Friday, January 14, 2011

The New Staffing

The New Staffing by Coach Susan Dunn

If you've ever been in marketing, you know it's in your blood, and it never leaves. It's also innate to most successful business owners and managers; that constant monitoring of what's going on, with the eyes, ears, nose and throat of the consumer. I'm reminded of Conrad Hilton's wife who said she refused to travel with him. The founder of the Hilton chain, he couldn't enter a hotel without taking mental notes and giving a running commentary.

Having spent a number of years in marketing in my earlier career years, I'm the same way. I never walk into a store, hotel, or restaurant without moving into my "observing ego position" and noting my reactions as a consumer. In other words, I notice things.

Now, bad management is a no-brainer -- waiting 30 minutes for an appetizer, or being insulted or ignored by a sales clerk. But it's often the smaller, more subtle, mistakes that will cumulatively sink a business. When doing marketing for a living, I never took on an account without visiting the place and looking it over, preferably unannounced and incognito. It reveals a wealth of information you can't get from spreadsheets, intellectualized marketing plans, or conversations with "suits" located in a headquarters' office thousands of miles from the scene of the crime, as it were. It's crucial to be able to put on a "consumer" hat and find out what it feels like to walk into your organization or place of business and see how you're treated. Note: This is NOT the same as announcing that the CEO is coming for an inspection or a visit.

Many businesses are having problems these days with staffing and I saw a unique solution the other day. Establishments that run close to 24/7, and experience "peaks" and "lulls" face a particular challenge. Some have switched to offering 4- and 6-hour shifts to employees, but this had a new spin on it.


I happened into my favorite cafeteria the other day after not having been there in a month or two, and it was like walking into a completely new place. I enjoy eating at this cafeteria now-and-then, for all the reasons people like a good cafeteria. I try and avoid peak times there, but I've hit them often enough to see what a challenge they have when people are lined up winding around to the door.

I usually go at an off-time, when there may be only 2 or 3 of us in line, and here's what happens. The 2 (or 3) of us grab our trays and then stand there. There's someone down by the vegetables, but obviously the salad isn't their thing. Eventually someone comes from the back (the kitchen) or the side (takeout orders) and gives us a salad. They disappear back to where they came from, and we move down to the meat, where there is again, no one. The vegetable person calls someone from the back. And so it goes.

When we get to the register at the end, there's no one there. This person may be out wiping tables, or in the kitchen filling those little plastic containers with horseradish. Later, when it's time to pay, it's the same thing. The person who should be at that register is not.

Therefore, paradoxically, it can take longer for me to complete the meal process at a lull time than at a peak time.

Last week I walked in at a lull time and couldn't believe what I saw. I loved it! Now - consider that as a consumer statement. The change was palpable and grabbed my attention and I knew, intuitively, it was a good one. Wouldn't you like that to happen in your place of business?

There were 5 fresh young faces behind the counter and they were smiling. I would say these teenagers serving the food were at the minimum legal age of hire. Those of us in line had smiles on our faces as the "kids" dished up the food, asked impossible questions, passed things the wrong way, and didn't seem overly concerned. My feeling, as a consumer who sometimes will complain to a manager, was "Now who am I going to yell at? Not these kids. How could you fuss? They don't know any better. And besides, they're pleasant"

Many consumer these days would trade a "pleasant" experience, to an "efficient" one.

Later when it was time to pay, there was another surprise. A gentleman sat solidly at the register slowly and carefully counting out the money offered him by the person in front of me, while being quite gracious. He had trouble telling a quarter from a nickel, but it all got worked out. He must have been over 70 years old. He looked sharp in his uniform shirt. My reactions, as a consumer, and concerned citizen of the US, were these, in no particular order: So many people can't live on social security or busted 401Ks these day, isn't it wonderful they hire seniors? This is going to be slow, so I might as well calm down. I don't want to put pressure on him, it would rattle him, and he'd go even slower."

A person of any age can have this sort of demeanor and aura, but one finds it more in seniors. After all, they've seen a real emergency, they know that most things work out, and they aren't about to fall for your "hurry up" vibes, because they know that "haste makes waste. So who am I going to yell at?

"Yelling at" is a figure of speech here. As a consumer, I expect certain things when I walk into an establishment hoping to spend my money there, and if it doesn't occur, I'm miffed. Sometimes I say something to the manager. Occasionally I'll write the corporate, though not just for a free gift certificate as some do, and I'm more likely to do it with praise than with criticism. Criticism is best addressed at the local level.

Most often I do what every business owner dreads. I express my dissatisfaction by never returning. They don't get a second chance. (Savvy managers love to hear customer complaints; that's how you learn what's working and what isn't, and, paradoxically, it's also how you get loyal customers. During my former years in public relations, I knew when I had a protestor on the phone, I had at least a 60-40 chance of converting them to a real fan.


From the minute I walked into the place, the atmosphere was different. What do you imagine was the difference in attitude and behavior in a staff consisting totally of people under 20, and people over 65? What would you think would be the pros and cons to yourself as manager or owner, and to the consumer? Here are some of the positives:

. Consumer expectations are radically changed. . Two age groups available for peak staffing and short shifts. . Two age groups grateful for work and often willing to work for less. . Two age groups not at the peak working years, so less likely to be in a state of current of pending burnout. . No one behind the counter is complaining that their feet or back hurt from standing for hours. . No one at the register is complaining that it's "confining" and "boring" to have to sit on a stool for hours. . Two age groups which really enjoy socializing and may prefer jobs with opportunities to visit and chat with co-workers and customers. . Two age groups which are generally more focused on the moment so, therefore, are less likely to be in a hurry or impatient with customers. . Two age groups the 35-50 year old consumer will relate to with nurturing instincts - they see their child or their parent behind the counter. . Two age groups not so likely to get "hired away" from you. . Two age groups that don't have small children at home.

Today's business demands require thinking outside the box, and I'll give this manager an A+ for innovation. I think he or she found a plan that will work.

About the author: ©Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, . Helping individuals and businesses improve their emotional intelligence for more success and wellness. Coaching, business programs, diversity, Internet courses and ebooks. I train and certify EQ coaches. Fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program training coaches worldwide. for more information or free ezine.

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