Her: "We need to go upstairs and talk to management."
Me (feeling incredibly anxious, but also relieved as I follow her up the stairs): "Ok." I'm asked to close the door and sit down. Our HR manager has her notepad out and my manager and our General Manager are sitting on the other side of the office.
HR Manager (in a very serious voice): "Basically this is about your ankle and your availability."
Today's list is improvements I would make if I was suddenly in charge at work:
1. Get rid of the standard interview questions and ask candidates to tell us about themselves.
The only reason to go ahead with someone is because you think or feel that they will add value to your organization. Most people can figure out how to answer a set of formulaic questions that prevent you from really getting to know someone. Culture is important and if someone can answer the questions correctly, but they're going to be a source of constant irritation to you, does it really matter if they were able to provide the answers you needed to hear? In my opinion the interview process is outdated, I would include a personality profile section and ask that applicants turn in something that helps us understand who they are as people. To me companies should exist to provide a good or service humanity wants or needs and the best and most efficient way to do this is to figure out who you want on your team and how their personality and skills are going to fit into the existing structure. If I'm hiring a cashier and I know that the job is super boring I'm going to ask someone, what do you do when you're bored? Since the front end manager we have now was promoted our front end has become much more stable and I want to give her credit for recognizing better candidates than the woman we had previously.
2. Update the dress code.
I tell my children that the only rule I have about hair and clothing is that it be appropriate. If they can't figure that out on their own, then I will help them, and I've told them that I'm historically terrible at figuring out what people would prefer to wear. We have a hall monitor culture at work where good employees are being reprimanded for things that in my opinion are a complete waste of time. Who people are as individuals matters to me and what easier way for people to express what makes them unique than to let them figure out what they want to wear to work? The grade school my children attended had this type of a policy and I loved it. The principal had an exceptional grasp on what was truly a problem, and what was a current fad or trend that kids were going to follow and adults weren't going to like. People can wear shirts with huge logos splashed across the back if it's a company we do business with, but my half dollar sized Bucky Badger icon is going to drive customers away and cause employees to unite and overthrow the store? Come on people... <eye roll>
3. Use the brains you hired.
We have a bright crew at work, but once we get great minds through the door we have a culture that insists on conformity instead of employing the mind power we hired. This is by far one of the most infuriating aspects of work. Our grocery manager is a detail person. This would be a great skill if she was in accounting, but in my opinion it's a complete waste of time for anyone to be writing or receiving a very detailed communication about how to work the cheese island and the dairy cooler. Maybe that would make sense if an employee was new, but if you've been there for a while, and you can't see what to put out or figure out how to work inventory, perhaps we could get rid of someone who is that incompetent? Work rewards people like her because her lengthy emails make it seem as if she is communicating well and working very hard. But if you're telling someone something they already knew, and you're using your position to abuse the power you have and you can't figure out that as the manager of this department your time would be much better spent on things that are a higher priority since the cheese island is run by someone who has been there for years, this is a problem and it infuriates me to no end.
4. Clean and organize everything.
This is another issue at work and I probably should have made this my number one point. I won't get into how critical it is to keep food fresh when you work at a grocery store. To some extent you are always going to have issues with spoilage, insects, damaged goods, etc..., but there is absolutely no excuse for the level of filth that we have in certain places when these problems are a potential health hazard. One day I noticed a trickle coming from the cooler. It didn't look like water, our General Manager at the time told me to wipe it up and go on with my day. Thankfully I investigated further because meat that someone had stacked against the wall was bleeding into the aisle. Because I was persistant and chose to take action instead of telling myself a member of management had given me the green light to ignore it, the company was able to address the issue more quickly than if I had left it alone. Stuff happens, but if you empower team members and reward them for caring about our bottom line in addition to health and safety concerns your store will be a better place to shop and work.
5. Crack down on insubordination and attitude problems.
Your attitude may not be everything at work, but it is a very large part of what contributes to a positive employee and customer experience. I was up in the break room one day and a guy I work with asked me what the problem was with a woman in my department. He said that she takes resting bitch face to an entirely new level, and that in his opinion, customers avoid her because she's giving off the vibe that they are an annoyance and an intrusion rather than the reason that she has a job in the first place. Everyone is entitled to have a bad day now and then, you are not entitled to come in to work and subtly or overtly indicate that you are displeased with whatever you have an attitude about. Management tends to focus on problems like attendance and things that are more easily addressed and completely ignore or minimize the people side of managing a business. There's one woman in particular that I would immediately fire, but because she is generally a responsible and reliable employee she has a job and others who are much better for organizational health are kept from the position that she has.
6. Manage inventory.
Inventory is money sitting on a shelf. Customers can't see the products in back. They are aging, decaying, we paid money for them, and it's our job to sell them for a profit. One of the women in my department was promoted with the understanding that she would help manage the inventory we have. This is ludicrous to me. If you can't see that your paycheck and our profitibility is tied to keeping purchases reasonable and strategic, by all means stock up if an item that moves quickly is on sale, but if you like to shop and you buy a bunch of crap you want or a vendor pushed on you, then you need to be stripped of your purchasing power. You can also order too little which is another problem. Customers want immediate gratification. Chronically empty shelves is a better problem to have than too many things in back, both are issues, they both need to be addressed, and in my opinion this is the number one thing we could be doing to make our store more money with less effort. Learning how to buy is a skill and there's a learning curve. Keeping the buying dollars away from people who love to shop and aren't held accountable is where I would start and I would be very firm about this.
We used to have a cashier who was routinely bored in the morning. I asked if she would help me and for a while we had a running calendar of items that were getting close to their expiration or best by dates. Between us we spent whatever time we could each morning, you can do this by yourself, but it's a lot easier and more fun when you have two people; one to pull the item and check the date, the other to record that data. This is a system I came up with that we eventually abandoned and it's the kind of actual inventory management I never got credit for and wasn't appreciated. Maybe selling items we already paid for should be a higher priority than bringing in whatever hot new item that everyone is raving about? I'm going to go back to this because she should not have that job if her idea of inventory management is putting things on sale when our manager gives her those instructions
7. Praise people and notice what they do well.
This goes back to points 1, 2, 3, and 5. Why hire someone and then practically forbid them to use the mind that they have? Management routinely says that my department is the most complicated and I would generally agree with that statement, but it's not the way I would phrase it since sometimes there's an attitude of superiority that comes from us that is completely out of line. All jobs should be important or they should not exist. Our company does a generally poor job of seeing what someone would be great at and then assigning them a role where they can flourish and bloom. We have a super sharp guy in produce who is bored out of his mind, he's a special case because he goes to school and has other outside interests, I still think there's a way for him to be using more of his mind at work. Compliments are rare, general, and rote instead of being specific, plentiful, and unique. If the only thing that place did was recognize the contributions of others more we would be in much better shape than we are now.
8. Strip the bullies of power.
Our store is kind of cool in that we have several women in positions of authority. However, these women are not generally well qualified for the type of work that they are doing and this really hurts us. Management is a skill and it can be taught and learned, that's not being done where I work. My manager is an exception. I feel she is well qualified for her job and does it much better than most people realize, but I can also see how her flaws and weaknesses are costing us and cost can't always be measured in dollars. She has a habit of dressing down people on the sales floor and that is unprofessional and unacceptable. She's generally right about the need to challenge whatever she's upset about, but her rage is frequently out of line with the offense and she doesn't typically address insubordination which to me is usually the underlying issue behind whatever someone is in immediate trouble for doing or not doing. Bullies prosper and flourish at the expense of their victims and it hurts everyone. I'm generally well protected, but when I first started this was a huge issue and it was not okay to an extent I'm just starting to fully realize and appreciate.
9. Ask customers and employees what they like best about the store.
Instead of hiring outside companies to survey us why not just walk around and ask people what they like about the store? This engages people, most of the people in the trenches have solutions management doesn't because if it's your job to put items on shelves, get carts, or clean up the spice area, you have ground level insight into the specifics of a problem. This invites brainstorming sessions, our spice area is much better than it was because I advanced the idea of arranging the jars alphabetically and sold my manager on the idea that the counter areas should be free of jars so we would have more room for things like the supplies we need for customers to identify what they are purchasing. It's often flattering to be asked what you think, being asked what you like gives them an opportunity to reflect on the positives, trust me, you will hear what you are not doing well, why not turn that conversation around and proactively focus on what people already like and try to see if we can be doing more of that? If customers love that we can carry groceries out to a vehicle, perhaps that's a service we can start offering more frequently.
10. Walk the walk.
You have unrealistic expectations of others if you think that you can continually rail on your employees and expect that profits will magically grow while expenses shrink. This company is being run like a poorly managed baseball team that routinely overworks their defense because their starters are so overworked, underpaid, and neglected that they can barely throw strikes routinely. Meanwhile the bench and bullpen are bloated and getting into trouble because they aren't carrying their fair share of the workload since the GM and her or his assistant has never heard of a utility player or strategy. The front office is sitting in their air conditioned quarters eating doughnuts and cookies while looking condescendingly down on others, their salaries make it difficult for the team to acquire the talent they need via trade, and their DL makes the Angels look like they are doing a masterful job of keeping their employees safe, healthy, and nurtured. Do I have all of the answers? Of course not. Am I sometimes idealistic? Absolutely. Are there real problems and viable solutions? I'll let you think about that, one of the things I hate is being told how I should be thinking...
Me: "I thought I was going to get fired."
Her: "Oh no, there would have been a fight if that was the case. You are my everything." She looks at me with tears in her eyes and suddenly I feel terrible because I know that I haven't always been the employee she deserves and my behavior has caused her a lot of anxiety and gotten her into trouble when she shouldn't have been. I vow to write this up and do what I can to make her life better going forward.
Her (after she received a sample packet): "Thanks Jessica, you are awesome." I gave her a single serving size of a product we don't have yet, but will be carrying, do I think we're going to be able to sell a new product better if one of the people who works there has tried it and can give us feedback on it, or should I do what we normally do and just shove samples in a drawer for people in my department?
First woman: "Thanks Jessica. I'm going to come over here and use that salve when I'm working." She had a small cut beneath her eye and I showed her products she could use to help draw the skin back together. While I was over there I put some aloe on my face, another woman came over, saw the issues I was having and gave me a look.
Second woman: "Is everything okay over here?"
First woman after she takes everything out of my dripping hands: "It's fine. She's, just, it's fine." The second woman walks away after she gives us a look that says she trusts we have this situation handled.
"Jessica?" I look up and see my oldest daughter peeking her head around the corner. I give her a big hug and am close to tears because my ankle hurts and I'm so happy to see her. She brightened my day and it was so funny hearing her say my name like that. She sounded like a grown woman instead of a child. I'm so proud of her even if I was scolded after that because we had work that needed to be done.
Her: "This morning when I was driving in to work I saw him coming off the exit on the freeway from the opposite direction." (This is a very short paraphrase of the actual detailed account)
Her: "Well, if the reason he stopped coming in to shop is because he has a girlfriend, that's crappy of him."
Me: "I can think of at least ten reasons he could be using that exit instead of the other one. Maybe he does have a girlfriend, but the leap of logic that requires me to believe that some guy must have had a girlfriend in September because he used a different exit in December is asking too much of me. He doesn't owe you anything. If he had a girlfriend back then, and that's why he stopped..."
Her: "Jessica, hear me out, listen to me..."
Me: "No, you listen to me. He has every right to go out with anyone at any point in time. Had you told me some woman was driving his vehicle or sitting next to him at quarter to seven in the morning, I would be more inclined to buy the girlfriend theory. Maybe some chick is blowing him on the way to work after he spent the night at her place, however, he could have driven past his exit, maybe he needed to buy gas, there are bike trails in the area and we know he likes to run, maybe he met a friend for breakfast, he could have moved, he could have had an errand to run, maybe he had an event and spent the night in Milwaukee, there could have been an accident on the freeway that rerouted traffic, maybe he has family in the area and spent the night at a relative's place, maybe he wanted to pick up a treat for the people he works with, maybe he needed air in his tires, maybe he came in from another direction (I continue giving plausible reasons for someone using a different exit which I do routinely)."
Her: "I just had this intuition. Sometimes I just get them."
Me: "That's not intuition, you're obsessed and paranoid. Go to therapy, get professional help. A good therapist will help you get over this guy."
Her: "I am over him. Therapy is expensive. It's like fifty bucks an hour. I don't have that kind of money."
Me (calculating what she spends on cosmetics and snacks): "Have you called your insurance company to see what benefits would be covered?"
Her: "You mean I have to call them? I just have to work on myself and get through this. I don't need a therapist, it's too embarrassing to tell them that I got mixed up with some guy and besides, what if I start crying in front of someone else?"
Me: "Wouldn't you have compassion on someone who told you they had made a fool out of themselves over someone else? Of course you would. I started crying in front of my therapist and she helped me. Professionals can give you the type of advice your friends can't. This is literally what they get paid to do and that's why they exist. Let's say it is expensive, wouldn't it be better to get some help now rather than go on this way for the rest of your life?" She gives me another set of excuses and fortunately by them I'm at work. I can't wait to get into therapy and address this. Her obsession is becoming mine. It's draining and I don't know how to get out of the situation because I have issues of my own. Ugh...
PT Update: He moved. So much for her intution... <wink>
Me: "Those jeans are cute."
Her: "Thanks. They're the only ones I have that fit. I have to go buy more. Sometimes, it's just time. I put others ahead of myself, most of the time I don't mind, but I have to go out and buy myself some new jeans."
Me: "Good for you. I agree. Sometimes, it's just time. You go girl."
Her (dabbing at tears): "I love you all, it's so much fun to come in here, you and <redacted>, you're my favorite stores."
Me (hugging her): "We love you too sweetie. This store is a better place because people like you come in here and love up the customers." I say more encouraging things, she runs out to her car for samples and we hug her again before she has to leave. We have amazing vendors. I'm privileged to have access to them.
I realize I forgot one of the bullet points I had intended to add and that would be to train and educate our employees as well as include a wellness plan for them. I suppose that will have to wait, on my way to PT...
Today at PT we were talking about dating; first dates, who should pay, what were options other than food and movies, that kind of thing. I shared some of my dating disasters and heard other bad first date stories. Mostly it was me and my PT, but the place is small and there are a lot of conversational overlaps. I'm standing about five feet away from a woman who is doing chest exercises, she seems very excited, like she has something she can't wait to say so I ask her what she thinks. She gives me and my therapist a huge smile before exclaiming loudly: "I think you two should go out when this is all over."
I was wearing black, she was, both of the guys who were working with were, it suddenly occurs to me that you really couldn't ask for a better place to explore what the human body is capable of doing than at a PT clinic. The whole place is done in black and gray with red and white accents. The music has the same beat I associate with a great sexual encounter. My therapist and I both give logical reasons why we couldn't go out, I'm not attracted to him, but my mind went there and I apologized for crossing a line. He told me not to worry about it, I didn't really pay attention to him, the guy my friend has a crush on is standing close enough to hear every word and I'm furious with myself for viewing a conversation about dating as a way to get him to open up about what he would like to do on a first date because the conversation is no longer under my control and I feel like I've fallen through what I should have seen as very thin ice. When I first read the articles that said everything is a game to people like me I dismissed that because clearly not everything can be a game, now I'm seeing things about myself and her crush that I hadn't before.
He brought up where he lived and I thought that wasn't just a random conversational fact he dropped when he was talking to his patient. He wanted me to know that for some reason (I think). Earlier I had told my PT that I was going to buy him bobby pins for Christmas. He didn't say anything, but I think he heard my comment. I found out he likes to watch documentaries instead of sports and I think there's a reason I heard that comment too, mainly because my friend who likes him isn't a sports fan. I could be wrong, maybe he was just talking, but I think there was something different about today and I think I know what it was. Normally when I go to PT I've got my act together. Today I grabbed jeans I had worn the other day and threw on a sweatshirt before I walked out the door. He had his act together, I've never once seen him wear the red shirt since I started going, again, that could be coincidence, maybe it is, I hate his red shirt and think it looks terrible on him, but rather than say that I once told him he looked good in black because this was true and I think he's insecure about the way that he looks so I thought he could use a bit of an ego boost.
I wasn't flirting with him, but ever since then I haven't seen the red shirt. Today he had the power and the control and the upper hand and I didn't like that. I once read an article that discussed what it would be like to date someone who was eerily like yourself, I purposely did not wear black to my first two appointments just to make sure today's situation could be avoided. The last thing I wanted was for him to think I was wearing it to try and impress him or to try and fit in because that's one of the colors their dress code allows them to wear. I looked kind of sloppy today and I left feeling played even though I was the one who had kept the dating conversation going after it had been introduced. I feel like he knows that anything he says or reveals about himself will get back to my friend. He is a very private person who does not automatically volunteer any details about his personal life, so why casually mention where you live to someone? Maybe it really just was a casual comment, but I have my doubts.
While I was thinking about this whole thing and how mad I am that somehow PT turned into this dangerous game in a sexually charged erotic environment I remembered how I had told my friend that this guy was very dangerous and to avoid playing games with him at all costs. I told her that he was trouble, but I didn't mean the kind of trouble that some may associate with a guy because he has a stable job and isn't a huge jerk, what I meant was that he can out think his opponent and this is why I would never go out with him even if I thought he was as devastatingly handsome as my friend wants to believe. I'm very competitive, he is, and my PT and his patient were collateral damage during that conversation about the two of us dating. I never saw that coming, but it taught me a lesson. I need the mental connection with someone, but I need to think that they are my friend and my ally and we have a mutual lust plus trust type of thing going on rather than a you have something I want type of agenda.
I wish I had never gone back to him, I don't know what I was thinking and now I don't know how to get myself out of this trap I set for myself. Being undone by your own machinations is humbling. I need a hug, a kiss, and someone to talk to about this...
I had another insight about myself that is super unflattering; I absolutely can't handle it when, I'm trying to figure this out, I'm mad because it was a game, we were sizing each other up, he decided to play and I walked into a snare I had set for myself. He won that round, I admire that. I'm not really mad at him, he won fair and square because I had invited him to play and he accepted the challenge. I can't handle it when there's an emotional component and I think my opponent is fighting unfairly. I feel safe with him because of the environment he creates. That's why my sexy sensual side can come out to play and on some level I'm grateful to him for letting me have that kind of playground. He has the job he does because he's an incredibly sensual person. There's no emotional component here. We actually want the same thing; he wants information to get back to my friend and I wouldn't mind them getting together, I have to think about this, I think I figured it out, I'm furious with that woman because she was not invited to play and she ruined the game for the rest of us. She didn't follow the rules probably because she had no idea we were playing a game in the first place. She's a trouble maker. Insinuating that there's a sexual or potential romantic connection between a patient and a practitioner in front of the director of the clinic is uncool. I'll take my share of the blame because I did try to play a game with him, but I think he understood what I was trying to do and was willing to play along as long as it didn't interfere with anything else he was trying to do. I need a nap. I need a better game plan. All I can say is, I think tomorrow will be interesting.
P.S. If you think this whole thing is in my head and I'm just a drama queen who reads into everything, I'll admit that you're probably right, but hey, you read through this entire thing, so what kind of a sucker does that make you? Just kidding, that was a joke and I hope it made you think...
Her: "What if he's gay?"
Me: "What if he is? Let's say that he is. You had two men at work tell you that he likes you. You know that they're both intuitive and there's nothing in it for them if they help you out by sharing their observations with you, but instead of pulling you aside to warn you that he plays for the other team they tell you that he likes you. Why would they do this if they think or sense that he's gay, and if he is gay this whole thing never would have happened in the first place. Nothing against anyone else, but if a man tells a woman another man is interested in her he has to be picking up on something, and if that signal is strong enough for them to communicate information about him to you as the target of his interest, why would they do that if they think he's gay? This makes no sense to me. If these guys said he was gay I would believe them. If women who aren't intuitive and don't know him are advancing this theory, I'm sorry, but my money is on him being straight and maybe you better think twice about the motivation behind another woman telling you that your crush is gay when men who know him better than they do say otherwise. I think you owe this guy an apology; I think he likes you, he desires you, maybe he even loves you, he's telling other men to back off by paying attention to you and calling you by your name, I think that's what these guys are seeing or sensing when he's around you. A guy can get lunch anywhere, but if he shops at an expensive store every work day of the week, maybe supporting your paycheck is important to him. Did you ever think about that?"
Her: "Well no, but you have to admit he could be."
Me (simply irate by now): "True. Next time I see him, I'll ask."
Me (sharing my frustrations with another friend): "If he is gay, he should definitely go out with another intuitive type."
Her: "What does it mean when you have a dream that you get stuck in mud and water when you're driving? Like I was driving in the middle of nowhere out in the wilderness, not even real roads. There was another car that passed from the other way and that got stuck too. Isn't that a strange dream? It felt so real."
Me: "It means you should trade in your car for a really nice truck."
Her: "Hey mom, have you ever heard this song?"
Me: "It doesn't sound familiar, why do you ask?"
Her: "It just sounded like something you would listen to, how did you get into Italian disco anyways?"
Me: "I have no idea honey."
Her: "Were you just like randomly surfing YouTube one day when it came up?"
Don't ask me why this is so funny, but it was. I guess you had to be there.
I almost forgot, I did an art project by myself. I put pink sailboats against a black and red sea and sky and had white ice/lightning in the background. After the YouTube surfing conversation I really did go there and fool around for a while. Music is a way I connect with my emotions, I got really sad for a while thinking about V is for Virtuoso. Sometimes I write things and I wish I could just come out and say what I'm trying to convey, going to PT has really confused me. It's like I'm learning a lot about myself and other people, but it's not the kind of knowledge I'm sure I really wanted or needed about myself. Sometimes I wish I could just be a different person, but I guess the fact that I'm not is what makes me, me. I love PT because it almost never feels like I'm working when I'm talking to those guys. They make it fun to do something that's good for me and I think that's what I really need in life.