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A Teachable Moment

Two employees.  One a veteran of 24 years.  The other a relative newcomer starting her third year of employment.  Both thinkers.  Passionate to a fault.  Loyal beyond expectation.  Hard workers who more than earn their pay.

A manager’s dream, right?

Except when they butt heads.

The newcomer came to me because she was having run-ins with the veteran.  They didn’t see eye-to-eye on how to merchandise certain product lines.  The vet was strong in her opinions and not necessarily pleasant in the exchange.  One would assume that the newcomer should just do what the veteran says and accept that seniority rules.  Except the newcomer was the person I put in charge of merchandising those lines.

How should I respond?

For me, moments like these are precious.  They are the teachable moments where I have a chance to accomplish two things at once – turn a negative into a positive and help an employee grow.

My ultimate goal for this new employee is that I am grooming her to be a key person.  I need her to be able to make critical decisions and trust her own judgment.  I need her to make rational decisions and not allow emotions to dictate.

First we talked about her passion and her smarts and her training and her desire to do what I have taught her to do.  Then we talked about the similarities between her and the veteran.  This caught her a little off guard.  Then we talked about how to find the kernel of truth in what the veteran was saying.  No matter how confrontational the delivery, the veteran brings some amazing skills and wisdom to the table.  Finally, we came to the conclusion that once she found the nugget inside what the veteran was saying, she was then free to use her own judgment to make the final decision.

All at once she realized the veteran was her ally, not her adversary, and they really were far more alike than different.

Will they butt heads again?  Probably.  But now she is better equipped to handle those situations.  And she is better prepared for those head-butting moments from other parts of retail – a skill my key people need to have.

-Phil Wrzesinski

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