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What to Do With the First Quarter Blues

I went for a walk/jog down the Falling Waters Trail a couple days ago. It was sunny and in the mid-50’s. My dog, Samantha, and I enjoyed getting out of the house. There is something about those early spring days when you get that sense of renewal, that rebirth of energy. Of course, today, I stare out at five inches of snow courtesy of our bipolar vortex. Just when you think you’ve turned the corner on winter, Mother Nature smothers you with another blanket of white. So much for that rebirth of energy.

It’s easy to get the blues.

Image result for cabin fever clip artEspecially if you’re a fourth-quarter retailer. January feels like a relief from the exhausting marathon of Christmas. But by February, when the bills have all been paid and it doesn’t seem like any new cash is coming in, it gets to be a drag.

If you’re a jeweler or florist, you get Valentine’s Day. If you’re a toy retailer or candy shop you get Easter. But that isn’t a lot to carry you through the First Quarter Blues.

Here is a list of different things you can do during the quiet times to combat the blues.

  • Paint the store. A fresh coat of paint brightens the mood and lifts the morale of the staff.
  • Re-do all your signs. Print new ones, change wording, make them more fun and in alignment with your Core Values.
  • Work on new selling techniques. Hold trainings, do role playing, practice new techniques.
  • Make displays for out-of-your-category gifts. For instance, January-March are big baby shower months (no one wants to hold them in November/December because of the holidays). Put together an endcap of great “baby shower” gifts – even if you don’t sell baby products! A hardware store could do a display of “build your nursery the right way”. You could also do “gifts for the mom/dad-to-be.” Get creative. The same is true for weddings. The bridal shows are January-February. Bridal showers are March-June. Put together “bridal/wedding gifts” like board games if you’re a toy store (the family that plays together, stays together), or tool kits. I got a drill as a wedding gift from a thoughtful friend.
  • Get creative with your social media. Post often about a wide variety of things (not all related to selling your products). Have a contest among your staff. Make them all admins. Allow them two posts a day. See who can get more comments and shares in a week. Pay the winner $20. Do it for five weeks. It will be the best $100 bucks you spend on social media this year because you’ll see what kind of posts move the needle.
  • Have a contest of some kind. Maybe a raffle for charity. Maybe a “taste-test” where you put two competing products side by side. (I can see this for tools, for toys, for shoes, for cleaning products, for foods, for strollers …) Maybe a competition. We did a five-week March Games Madness where we pitted four games against each other for four consecutive Friday nights. The game voted the best each week made it to the final four. The fifth week we crowned the champion.
  • Spend more time networking. Send everyone on your team to different networking events.
  • Rearrange the floor layout. Stand at the front door and look around. See what catches your eye. Redesign the store so that your customers can see farther into your store. And make sure something cool and compelling is in those sight lines.
  • Clean and fix everything. Everything.
  • Make your bathroom cool. When George Whalin wrote Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best independent Stores in America, he mentioned the really cool bathrooms for 14 of the 25 stores.
  • Make a list of your top 50 or 100 customers with phone numbers. Assign them to your staff to call each person and personally thank them for shopping in your store. No sales pitch. Just a simple, “I want to thank you for being a customer last year. We truly appreciate your business. Have a great day!”
  • Make a goodie-bag for those same top 50 or 100 and personally deliver them. Free. No questions asked. (Thank you Brandy & Eric for this idea!)

The customers will be back soon enough. You have new products rolling in. Take this time to plant the seeds for future sales by refreshing the store, training the staff, and getting creative with your marketing.

That’s how you beat the First Quarter Blues.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I would love to hear your suggestions for additions to this list. I know there are some really good ideas out there. Help me share them with the world.

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.


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.


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

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.)


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.


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.


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

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

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. 

Why Have a Meeting in the First Place?

I had just finished doing a presentation on Customer Service for a team of volunteers and staff at a non-profit organization. We had discussed the different types of “customers” and how to recognize them. We talked about their different expectations and how to meet and exceed those expectations. We laughed and listened and learned and shared. Everyone was fired up.

Then the director stepped up and said. “Okay, as I said before, we are going to have a staff meeting following the presentation. I need to address some things you all are doing wrong.” She then went on to read a laundry list of criticisms and mistakes calling out individuals in the process.

Not only did all the positive energy from the presentation leave the room in a flash, even I felt uncomfortable listening to her drone on and on chastising everyone on the team. By the time I had packed my bags I could tell everyone was jealous that I got to leave while they had to stay behind and take the verbal assault.

This wasn’t a meeting. It was an attack. I got the sense that all their meetings happened in a similar fashion.

You know exactly what I mean. We hear the word “meeting” and immediately roll our eyes.

We all have horror stories of meetings that dragged on too long or bored us to tears. We all have sat in meetings where the silence was deafening after being chewed out by our supervisors or where the energy was sucked out of the room by a brain-dead brainstorming session. The eye-roll is well-deserved.

There are three reasons to have a meeting:

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

Here are three reasons NOT to have a meeting:

  • If all you are going to do is share information with your team
  • If you are going to criticize the team for something an individual or the collective team is doing wrong
  • If you are meeting because you always meet on Monday mornings

If all you are going to do is share information with the team, you can do that without inconveniencing them with a meeting. Write it all down in a clear and concise memo instead. Write it down. Proof-read it. Have a subordinate read it and tell you what they think it means. Then post it, share it, email it or whatever it takes to get the info into everyone’s hands.

When you take this approach, you eliminate the most boring part of every meeting. Plus, the written memo gives everyone a reference point to make sure your instructions are clear and that everyone is on the same page. (Make sure you proof-read and test it so that you are “clear”.)

If all you are going to do is criticize the team for a mistake they made or a mistake one individual made, you are a coward. Mistakes need to be addressed one-on-one and in private. If the whole team is doing something wrong, rather than criticize them, start by taking the blame for not having taught them the proper way to do it in the first place. This one is on you. If you had taught them correctly, they wouldn’t all be doing it wrong. Second, turn your meeting into a positive, we’re-all-going-to-learn-a-better-way meeting.

Jim Henson, the founder of the Muppets was a perfectionist and known for doing multiple, multiple, multiple takes of every scene. Yet he was also beloved by his team. Why? Because of one simple technique … Every time they did a scene, he would say,

“That was awesome!! Great job!! Now this time, let’s do it with a little more …”

Praise always goes farther than criticism because it lifts people up and makes them more open to new suggestions. Criticism shuts people down and makes them defensive.

Do yourself, your team, and your business a favor. Don’t meet to criticize. Either have a one-on-one private meeting with the individual who needs help with his or her behavior, or have a teaching meeting where you show everyone a better way.

If all you are doing is meeting because you always meet, without a broad agenda for sharing or collecting information and/or teaching something new, then you’re wasting everyone’s time and undermining your effectiveness as a leader.

“Because we always do this,” is the justification of losers. Winners have a solid reason for their actions.

Last week I showed you how to plan the “teaching-something-new” type of meeting including some fun examples. This week I’ll show you how to better share and collect information.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS There are incredibly rare instances where criticism is actually warranted. I’ll show you how to do it properly in the next post. Just remember that the true one-and-only reason for meeting is to make the team and business better. If you aren’t meeting for that purpose, with an expected outcome from the meeting, don’t meet at all.

Better Tasks Lead Your Team to Better Goals

My staff at Toy House probably thought I was crazy. They never knew what to expect at a staff meeting. As I told you before, I planned each meeting the same way, by finishing this sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

Then I worked backward from there, trying to find the most fun, memorable, powerful way to get my point across. Some meetings looked like this:

This will be a successful meeting if we learn how much work it is going to take to raise the bar of customer service.

At three feet, it took some teamwork and looking out for each other’s safety.

For this meeting I built two support poles and put a broomstick across them two feet off the ground. Everyone had to climb over the bar without hitting it or knocking it off. If one person hit the stick everyone had to start over. It took us six tries at two feet, three tries at three feet, and one failed attempt at four feet. The lesson was that you can fail at the simple things if you don’t pay attention; with teamwork and everyone pitching in, you can do more difficult things; and we aren’t yet ready to get to the top level.

This will be a successful meeting if we recognize and understand the different toy needs of special needs children and can identify several of those toys in our store.

Sensory, Mental, Tactile, Active, and Emotional Toys in a lifesize model

For this meeting I made a huge board with a piece of paper, had the staff outline my body, then spoke about the five specific types of toys (Sensory, Mental, Tactile, Active, and Emotional) by listing characteristics near the body part. Then I sent the team out to find corresponding toys. The visual of the large human body shape helped drive home the concept and helped the staff visualize the types of toys they needed to find by relating them to the body.

This will be a successful meeting if we all learn the proper way to fill out the Yellow Slip.

Halloween anyone?

I could have just harped on everyone for the mistakes they made, but I wanted to be more positive and make the meeting more fun so I made a costume out of the Yellow Slip and wore it that day. We didn’t have any mistakes after that meeting.

This will be a successful meeting if we understand that making people feel comfortable is the first step toward trust.

Bacon and eggs. Yum!!

For this meeting I brought in an electric frying pan and started cooking bacon long before the morning meeting began. Then I cooked eggs to order for everyone. I used the breakfast to talk about how certain foods feel more comfortable at certain times of day. The “norms”, the expected, gives comfort. At the same time, we have to surprise and delight our customers as I had surprised and delighted the staff. A secondary lesson brought up at the meeting was one of service. It is our job to serve the customer if we want to make them feel comfortable, just as I was serving the staff “comfort food.”

This will be a successful meeting if we recognize the consequences of our actions and inactions in monetary terms.

One of my favorite staff trainings was the Dollars on the Table Game

For this meeting I labeled fifty one-dollar bills with a statement that either said, “I earned this dollar …” or “I left this dollar on the table …” We then played a Memory Game where each staff person got to flip over two bills and read them aloud. If they both were “Earned” dollars, they got to keep them, but if either was a “Left” dollar, the bills stayed on the table and in play.

Do you see a pattern emerging?

For each meeting I tried to think up a fun, interesting, different way to get the message across. It wasn’t always the most direct way of getting the message across, but it was effective, and that was all that mattered. The most important thing was that each meeting was different and fun. The staff didn’t roll their eyes when they saw “staff meeting” on the schedule. In fact, they looked forward to it.

When you start with the finish line in mind, you can then brainstorm many different ways to get to there. You can play a game. You can watch a video. You can do a quiz. You can tell a story. You can do a PowerPoint presentation. You can do a skit or role play session. You can bring in a guest speaker.

When the free helium balloons we gave as an act of generosity came to be “expected”, I brought in an art teacher for one meeting to show the staff how to draw animal doodles on the balloons to surprise and delight our customers once more.

The Goal of your meeting is to learn something. The Task is the activity you do that leads to the Goal. Get creative with your Tasks and you’ll find your team reaching their Goals more often and with more enthusiasm.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I can already hear you saying, “But Phil, you ran a toy store. That’s supposed to be fun. I can’t do that in my industry” Oh yeah? Show me the rule that says you can’t have fun on your job. Show me where it says you can’t enjoy what you do. Show me where it says you have do things that are boring and dull and uninspiring instead of fun and interesting and different. I didn’t think so.

PPS My Retail Success Academy graduates get a full year of Task ideas as part of their graduation benefits. They send me an email with their Goal and I outline several fun Tasks they can use to reach that goal. Here is my ONE TIME OFFER for you. Send me one Goal by the end of March and I’ll email you back at least three different fun tasks you can use to reach that goal.

PPPS Wondering what a Retail Success Academy is? Think of it like a post-graduate degree in retailing in five weeks (or one really long weekend). Send me an email and I’ll send you the details.

How to Look at the Big Picture

I always planned my staff meetings by finishing the following sentence:

This will be a successful meeting if …

  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn how to become better listeners.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we learn about new products.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we understand the difference between Relational and Transactional Customers.
  • This will be a successful meeting if we find new ways to build relationships with our customers.
To see the Big Picture, you have to envision what success looks like.

From there I worked backwards, trying to figure out the best way to get the point across and be able to call the meeting successful.

I hired and trained my staff the same way—by starting at the end and figuring out what steps to take to get there. My book, Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, is built around a simple premise. Would you like your staff to be considered Beautiful, Useful, Strong, and Long-Lasting? Those are the words we use to describe the end result of pottery. If we follow the same steps as the potter, we’ll get the same end results for our staff.

I took the same approach to teaching sailing last summer. At the end of the week I wanted the kids to have a feel for the physics of sailing, but more importantly, the confidence that comes with knowing you harnessed the wind’s power to accomplish something. From there, the lesson plan was easy to create.

I do the same with my presentations. I start with the main point I want you to take back to your business and work on. Then I build the presentation around how to best drive that point home.

Many businesses forget to set goals, forget to define success. They did it at first when they drew up a business plan, but they never revisited that plan to see if the goal was met or needs to be revised.

If you want to see the Big Picture, you first have to create it. The easiest way to do that is by defining success.

  • This will be a successful year if …
  • This will be a successful season if …
  • This will be a successful training program if …
  • This will be a successful transition if …

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get there.” -Lewis Caroll

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” -Yogi Berra

If you know where you want to be, you can choose the best road. Sure, there will be obstacles. Sometimes you won’t get there. But it is better to head in the right direction and fall a little short than to wander aimlessly.

Define the success you want. Then plot a course to get there.

“This will be a successful business if I enjoy going to work every day and make enough money to live comfortably.”

This will be a successful blog post if I have given you a tool to help you see the Big Picture.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS Did you know the phrase, “The devil is in the details,” was originally “God is in the detail.”? Either way you wish to look at that idiom, the details don’t matter if you don’t first know what you’re trying to accomplish.

PPS You should definitely download the Free Resource Staff Meetings Everyone Wants to Attend and the accompanying Staff Meeting Worksheet. It will improve the outcomes of your meetings and trainings exponentially.

Now What? Applying the Lessons You’ve Learned

Many conference organizers have detailed instructions for their speakers. It makes sense since often those conferences will have a mix of professional speakers and members of their organization who have never done presentations like this.

On more than one occasion I have seen instructions to, “ask the attendees to write down one or two things they are going to do because of your session.”


You want your audience to not only learn what you’re teaching, you want them to apply it to their own business. When you ask them to write it down, you increase the chances of them actually taking action. In fact, it was this very request back in June 2007 that led me to this new career as a professional speaker.

I was listening to a presentation. I knew what the speaker was trying to say, but she was having a tough time getting her (incredibly good) idea across. At the end she asked us to write down one thing we were going to do.

I wrote, “I’m going to teach this class next year.” And I did.

Found this little gem from June 2007 in my “Notes from Workshops” file

Yesterday I wrapped up a five-week Retail Success Academy class with business owners in Clare, MI. The final assignment of the class was for every student to stand up and do a brief presentation on the one action they are going to take first because of the class including what they are going to do, why they are going to do it, and what they expect to happen.

It always becomes my favorite moment in the program.

I have taught you the What? So What? Now What? methodology of learning.

  • What = The actions you take
  • So What = The lessons you learn from those actions
  • Now What = The application of the lessons to everything else

This writing down or presenting on the one thing you’re going to do because of the presentation is the Now What. It is the most critical part of any presentation because it helps your audience formulate their thoughts and find the actions that will help them.

It also helps you, the presenter, know if your audience got what you were trying to teach. If during Q&A all the questions are about the information you presented or not fully understanding how it all works, you failed as a presenter to get your point across. If all the questions are about how to apply the lessons to their own unique situation, then you nailed it.

I tell you this because as the manager or owner of a small business you are constantly in the position to teach others. Listen carefully to the questions your staff have after a staff meeting. If they are asking What? or So What? questions, you need to start over and find a new way to teach the material. if they are asking Now What? questions, then you know you are on the right track. If they are already answering the Now What? questions for themselves, then you know you’ve hit it out of the park.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS This applies to any type of business. If you’re a manufacturer and you’ve introduced a new product or program, the questions you get from your customers tell you a lot about how well you’ve explained the product or program. Heck, this even applies to salespeople selling direct to the consumer. You want to get your customers to visualize owning the product. “How are you going to use that?” is a great Now What? question to get them to take ownership.

PPS The best part about the presentations by the Retail Success Academy grads yesterday was they all chose something different and something was chosen from each of the five major lessons of the Academy. That’s when you know, as a presenter, you’re on the right track.

Manager Do’s and Don’t’s

I’ve been blessed to have several employees tell me I was their favorite manager/employer. As much as I would like to take credit for being awesome, I can’t say how much of that was because of me or because of the extremely low bar set by their other employers. The stories they would tell me of their previous employers led me to believe that my dog would have been considered a better manager.

I know my own managerial style has been greatly influenced by a number of people.

I worked for some amazing leaders back in the 1980’s at YMCA Storer Camps that had a profound impact on my development as a person. The camp motto is “I’m Third” (God is first, others are second, and I’m third.) I’m sure you have seen powerful leaders who do their best work serving the people they lead.

I worked for an amazing man named Dana in the summer of 1992 who taught me how to treat everyone on the team equally and also how to trust us to do our jobs. You know how tough it can be when the boss plays favorites.

My grandfather Phil Conley working the register back in 1958

I saw my own parents and grandparents in action, too. My grandfather, Phil Conley, was Mayor of Jackson. He told me time and time again that the true jobs of Mayor were to build consensus and be head cheerleader. Mayor? Manager? The roles are pretty much the same. You and I are head cheerleaders for our teams, spending much of our effort trying to get everyone all on the same page.

In keeping with the theme of the last two posts (here and here), let’s put together a partial list* of Manager Do’s and Don’t’s.

I’ll start.

Manager Do’s

  • Do praise your staff, even for the small stuff, even for the stuff they only partially do right.
  • Do listen to new ideas and carefully consider them before deciding.
  • Do grant your team the time off to handle family and health issues as necessary.
  • Do be thorough in your explanations and communications.
  • Do schedule them as far in advance as possible so that they can make plans farther into the future.
  • Do work around any time-off requests they give you well in advance.
  • Do encourage them to better themselves through classes, conferences, books, etc.
  • Do let them redecorate and re-merchandise the store.
  • Do give the autonomy to do their job.
  • Do be clear how they will be measured and rewarded.
  • Do give them unexpected bonuses and meaningful gifts.

Manager Don’t’s

  • Don’t criticize them in front of other employees or customers.
  • Don’t be condescending.
  • Don’t play favorites.
  • Don’t give them a task without clear instructions of how you want it done.
  • Don’t give them a task you would not do yourself.
  • Don’t share anything they told you in confidence with another employee.
  • Don’t talk about other employees to them.
  • Don’t do anything you wouldn’t let them get away with.
  • Don’t believe that you are “above” them in any way. (They are people, too.)
  • Don’t expect them to care as much as you do. It is your life, it is their job.
  • Don’t make a decision until you know all the facts.
  • Don’t micromanage.
  • Don’t assume they think like you do or know exactly what you mean.

What would you add to these lists?

-Phil Wrzesinski

*PS This will always be a partial list. No one could ever finish it (although I encourage you to try). With that said, share with me your best ever manager stories either when you were being managed or you were managing someone else and it just clicked.

Giving Back Good People

Whether you agree with yesterday’s post about giving good people back to society or not, you will likely agree with this statement …

You want the best staff your payroll and training budget will allow.

(Surprisingly, many chain retailers at the mall don’t act like they agree with that statement. Not surprisingly, many chain retailers at the mall are closing stores.)

The two limiting factors to having an amazing staff filled with good people are Time and Money. As always, you can spend one to save the other. You can pay more than everyone else in your industry and hopefully attract the best and brightest candidates. Or you can spend the time to make them  the best and brightest.

I give you three things today that will help you get the most out of your payroll and training budget. The first is something you have to do no matter what. The second costs you time. The third costs you money. All three together, however, will help you give good people back to society.


My team with plaques I hand-picked for them as appreciation gifts.

It starts with the quality of your hiring. In my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel I outline the nine steps a potter takes to create a work of art that is considered beautiful, useful, strong, and long-lasting. I then show you how those nine steps relate to the hiring and training process to create a staff that is beautiful, useful, strong, and long-lasting.

One of the first steps is to hire someone who already has the right character traits to be successful on the job.

Along with the other traits you might need, you should hire people who are already Caring and who are Problem Solvers by nature. Those people will try harder to take care of your customers in the first place.


We started each staff meeting with “Smile Stories”, stories from the previous month where we made the customer’s day. Our mission was summed up by the phrase, “We’re here to make you smile.” By starting each meeting with those Smile Stories, we not only reinforced our mission, we put everyone into a positive mood. People were laughing (and sometimes even crying tears of joy) at the stories. This opened people up and made them more receptive to any training offered.

If you start by criticizing (as I have seen many managers do), you put people on the defensive. They close up and make it difficult for you to get anything across to them.

Start with your successes and build on them.


For several years I offered a $150 bonus toward some form of continued learning. It could be used for a computer class, a conference fee, or even a dance class. The idea behind it is that a person who makes continued learning a goal in his or her life will be more open to learning new skills in general. By encouraging my team to continue to pursue their dreams and grow their skills in their personal life, I kept them in a frame of mind for growing their skills in general. This made my staff trainings more effective right from the start. Learning new skills is a mindset that you need to foster.

In Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive, he states there are three things needed to motivate your staff. One of those is Mastery, the idea that they are learning new skills to become better at what they do. When you foster continued learning, you lead your team to Mastery. When you lead your team to Mastery, they find the intrinsic motivation they need to do their best.

Too many retailers look at their staff as a plastic bottle of syrup to be squeezed until every last drop is out, only to be discarded for a new bottle down the road. Instead look at your staff as the ceramic pitcher that holds the syrup in a much more classy way, gets refilled as necessary, and lasts through many years of service.

That’s how you get the best staff your payroll and training budget will allow.

-Phil Wrzesinski

PS I cannot emphasize enough the importance of starting off meetings on a positive note. I did a presentation to kick off a staff meeting once. We were having a rocking good time. Then the meeting began and the manager started off with a laundry list of every mistake the team had made since the last meeting. The energy drained from the room faster than if a tornado had swung through. I could tell by the body language in the room that everyone had shutdown. No one was listening intently after that. If you have to criticize, do so in private and sandwich it between two pieces of praise. If you have to bring up a problem in a meeting, do it by saying, “Here is an area where we can improve.” Much more positive that way.