantity …

  • Have individuals write their ideas down. This makes sure everyone gets a chance to share.
  • Share ideas in a rapid-fire session. Allow NO discussion of the merits of each idea. Just blurt them out and write them down.
  • Share ideas in a round-robin where everyone gets a turn.
  • Have smaller groups do their own brainstorming and give them a number of ideas they need to generate. (Make it higher than they have time so that they don’t get bogged down in discussion either.)

The goal is to get as many ideas as you can without filters or discussion. In fact, when you go into a brainstorming session, have one or two really crazy out-of-the-box ideas of your own. You’ll be surprised how having those “seed” ideas can get the juices flowing.

FOLLOW-UP

Once you have a good quantity of ideas, assign different people to take those ideas and before the next meeting answer these questions:

  • What would it take to make this happen?
  • What would be the expected result?

Not only does that keep the brainstorming session from getting bogged down with too much discussion and filtering, it also keeps the STP’s from dominating the discussion. When you assign the ideas, ask for volunteers. No volunteers? No one thinks the idea has enough merit to waste their time. Move on to the next one.

The true value of the brainstorming session happens in the follow-up. You’ll find your team collaborating with each other on their own to finish their assignments. You’ll find them asking questions, getting more ideas, and looking for ways to improve on the ideas from the brainstorming session. When your team presents their answers at the next meeting you will find that several of the ideas have taken a new shape or form, one that will likely be incredibly beneficial to your business.

Oh, and there is one other secondary effect …

You get more people involved so that the STP’s no longer dominate everything.

To learn more about how to make brainstorming sessions more effective, I recommend you read this article by Brianna Hansen.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS If you have time at the end of your brainstorming session, another quick, democratic way to see what ideas people want to explore is to give everyone six gold star stickers and have them “vote” with their stickers. They can put the stickers all on one idea or spread them out. The ideas with the most votes will be the ones you assign.

Sharing Information the Right Way

I learned this exercise twenty-seven years ago while doing team-building events at YMCA Storer Camps. I have used it several times for several purposes. The exercise goes like this …

You get two volunteers, one at the whiteboard, one person sitting in a chair giving instructions. The person at the whiteboard can only look at the board. He or she cannot turn around and look at the instructor. The instructor is given a picture with shapes on it and then must instruct the person at the board to draw those shapes.

This was one of the pictures the team would have to draw.

In the first scenario, both parties can talk to each other. The instructor can also see what is being drawn. The end result is usually quite good because of the immediate feedback between both parties.

We then do a second scenario with two new volunteers. In this scenario, they can still both talk, but the instructor has to turn away so that he or she cannot see the person drawing. The end result depends on the skill of the instructor, but also on the communication between the two. The more often the person drawing asks questions to clarify, the better their results.

The third scenario is the fun one. In this scenario, not only are they facing away from each other, the person drawing is no longer able to speak. The instructor has to hope he has given clear enough instructions that the drawer can complete the task. Often I have seen unfinished pictures because the instructor moved on to a second instruction before the first was completed.

The three scenarios represent three of the more common forms of communication.

  1. Face-to-Face
  2. Phone
  3. Email

In face-to-face communication, you get both verbal and non-verbal feedback. You can see when there is confusion on someone’s face. You can see if the information makes someone feel uncomfortable or awkward. You get confirmation when people understand.

Obviously it is the best form of communication because of the clarity it brings, and therefore the reason why managers insist so often on having meetings for the sole purpose of sharing information.

The downside is the time it takes to plan the meeting, get everyone in the same room at the same time, and the disruption it causes in their workdays.

Yet, when you have a complex topic where it is critical that everyone understands the information thoroughly and without question, face-to-face is your best option. Just be sure to build into the meeting some time for feedback to make sure everyone understands and is on the same page.

Phone calls are only as effective for getting information across as the person on the other end of the line is effective at asking the right questions for clarity. If you are using such a method for passing along information, ask the other person to repeat back what you said. If you are receiving information this way, repeat back what the other person said.

The upside to phone calls is that people don’t have to be in the same room to share information. If you have information that is relatively simple, and you have good communication skills, you can share that info much more easily via phone than by requiring a meeting.

Email has both the largest pros and cons of the three.

One huge upside to email is that you have a written copy of the instructions that people can reference as often as needed. No matter how many cooking shows you watch, if you don’t write down the recipe, you’ll have a hard time recalling it exactly when you finally get into the kitchen.

Another upside to email is that the recipients can read it at their own convenience. It helps them manage their time more wisely and gives them more flexibility in their schedule.

The downside is obvious. The instructions and information have to be exact, clear, and concise because you have no immediate feedback if there are questions. You also have to write so that there are no misinterpretations.

This form of communication takes practice, diligence, and skill. 

I did the drawing exercise with a company once. For the first scenario I had two employees volunteer. For the second scenario, the owner of the company gave the instructions while an employee drew the picture. For the third scenario the owner’s right-hand gal and manager gave the instructions while the owner drew the picture.

The results were an eye-opener. While the first group did great, the second group with the owner giving directions didn’t go well at all. First, the employee was intimidated and afraid to ask questions for clarity. Second, the owner wasn’t very good at giving directions in the first place. We covered a lot of ground learning about roles in the workplace out of that exercise. The third group, however, also opened a lot of eyes. The manager was able to describe the picture to her boss in perfect, clear detail. The end result was actually closer to the original picture than the first group’s result.

The owner realized right then and there that he would have his manager do all email communication and that he would stick to having face-to-face time with her to get his ideas across. Lesson learned.

One last thing …

As Confucius said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

If you decide your information must be shared face-to-face, find a way to do more than just talk at your team. Find a fun and interesting way to share the information. First, your team will be more enthused to listen. Second, you’ll deepen their understanding.

But when you learn to write clearly and concisely, do your team a favor and send them an email.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS Since we didn’t use email as a communication tool at Toy House, I used to post notices in our employee lounge. Unfortunately, I found out that not everyone used the lounge. I had to tell two of my team members to go read the notices every time I posted something new. Lesson learned.

PPS Yes, I still do corporate and youth team building exercises. Give me a shout to discuss your needs.

PPPS If you manage people for a living, the more you know about team building, the better your team will be. It doesn’t “just happen”, it needs to be cultivated. You can start by reading this Free ResourceTeam Building 101: The Basics.