Friday, August 9, 2013

A Teachable Moment

August 9, 2013
A good manager is also a good teacher.  You can state a statement over and over but sometimes it is just not received well without an example.  I recall once using a simple cup of coffee.  I poured a cup and then added some cream and sugar.  I then took the spoon and blended it while I talked.  The spoon was a very important part of the ending cup.  It blended the three ingredients into the drink making the finished product.  But, once the spoon was taken out of the cup, you would not even realize that it was there.  "You are the spoon.", I spoke, "You make or break that perfect cup of coffee....but....I can use another spoon just as easy.  I might like you.  But, I could just pick up another spoon.  No One, not you nor I is irreplaceable.  And once you are replaced, our customers will not remember the difference because we will just find another spoon."
I had made that statement for just one of the girls in the room.  It was early on in my career at Jake's and one of the entrenched waitresses had been attempting to push me around with her feeling of being indispensable.  She was very important to the diner....I knew that.  I did not want to see her go.  But, I also knew that unless she followed me, I would not be able to get others to follow.  She sat waiting in the room as the others left.  With no one else there but her and I, she looked up and said, "That was for me, wasn't it?".  "If the shoe fits", was my reply.  "OK, I get it!", she snapped as she popped up and left the room.  Although she still gave me fits from time to time, she never tried threatening to leave again.
Sometimes, personal experiences become stories....stories that can teach.  Something that can be related to to show a point.
Yesterday, I was shopping in a store.  I won't name it's name but I had picked up a few items but felt that I did not have enough for a cart.  I walked towards the only open cash register in the place.  A lady was talking with some young girls by the register looking over some of the impulse items that were laid out there.  Her shopping cart was laden with stuff.....filled to the brim and overflowing.  The girls were attempting to talk her into one more thing.  They were spraying each other with some perfume type product.  "Doesn't this smell good, Grandma?", I heard one of them say as I walked past them.
Happy that they were still behind me now, I walked up to the register and unloaded my arms unto the open counter.  The cashier was loading up bags from the lady in front of me that she had just rang up.  She looked up at me with a funny sort of helpless look.  "Grandma, you need to bring your cart around.", said the lady in front of me who looked like she was ready to leave.  I soon realized that Grandma was paying for everyone's stuff.  And Grandma had more stuff to ring up......lots and lots of stuff.  I scooped up my things and moved out of the way for her.  She seemed oblivious of me even being there as she slowly unloaded her at a time from her cart.  12 bottles of soda and 8....yes...8 bottles of large shampoo were just a couple of the things coming from the seeming bottomless cart.
I stood there.  My arms holding the items that I had picked.  I looked around, hoping for someone to bail me out.  I was hoping that one of the other employees would see the line beguinning to form and open up another register.  A man behind me had a shopping cart that was about 3/4 full and another lady was milling behind him looking at those impulse items.
A young man came flying up and grabbed the guys cart behind me.  "Come on over here", he stated, "I can ring you up on my register!".  I stood there as the two walked away and I looked from one register to another watching the two ring ups and .....getting a bit frustrated.  After all, I was next in line....and I was holding my items.  It was a pretty easy thing to see.
"Hi Lyle", came the voice behind me as I turned and faced the lady who had been looking at the impulse items.  Obviously one of our customers or someone that knew me from Jake's in some way.  It was what I needed, however, to bring the whole thing into perspective.  It was very important how I reacted to the whole situation as one never knows who is watching.
Sometimes, my life is like being on stage.  So many people know me that I must always be aware of how I react to conflict or, in this case, frustration.  As I watched grandma slowly unload more of her things, the story seemed to unfold in my mind.  I began to formulate how I could use this experience when I am trying to teach one of the employees about watching close to see make sure that they serve the first person who walks in.  Often times, when customers arrive, they come in bunches.  But, believe me, they know if they are there before someone else.  If one of my wait staff serves someone out of turn, someone will be left feeling just as I do right now.
As those thoughts go through my mind, it begins to relax me.  I turn and engage the lady behind me in casual conversation and then after Grandma is finally finished, unload me things on to the counter.
"I am so sorry", comes the words from the cashiers mouth.  "Actually, that was not as frustrating as the guy who took the man behind me over to his register to ring him up", I smiled.  "Your kidding me!", she exclaimed and turned around....not even realizing that she now had help.  "Don't worry about it", I stated, "it's ok.  Somehow, he did not see me."  "I am really sorry", she returned.  "Really, it is ok.  It is just an experience....just a story.", I smiled.  The lady behind me let out a little giggle as I realized that I had said the right thing.  We looked at each other with knowing smiles as the young girl rang up my items.
I said goodbye to both of them as I turned and walked out the door and to my car.  I had just experienced not one...but two teachable moments.  And I will use them both one day....or have a just?