I walked into a large chain furniture store. There was a line of salespeople waiting to pounce on anyone walking through the door. It reminded me of the scene in L.A. Story where Steve Martin’s character was waiting in line to use an ATM while another line of muggers waited to mug everyone after they got their money. It was almost that comical.
I wasn’t there to buy anything, just to gather information. (I’m the guy. Of course I don’t get to make final purchasing decisions on furniture. If they had been trained on personas, they might have suspected that in the first place.)
The sales lady was pleasant and helpful, finding all the information I needed. She was also trying all the closing techniques you read in all those books on sales. She definitely was trained in the Always Be Closing mindset. When it looked like I really wasn’t going to buy, she played the trump card.
“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends today?“
I thanked her for her time and kept browsing. Then, as the playbook would dictate, her manager came over to try to close the sale she couldn’t close. It wasn’t happening. He left me with this …
“Do you know, our No-Payments-for-6-Months sale ends tomorrow?“
This is why customers don’t trust us. They know we are all about the sale. We’ll say anything to get that sale.
Thanksgiving is one of those opportunities we used to earn back some trust by showing we cared about more than just the sale. We posted every year on social media that we were choosing to stay closed on Thanksgiving and open at our regular time Black Friday morning. We did it so that my staff could enjoy the holiday and/or go shopping for Black Friday deals themselves. We’d have coffee ready when the shoppers visited at our normal hours.
This willingness to forego opportunities for sales paid off long term because it strengthened our reputation of caring more about people than money. Lose the battle to win the war.
Plus, that post went viral almost every single year.
Twice our local newspaper wrote about it. The radio and television news people talked about it several times.
Trust is fragile, yet it is a critical element for winning customers’ hearts and minds (and eventually their pocketbooks). When you sacrifice sales for the purpose of serving your staff, your customers, and/or your community, you build that trust up. When you say or do anything just to get the sale, you lose that trust. Your choice.
PS If you are in a mall, you have no control over your hours. If you are in a strip mall or shopping center where there is a big draw that brings in a lot of traffic, it behooves you to be open for all those customers the other store is attracting. That’s smart customer service. But if you are a stand-alone or in an area where no one else is drawing traffic, you can choose to not be open early. It won’t cost you as much in sales as you think, but it will win you a ton in trust.
PPS If you cannot control your hours, there are other things you can do and state publicly such as pay your staff overtime, grant them extra comp time, have food for them while they are working, serve coffee for staff and customers, and donate to charity. Show the public what you truly value. Those that share your values will find you.
In 1990 I wrote a description of Team Building practices to help my facilitators understand the process when working with our groups. My program at YMCA Storer Camps utilized low and high ropes course initiatives and rock climbing to foster team building. The goal of every group was to get to a new level of Trust among the members. Sometimes we got there, sometimes we didn’t.
The process, however, was the key. Even the groups who never got to a level of fully trusting each other did learn to communicate better, did learn to cooperate better, and saw the power of coordinated effort. Those are often seen as the Three C’s of Team Building.
I want to add a fourth C to that list, one that I think is most important …
That was the differentiating characteristic between groups that made it to Trust and groups that did not. Only when a group started to put the needs of others ahead of their own did they show they cared. Only when a group looked at everyone’s emotional and physical safety as being the top concern did they show they cared.
Caring was the stepping stone to Trust.
You don’t get to Caring easily. It takes a whole bunch of other C’s. You have to first become Comfortable with each other. Then you have to learn to Communicate effectively. Then you have to learn how to Coordinate your efforts and Cooperate with each other. Even then, Caring is not a certainty.
When I was training my facilitators we often talked about the Transformation. Caring happened when the focus of the group shifted from “getting to the end of the task” to “getting everyone to the end of the task.“ Caring happened when inclusiveness was more important than successfully completing a task, even though inclusiveness was often the best way to complete a task
There are several ways to complete any task. The first is to have a powerful, talented individual who gets the group to the end line through sheer brute force of their abilities and/or leadership. The second is to have every member included, every member supported, and every member working together. The former disappears as soon as the individual leader is gone. The latter stays around and becomes the culture that continues success even as the parts change.
That’s why our true goal of every team building activity was to cross over the bridge from Cooperating to Caring. That leap was where the transformation occurred and changed the culture of the team. The step from Caring to Trust was much shorter and easier.
Of course, this was all theory from my own practices and observations in Team Building, until Google went about proving it.
Google did research of their teams to see if they could figure out why some teams were more successful than others. They found “five key dynamics that set successful teams apart”. Those five key dynamics in order of importance are:
Structure and clarity
Psychological Safety is Caring. It is making the group and the individuals within the group feel supported. A group of individuals who are feeling supported are more willing to think out of the box and take better risks, which leads to better performance in the long run. This was the most important dynamic for successful teams.
Dependability is Trust. In team building terms, we get to Trust after we get to Caring. But once we get there, we have the two most important dynamics found in Google’s study.
The other three items on the list match up nicely with Daniel H. Pink’s book Drive and his three keys to motivation. Pink says your team needs:
Structure and Clarity is the same as Autonomy in that you have given your team the guidelines to do what they need to do and have left them to do it within those guidelines. Micromanaging takes away that structure and clarity because everyone is second-guessing the rules, waiting for you to change them on the fly.
Meaning and Impact are the Purpose of what you are doing. Make sure your team always knows Why you do what you do and how that affects the customers and the company.
Google’s research is fascinating because it confirms exactly what I started teaching 27 years ago, and validates everything Daniel H. Pink wrote in his book about motivation.
So how do you get that kind of a team?
First, hire individuals who care about others, who show empathy. Caring is a tough character trait to teach, so look for it in your applicants.
Second, train them. Team building doesn’t have to be a corporate-retreat-three-day-weekend-activity. Team building can happen over the long run, fostered by the other C’s of being Comfortable, Communicating, Cooperating, and Coordinating. Work on those skills in your training. The better your team learns to communicate and cooperate, the more likely the leadership of those who care will take the team to the next level. You’ll see the transformation when it happens.
PS Yes, I still do Team Building for groups when you want to kickstart the process. I also do training for Managers, teaching them the basics of Team Building and how to foster short-term and long-term growth in their team. The cool thing is Google just confirmed that what I have been teaching creates the most effective, successful teams.
PPS What should you do about your team members who don’t care about others? Unless you have a job where they work completely on their own with no interaction with the team or the customers, fire them and start over. Seriously. They’ll never serve your customers the way your customers want to be served. They’ll never let the team get to its highest level of productivity. They’ll never grow your business. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Google.
We sold a ton of dot-to-dot books over the years. I bought them by the number count – 10, 20, 50, 75, even 100-count dot-to-dots. I loved dot-to-dots as a child. My favorite was to try to guess the picture before putting pencil to paper, seeing the image in my mind. A few years ago there were some dot-to-dots designed for adults with up to 1000 dots in a single picture. (Yes, you needed a magnifying glass and a super thin mechanical pencil to do some of the more complex pictures.)
Today I want to connect a few dots for you in the hiring process.
If you have read my book Hiring and the Potter’s Wheel, you know that to find the best employees you need to find the right character traits for the job. For instance, if you are hiring a sales person, you want someone friendly, engaging, and able to solve problems. If you are hiring a bookkeeper you want someone organized, detail-oriented, and task-driven. The best person for the job has to bring those traits to the position. You can’t train those.
Yet, the first thing I do when I work with a client to help them write a job description and list of the traits they need to hire for a specific position is talk to the client about his or her personal Core Values. If you are the boss, the owner, the final decision maker, your Core Values become your company’s Core Values. What is important to you personally will be what is important to you professionally. It is where you will spend your most time, energy, and focus. Roy H. Williams and David Freeman taught me that.
It is not just enough that the people you hire possess the traits necessary to be successful on the job. To truly become an asset on your team, they need to share some of the same values you and your business share.
For example, my core values are Having Fun, Helpful, Educational and Nostalgic. While it isn’t important that you match those values perfectly, the more you match, the better we will get along.
Fortunately for me, a toy store attracted mostly people who like to Have Fun. I also hired specifically for the trait of being Helpful. My office manager had traits I will never have of being ultra-organized and detail-oriented. But she also was amazinglyHelpful. On top of that, she celebrated the seasons and holidays even more than I did. My key jack-of-all-trades guy had a level of Curiosity that surpassed my own. My event planner took Nostalgia to new levels and was always trying to Teach others. One of the most common phrases I heard her say was, “You can do that. Here, let me show you.”
When your staff doesn’t share your values, you get frustrated. You feel as if they don’t get you or what you are trying to do. Oh, they get you. They just don’t put as much value on the things most important to you. They may have all the other traits perfect for the job and may even be performing to a high level based on those traits, but if you don’t value the same things, you’ll always feel disappointed by them.
Connect the dots.
I saw a snippet of a training my good buddy Tim Miles did for business leaders managing their people. The slide had three words. “Walk the talk.” Tim goes on to tell you that you have to be consistent in what you say to your team and what you do personally. We all know that hypocrisy causes distrust. The do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do style of leadership doesn’t last very long. The strongest organizations are those where the leaders walk the talk. Your Core Values come into play here, as well.
When you let your Core Values guide you, you will always walk the talk, because you are starting and ending with the very essence of your being. Your consistency will never be questioned because even in moments of stress, your Core Values will guide everything you do. Your staff will know exactly where you stand at all times.
When Tim mentions that you should walk the talk, he isn’t saying that you have to have done every single thing you ask your staff to do. He is asking that you lead through consistency, that your actions match your words. I don’t like filing papers away. I hired a bookkeeper who loves filing papers away. What we both share is a deep desire for being helpful. It isn’t as important that I know how to file as it is that I show her I will be helpful to her and ask that she be helpful to me in return. Her way of helping me is by doing the stuff I cannot or don’t want to do. It just so happens that she has the traits of being organized, detail-oriented, and task-driven to go along with the value of being Helpful.
Connect the dots.
Daniel H. Pink, in his book Drive, says that to get the best out of your employees you need to offer them three things—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Autonomy allows them to do the job their way without the feeling of being micro-managed. Mastery means they are getting the opportunity to gain skills, learn, and become proficient at the task. Purpose means they understand why they are doing what they are doing.
Your Core Values come into play here as well. Of the three motivational elements, Mastery and Purpose are easy. Give them training and experience and feedback and they’ll become masters. Purpose is simply understanding your Core Values and what greater goal you’re trying to accomplish. Autonomy is the hardest of the three.
For you to be the kind of boss who checks in with your employees rather than checking on your employees, you have to develop a level of trust. It is far easier to develop that trust with people who share your Core Values than it is without. You know at the end of the day that their inner voice speaks to them in a similar language as your inner voice, so you trust that their decision process, while maybe not as experienced as yours, will be similar enough to meet the goals of the organization. Autonomy is tough when you don’t trust the employee. Without it, you won’t get the highest level of productivity. As a side note, if you are quick to trust, but your values don’t meet, you might get the wrong kind of productivity.
Connect the dots and you will see how your Core Values come into play in creating your own Dream Team.
PS Go back and look at all the best teams you’ve ever been a part of. I can promise that you’ll find the individual members of the team shared many of the same core values. It took me a while to notice that in my own life, but in hindsight it is as easy to see as the arrow in the FedEx logo.
PPS When I say shared values, they don’t always have to be a perfect match. My jack-of-all-trades guy had the value of Curiosity. Not exactly the same as my value of Education, but close enough to be the kind of fit that made our team rock.
In a couple nights I take the stage again at The Poison Frog Brewery with my guitar and harps to have a little fun. I’m playing at least once a month and having the time of my life. (I think the audience is enjoying it, too. Of course, the more you drink, the better I sound.) To keep the show fresh I try to learn a few new songs before every gig.
Some songs come easy and I pick them up right away. Others take a little time. In the back of my songbook I keep a few “works-in-progress” that I might try out toward the end of the night and see how well they work from the stage.
I was thinking about that while rehearsing last night. I have a few songs I love to play in the current set that spent a couple months in the back of the songbook. I just had to break those songs down into sizeable chunks to learn them a little bit at a time.
I learn new songs the same way I taught new skills—in sizeable chunks, one leading to another, where the whole was greater than the sum of their parts.
I was interviewing recently for a position as a Corporate Trainer and the interviewer asked me how I would facilitate teaching Trust. I told her that Trust cannot happen in a group until you first have built up Communication, Cooperation, and Caring. That is true in Team Building. It is also true in Sales.
As we have discussed, Relational Customers are looking for someone they can Trust. You garner Trust by first being able to build a relationship with the customer. You do that through communication, cooperation and caring.
I spent most of one year of staff training working primarily on Communication skills. We discussed how to approach a customer, how to create rapport, how to ask questions, and how to listen better to the answers. Each monthly meeting was a different topic on Communication.
I spent another year working more on Cooperation. We talked about how customers have needs, how our job was to discover those needs and fulfill them. We discussed how to solve problems the best way. We discussed how to meet the customer where she was at and let her guide the way as much as possible. Our job wasn’t to sell her as much as it was to serve her.
For Caring we talked about looking at the whole process through the customers eyes and making sure her needs were met first. We talked about empathy, what it was and how we show it. We talked about “completing the sale”—making sure the customer had everything she would possibly need to solve whatever problem she was solving—because if we didn’t do that, we would have failed meeting her needs. We talked about benefits of the product being more important than just the features.
Each meeting was a subset of the broader topic. Each broad topic was a stepping stone to the bigger picture of building Trust.
Trust takes time to build. You cannot just jump right in and get people to trust you. On the easy stuff, maybe (three chords and the truth), but to really develop the level of Trust that turns a customer into a lifelong fan it takes time, patience, practice, and prescribed steps to get there. It also only takes seconds for your untrained staff to destroy it.
I have two nights before my next gig. I’ll be practicing. I have two new songs that just got moved from the back of the songbook to the front, four more that were easy enough to learn quickly, and two new ones that are now in the back of the songbook. Should be a fun night.
PS If you didn’t get that this was a post about creating a comprehensive Training Program, go back and read this again. I planned every individual training around three things, my short-term goal(learn how to listen better), my long-term goal(build up communication skills), and my ultimate goal(learn how to build trust with our customers). Rome wasn’t built in a day. Break the harder stuff down into sizeable chunks and you’ll find the training sticks better.
PPS How do I get seasonal people up to speed if my overall training takes years? Good question. With my seasonal staff I simply work on eliminating the things that destroy trust like saying, “I don’t know,” instead of “Let me find out.” Eliminate the bad stuff now and then we can replace it with more of the good stuff going forward.
By now you have all heard about Toys R Us (TRU) filing bankruptcy. I have been personally tagged several times on Facebook linking to articles about the bankruptcy (a couple former staff members have even hinted I should reopen Toy House now.)
Here are some things you need to know.
First, this is a Chapter 11 Bankruptcy which is a reorganization type of bankruptcy. The giraffe isn’t going away. They aren’t closing all their stores and liquidating. That’s a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. Toys R Us is banking on being able to restructure (and relieve themselves from) their debt so that they have the operating funds to continue competing in the toy and baby retail industries.
Second, David Brandon, the former Athletic Director at my beloved University of Michigan, is not the cause of their demise. (Many UM fans who hated Brandon for his poor job hiring football coaches want to scapegoat him for this, too. It’s easy, but wrong.) They were in trouble long before he got there.
Third, this is not a happy day for the toy industry. Even though Walmart surpassed Toys R Us in toy sales in 1998, TRU still does a tremendous amount of business and sells a tremendous amount of toys. There are many vendors in position to take huge losses in this ordeal. While the big guys like Mattel and Hasbro can likely afford it, many mid-tier and smaller vendors would be gone without TRU. That doesn’t help the rest of the industry.
Toys R Us is also important for new toy launches. The big-box discounters want tried and true. Without a large store willing to take chances on new products, there won’t be as many new and innovative products from existing companies.
A lot of people have opinions why Toys R Us is where they are today. Many want to blame Amazon. Still others want to blame the economy. I’ve read articles bashing their expensive new headquarters building, their lack of leadership, and the leveraged buyout by Bain, KKR, and Vornado.
One article wanted to blame TRU for spending too much on their stores and not enough on their website. Considering that TRU reported $912 million in e-commerce and $11.54 billion in total sales, that puts their online sales at almost 8%. (For comparison, Walmart only does about 3% of their total sales online, but that is skewed by grocery.) While 8% is impressive, it doesn’t justify taking money from the part of your business that generates 92% of your revenue and giving it to the part that only generates 8%.
My opinion is that they didn’t spend the money on their stores the right way.
The real demise for Toys R Us started in 1998. That is the year Walmart surpassed them in total toy sales by dollar (McDonald’s Happy Meal beats them both in units sold.)
Toys R Us chose at that time to take on the beast to reclaim their crown as king. They didn’t stand a chance. Walmart had more stores, deeper pockets, a larger advertising budget, better operational efficiency, and no need to make money on a category they saw as a commodity traffic-driver.
Seth Godin said it best. “The problem with racing to the bottom is that you might win. Worse, you might finish second.” Toys R Us finished second and we all lost because of it.
Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate to the world that toys are commodities, not the valuable educational tools every specialty toy store owner and every educator in America knows them to be. Toys R Us allowed Walmart to dictate that price was the only reason to buy toys. Once Toys R Us decided to compete on Walmart’s terms, they were done.
Hindsight being 20/20, the best move TRU could have taken back in 1998 was to reestablish their position as the “toy leader” and put their emphasis on the value of toys as educational tools, on the value of toys for promoting growth and development, and on the importance of choosing quality toys for your children.
If toys were thought of that way today, Toys R Us would have diminished the commodity role of the big box discounters and strengthened the toy industry as a whole, while firmly establishing themselves as the clear “toy experts” instead of a warehouse full of only toys competing with warehouses full of toys, hardware, clothing, housewares, and grocery. It would have been a win-win for them and the industry as a whole. They weren’t going to beat Walmart at Walmart’s game and likely never would catch Walmart in total sales (Walmart now has over five times as many stores.) But had they played to their own competitive advantage they would still be the king perceptually and the industry would be better off for it.
That is the lesson. Play to your competitive advantage. Play on your terms, not someone else’s.
Right now the conventional wisdom is that Toys R Us owns too much real estate. Their stores are too big and costly. They need to close them down and sell off the real estate and focus online. I wonder how different the tune would be if back in 1998 they decided to make their stores more friendly and welcoming, filled with toy demos and play areas. What if they turned their stores into educational meccas offering classes on parenting, programs for preschoolers, and events that drew traffic? (According to this article, that is a little of what they are trying to do.) Instead they turned their stores into brightly lit warehouses with minimal staff and an entrance that makes you feel like a common thief just walking through the door.
Real estate is only an asset or liability depending how you use it.
There is still a chance for Toys R Us to turn the ship around. But they need to sail into different waters. I know a little about sailing. If you know David Brandon, tell him to look me up.
PS It may sound like I’m suggesting Toys R Us be more like an independent specialty toy retailer. Umm … Yes! They have a far better chance being successful in that playground than in the big-box-treat-everything-like-a-commodity-warehouse playground they’ve been playing in. They had it right in their Time Square store and oh so wrong in the 865 other locations.
We all dreaded the blue sheets. As camp counselors at Storer Camps, we had to write up an “evaluation” of every camper in our cabin. The blue sheet was the worksheet we used. It had spaces for us to mark their daily activities and a few questions where we wrote short answers about their time at camp including what they seemed to like most, their strengths, and areas where they struggled.
The blue sheet dates back several decades. I remember my mom getting them from my counselors back in the 1970’s. I remember my own trials writing them late at night by flashlight on the porch of my cabin just to get them done on time. I remember turning them in to my director for approval only to be asked to rewrite them because of penmanship or to change a word or phrase. No time off until your blue sheets were finished and approved.
I also remember reading them as a parent and appreciating the thoughtfulness and insight that went into them. It made my boys’ camp experiences more meaningful. It gave me an outsider’s perspective of my children, a valuable measure of their growth.
Evaluations can be viewed as measuring sticks. They show you progress when you compare them to previous evaluations. They are also maps because they show you where you are in relation to where you want to go.
If your Game Plan, however, is to exploit your Competitive Advantage of having better people offering better services, you have to have a map that shows you where your staff members are in relation to where you want them to go. You have to have a tool for evaluating their progress.
Some consultants believe in commission sales as the tool to evaluate your staff. If their numbers are going up, then life is good. The problem is that commission sales don’t always work in every type of retail store, nor are they truly an accurate predictor of someone’s selling skills since luck and timing and many other factors outside of pure selling skills have an effect on the numbers.
Some believe in written evaluations—blue sheets for your staff listing their strengths and areas they need to improve. I tried those and got frustrated by them. Although they measured, they didn’t map. Plus they took a long time to process and complete. They were as discouraging as they were encouraging. On top of that, if you don’t evaluate fairly and honestly without emotion using concrete, specific examples of problems needing to be fixed, these written reports could come back to bite you in a wrongful termination lawsuit.
Written evaluations are best for documenting unacceptable behavior to protect yourself in termination cases, but they don’t work as well for motivating your staff to improve.
Here are the concrete steps I suggest for mapping a path for your staff.
Talk to them. Sit down every so often and just have an informal conversation.
Ask questions. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them what they are working on. Ask them what they have learned from the training program (that I know you have implemented.) Ask them where they see themselves in the big picture of the store. Ask them if they understand their purpose for being employed. Ask, ask, ask.
Give them praise. Praise them for what they have done, what they have learned, and where they are. Roy H. Williams said, “What gets measured gets managed, but what gets measured and rewarded improves.” Praise is often enough of a reward to get the improvement you seek.
Offer suggestions. Based on your observations of their work, coupled with their own beliefs of where they are on their journey, give them suggestions for what they can “work on next” to reach the goals you have already spelled out for your team. Give them concrete action steps such as reading certain articles or books, or watching certain videos, or working on a specific task.
Do it informally and do it often. Formal evaluations are scary and make your team afraid of you. Because of the amount of work involved, they also happen too infrequently to be of good value. Informal discussions following the format above build trust and help motivate your team. Plus they give you a much quicker read on the talent and potential of your current players so that it is easier to spot new, better talent when it comes along.
PS There are many who might disagree with this procedure. There are valid arguments for a formal evaluation process. If you are a small business with only a handful of employees, however, a formal evaluation process could be (or at least feel) overwhelming. Your true goal for evaluating your staff is to see where they are and motivate them toward the ultimate goal of being the best at serving your customers. Daniel H. Pink in his book “Drive” points to three things that intrinsically motivate your staff—Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. A simple measuring stick of growth compared to where you were previously is Mastery, but a map of where you are in relation to where you want to go is Mastery and Purpose.
I’ve only been flown in for an interview once in my life. I went to the Catskills in New York to interview for a position running an experiential education and wilderness trip program. I was a perfect candidate for the job. Not only did I have the experience running a similar program in Michigan, this program also had a strong bike program and owned a fleet of several dozen bikes they had to maintain. I had spent my teenage years assembling and fixing bikes at Toy House. It was a perfect match!
I figured I had the inside track on this job. They flew me in so they must have thought quite highly of me. I had the perfect skill set. I also knew the other two candidates. Both were currently working in the program where I was interviewing. Both had previously worked for me. Neither had the experience in a managerial role I had.
Although I thought I interviewed well, I didn’t get the job.
Only later did I find out the guy doing the hiring had always and only promoted from within. He flew me in only because his boss demanded he interview someone outside the company. I didn’t have a chance. I never had a chance.
Hiring from within makes sense on the surface. You’re hiring a known quantity. You’re hiring someone who already knows your culture (and likely fits in). You’re hiring someone who already knows your procedures. You’re hiring someone who is already loyal to you. The risks seem low.
Laurence J. Peters published a management theory in 1969 about the promotion and hiring from within now called the Peter Principle. According to Wikipedia, the concept is “that the selection of a candidate for a position is based on the candidate’s performance in their current role, rather than on abilities relevant to the intended role. Thus, employees only stop being promoted once they can no longer perform effectively, and ‘managers rise to the level of their incompetence.’ “
The risks may seem low, but the downside to the Peter Principle is that you end up with incompetent people at every level of the organization because you elevate people until they are no longer competent. Does that sound like a good plan?
You need to hire your manager the same way you hire anyone at your company. Make a list of all the traits and skills necessary for a person to be successful on the job. Then figure out what you can teach your new manager and what that person needs to bring to the table.
When you make a list for a sales associate you get different traits than your list for a store manager. A perfect salesperson is great at selling. A perfect manager is great at teaching and motivating. Yes, one person can be good at both. But if you are promoting your best salesperson to manager just because they are your best salesperson, you might have made two positions on your team worse off.
Your manager is most important hire you will make. Your manager is the person who gives you the most time to work on your business instead of in it.
Make a list of the skills needed to be a great manager. That list better include the ability to teach, the ability to motivate, and empathy. You probably need to throw trustworthy onto that list, too, and the ability to learn.
Make a list of questions you can use to identify those skills in your candidates. Here are some on ability to teach and trustworthiness. Tell me about a time where you had to teach someone else a new skill. How well did it go? What would you do differently if you could go back in time? Tell me about a time when you weren’t able to keep your word. How did you rectify that situation later?
Talk to your current staff, especially the high performers who are great in their current role, but not necessarily skilled for the next role. Many people feel the need to want to move up the ranks. Your best salespeople might feel resentment if you pass them over. Talk to them about the importance of their current role and why you need them in that position. If it about money, give them a raise. If they are truly your best salespeople, they are worth it. If it is about power, give them responsibilities that fit with their skill set. They feel better, you feel better, and you haven’t promoted anyone to the level of incompetence.
Move “industry knowledge” lower down your list. Sure it helps if someone is as enthusiastic about your niche in the market as you are. But it isn’t nearly as important as the ability to learn, the ability to teach, and the ability to motivate other people. Given the choice between hiring someone who can step in and lead the team while they learn the products or someone who knows the products but is still learning how to lead, you know the smarter choice.
Your goal is to get the most competent people into every position possible. The manager role is the most important of all those positions.
PS I have seen the Peter Principle in almost every place I have worked. I have even been guilty of it a few times myself. It never seems to end well. The easiest way to prevent it from happening in your business is to look at each role as being a separate position requiring separate skills, not a benefit or reward for time served or a promotion for those who do best in their current role.
PPS My son wrote a college entrance essay on “Leadership”. He identified empathy as being the most important character trait of a great leader. I couldn’t argue with his premise at all. Hopefully he still has that essay saved somewhere so that I can use it in a future post.
How many times have you heard a radio ad that sounded something like this?
Phil’s Toys is the leader in selling hard-to-find toys. We have thousands of toys in stock. We won’t be undersold! Our customer service is unbeatable and we always offer the best deals. Phil’s Toys has the best toys ever! If you haven’t been to Phil’s Toys, you need to check it out! Located on Main Street right by the clock tower. Go to Phil’s Toys dot com and check out our every day deals. (517) 555-1111. That’s (517) 555-1111 or Phil’s Toys dot com for the best selection, best prices and best services on all your toy needs. (517)-555-1111. Call Phil’s Toys today!!
Pretty much all of them, right?
Multiple unsubstantiated claims. Zero emotions. No representation of your Core Values.
Most people will ignore that ad. The few that don’t ignore it will remember one of three points—that you have tons of products, cheap discount prices, and excellent customer service.
But what happens when your customers walk in to find you have a fraction of the products of your big chain competitors, prices that are fair but on the high side, and customer service that is decent but nothing to write home about?
Sure, you have good products. You’re selling a higher grade product than the chains. You’re selling lesser-known but better solutions than your customers are used to seeing. You have fewer choices because you’ve curated down to only the best options. But that isn’t what your ad said.
Sure you have good prices. Thanks to MAP, no one has prices consistently lower than yours (except for the rogue website or two that drives Amazon down temporarily until you complain to your vendor.) No one has prices any higher either. The prices are fair, if not inspiring. But that’s not what your ad said.
Sure you have great service. At least you think you do because customers tell you they love you and you get great reviews on Facebook. That’s the problem with customer service, though. There is no set definition in all customers’ minds what great service looks like. Just because you aren’t bumbling, gum-chewing, idiots like your competitors doesn’t mean you’re meeting your customer’s expectations. but that’s not what your ad said.
If you make an unsubstantiated claim in your advertising, most people won’t believe it (if they heard it at all.) Those few that do believe it better not be disappointed when they show up in your store. Otherwise they will become your greatest critics which is worse than them not showing up at all.
Whether you change your ads or change the experience, the ad and experience have to match to be effective.
Here is one way you could talk about your customer service that is interesting and more substantive …
The box wasn’t unusually heavy. Awkward? Yes. But not too cumbersome. Getting it into the trunk was fun. The top first, a little twist here, and finally a big push. The customer looked at me and said, “I probably should have brought the van.” I laughed, “Next time.” A couple of thank you’s and she left with a smile. I had a happy customer, and a little fresh air. Ahh, we love carrying the big stuff out to your car. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile. But next time bring the van.
That is a true story from a time I was carrying a box out to a customer’s cars. It illustrates one of our services, but more importantly paints the picture of the level of service we offer.
Here’s another true story …
I served them ice cream. 8:30 in the morning and I served my staff ice cream. Some looked at me like I was crazy. Others dug right in. Yeah, I’m a little unconventional that way. Kinda like how we staff the store. I have more staff on the floor than stores double our size. Some think I’m crazy. Others love it. There’s always someone available to help you. It takes a little more ice cream, but it’s worth every scoop. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.
This one tells you one important point—we have “more staff on the floor than stores double our size.”
Stories are far more illustrative and effective at getting your point across in a way people will notice and remember. When you show customers what you do, you are substantiating your claim and making it more believable. When you tell a true story you also make it more memorable.
Show people what you have done to help them see what they can expect when they visit. Not only will your ads be more interesting, they will match the experience your customers have in the store perfectly.
On a slow day we gift wrap about fifty packages. On a busy day it’s closer to five hundred quickly and neatly wrapped gifts. Why do we do it? Because your time and money are valuable and this is how we help. After fifty-six years and over five hundred miles of giftwrap, we’re pretty darn good at it. Sure, there are a few hundred of our thirty thousand toys we just can’t wrap. For everything else, let us do the work. We like to wrap. Toy House in downtown Jackson. We’re here to make you smile.
If you worked for me at Toy House, today would be a paid holiday. Same with New Year’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We only had two unpaid days we were closed—the Sundays before Memorial and Labor Day. Nine closed days, seven paid holidays.
Yeah, I lost business being closed those days.
Yeah I gained business being closed those days.
Yeah, I increased payroll being closed those days.
Yeah, I decreased payroll being closed those days.
First, understand that my store was in a downtown of a city surrounded by over one hundred lakes. No one was downtown. No one was going downtown on Memorial Day, 4th of July or Labor Day. If you are near the beach or amusement park, or river where the fireworks are going off, you might be better off being open.
The other holidays I lost business, especially Thanksgiving and New Years—days that many other retailers are open. At the same time, because I made a big deal out of giving my staff paid time off to be with their families, I actually gained loyalty from my customers who shared those values. Giving up business to be good to my staff made my brand stronger and helped me build trust among my customers. They realized our store was not driven only by the almighty dollar.
The key was letting my customers know why I was closed and what I was doing.
As for payroll, sure paid holidays are payroll with no income. I could be closed without offering pay. Then again, the biggest expense in payroll long-term is employee turnover. Take care of your staff and they’ll take care of you. Plus, it reinforced my values of putting my staff’s needs near the top of the list. My customers saw that and appreciated it. My staff truly appreciated it. In the long run it was a win-win all around.
You don’t have to be closed for holidays. In fact, you might be in a situation where you can’t be closed. I’m not telling you to be closed, either. I’m telling you to be true to your values and make sure your customers know exactly what you value. You’ll attract more customers that share those values, which will more than make up for any sales you might sacrifice or expenses you might add on in the process.
PS If you’re gonna be open on those holidays, make it special for both your staff and your customers. They both are in your store instead of out celebrating. Go all out and celebrate in style. If I was open today, I’d be grilling hot dogs out front and singing patriotic songs.
My buddy was at a conference recently and the presenter for his breakout session had a major typo in big bold letters at the top of one of his opening slides. My buddy couldn’t resist. He took a photo of this typo—and I’m talking not just a single letter but a major butchering—and posted it with the comment, “Why am I listening to this guy for advice?”
After we all agreed the comment was a bit snarky and we all agreed the speaker probably had some good content, I couldn’t quite let this speaker off the hook. After all, even PowerPoint has spellcheck.
The real problem was that a major blunder like this on something so easily proofread and corrected meant two things …
The guy wasn’t prepared. He hadn’t given his presentation enough time to check for errors which sent the signal that the rest of his presentation was hastily slapped together, too.
My buddy was so turned off and distracted by one little misstep, that he missed the message.
Your business sends similar signals to customers all the time. When you have typos or grammar mistakes in your signs and posters and emails and social media posts, you send the signal to many of your customers that you hastily slapped things together. You distract them with these errors and keep them from seeing what you want them to see.
It doesn’t have to be typos either. It can be a staff that is ill-prepared for an event or special offering. It can be contradicting terms from two different sales people. It can be trash by the front door. It can be poorly merchandised areas of your store. It can be dust. It can be a messy bathroom. It can be an answering machine with the wrong hours because the seasons have changed. It can be a website with the wrong hours. It can be a funny smell coming from the backroom staff area. It can be an old, faded, worn-out, been there since the 90’s sign that has a corner missing. It can be footprints of mud leading back to the model section from the work boots of one of your best customers. It can be disheveled clothing on your staff. It can be music that is too loud or too harsh for your shopping environment. It can be window and door glass with smudged finger and hand-prints. It can be products not matching the shelf signs.
It doesn’t have to be much to distract your customers from your awesome staff and fabulous product selection. That little typo can do more damage to your branding than the thousands of dollars you spend on advertising can do good. Yes, those little things mean a lot.
The band Van Halen used to put a clause in their contracts asking for M&M’s with all of a certain color removed. A lot of people thought they must be divas because of that. I was part of that crowd until I heard an interview with David Lee Roth, the acrobatic lead singer who used to fly around the stage. He said they had very intricate, detailed instructions for how to assemble the stage for his safety. If the show organizers were detailed enough to do the M&M’s right (something small and trivial in the grand scheme of things), he had more confidence the stage would be built right. Yes, those little things mean a lot.
You have a fabulous staff and wonderful products. Don’t do anything that signals the customer otherwise. Don’t do anything that distracts the customer from the prize. Yes, those little things mean a lot.