Sunday, June 20, 2010

Crossing Your Fingers Is Not A Business Plan

The economy has presented challenges to management teams all over the country, resulting in lay-offs, downsizing, cut hours, strict budgeting, etc. Not all solutions are created equally.

At my workplace, I am truly an untapped resource. You see, I am by nature a system builder, a problem solver, and a good interpreter of human behavior. I have managerial experience, but due to odd circumstances, I was hired into a very menial role. Instinctively, I know I could be of some assistance, but asserting myself in this environment would be very unwelcome and would damage, not advance my prospects in the company. But it does allow me the leisure to observe without being noticed, like a fly on the wall.

So, I content myself with keenly observing the words and behavior of the management team. I only have scraps from which to glean, and admittedly only get a glimpse into what is happening behind the scenes. The general manager addresses matters rather vaguely during employee meetings. His manner might suggest that he is openly communicating his intentions regarding the company, but he divulges very little substance. But those scraps are quite telling.

From what I can tell, two key sales positions had been filled by poor performers who were eventually let go—one after 15 years, another after a year and a half. The 15 year salesman, had probably just become complacent, but the other gal had blackmailed her way into a position for which she could never have been considered remotely qualified. Since they each headed up two different branches of sales, the affects of their poor performance was widespread. They had allowed relationships with clients to weaken considerably. And, their high wages were a significant drain on the company resources.

Now, I was introduced to a business model at my former employment where skillful salesmen were recruited in, extensively trained, and expected to perform. If anyone at anytime dropped beneath their quota, they were gone. The new hires and the seasoned tenure were all under a no tolerance policy. Failure was not an option. Ill-performance was not excused. Salesmen were lavishly rewarded for their success, and universally indulged.

Coming from this background of strict expectations, and landing here at “amateur central” is quite a culture shock. Here, top positions go to friends, relatives and neighbors or people are promoted from within rather than going to the applicant with matching skill sets. Training is almost non-existent and would best be described as “orientation.” There seem to be no incentives offered. Expectations are neither clearly defined nor enforced.

Well, after removing these two sales persons, the decision was made to allow the positions to remain vacant until things started to pick up. This apparently was an attempt to save the company money. Now, I ask you, which is better? To have poor salesmen, or no salesmen? And how do sales “pick up” without someone to do the selling?

For the past month, emphasis has been on reforming the company dress code. Or rather, enforcing it. And memos have been sent repeatedly, managers have met with their respective teams on the matter of dress and grooming. Pages from the employee handbook have been printed and circulated. Now, this is a respectable, inexpensive improvement to make within the company. I could admire the effort, except that the managers themselves have failed to take the lead. The general manager refuses to wear anything but denim, and the office manager has switched from jeans to obscenely short dresses and hooker heels. It has changed from a casual setting to a nightclub atmosphere.

At our meetings, we are requested to improve customer service so that clients will want to keep coming each week despite the fact that our inventory is drying up. And we are reminded that the industry traditionally slows during these months and we’re all encouraged to take time off (hours already being slashed to 35 hours per week), and hope for the best. Things will turn around and we all just need to ride it out.

On hearing this rhetoric I just want to scream! As an employee, I want to know what is being done to get us out of the mess we are in! Excuse me, but I don’t think that dressing up, being nice to customers, and waiting it out is very constructive way to bring in money. My husband says, “How many times would you return to your favorite store if the shelves were bare every time you went? Would it matter to you that the clerk was nice or well-dressed?” Besides, their customer service is not as great as they think it is. I watched a clerk slap a customer on the back of the head and say, “thanks for hanging up on me the other day, you jerk.” It was not said or received in a jesting manner. The customer simply replied with a dirty look, and no attempts were made to repair the rift.

I spoke to one of the oldest employees who had seen the business thrive in its glory days, and could tell that he was very disappointed with the way things are headed. I remarked that the company has no highly skilled employees, and he agreed. He laughed when I said, “I’m really anxious because both my husband and I are employed here, and there seems to be no real plan to get us out of this mess. I mean, ‘cross your fingers and hope for the best’ is not a business plan. And it’s not like we’ll get a 2 week notice that the place is closing down.”

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