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Culture Clues

EVERYWHERE YOU GO THERE SEEMS TO BE RENEWED ATTENTION TO CUSTOMER SERVICE. That makes sense always, but in a down economy, even more so. Managers and leaders are sorely aware of the competition for the dollar. Beyond loss of discretionary income, there are additional depressive spending attitudes.

Food prices are up. Gas prices are through the ceiling. Economies of scale are being diminished as customer transaction numbers decline. This is due to many factors, including the necessity for conservative spending habits, which translates to extended delay of purchases, even for needed items.

On the food and gas front, at a typical convenience store, you have customers facing rising cost on two have-to-purchase fronts—gas and food.

So the average Joe/Jane, stopping for gas and a gallon of milk on their way home from a job he/she is not so sure will be there next month, is already on edge coming in. Seems like a bad place to work, doesn’t it? Every day facing gnarly, unhappy customers with a chain of problems weighing on their minds.

I have a 7-11 in my neighborhood that seems to defy this expectation. Real conversations occur. Real connections happen. Although mostly superficial, they are friendly and positive interactions. Jokes still happen, Workers still move at a good pace, in contrast to the stores or businesses you enter where everybody seems depressed or on v-a-l-i-u-m, moving through their actions like Zombies from an old sci-fi.

What’s the difference? I think I know.

Who am I? Well, a marketing exec for close to thirty years (but who’s counting?). I’ll just let you be the judge of the wisdom of this.

I say it’s leadership.

You can always tell if you’ve entered a good working culture. When you think about it, you’ll be able to point to your own experiences. Businesses have characters that are almost palpable, sometimes immediately evident when you enter a stiff or grim atmosphere or are greeted (or perhaps, not) by one of the valium bunch. And this does not mean, “Oh, they just made a bad frontline hiring choice.” What it says is, this culture is unwell. Culture of the workplace is defined (or defaulted to) by leadership.

I say it connects right back to top management.

So at my little neighborhood 7-11, something good is happening. Something quite unlike the fake attempts and over-the-top solicitous behavior suddenly taking place at my grocery store—where all of them seem suddenly stoked up with new fears, because they never were the low-priced choice and now people are necessarily considering changes to pull the food bill down.

I’m going to make a point to stop by my 7-11, with a little time to spare, on the way to my job/culture/workplace, and meet the man or woman who manages this place and see what I can learn. I’m really looking forward to the clues, what makes this place tick? What makes this man or woman a good leader? How has this person managed, especially at the 7-11 where part-time jobs abound and loyalty, job respect, even self-respect would not seem to be so universally assured.

I’m going to make the effort to find him/her. Because we all need to renew our thinking on making a greater effort to meet the needs of our customers.

Right now, the challenges of a dramatically evolving marketplace are making that tougher for everyone in the food chain. With added stress from economic realities coupled with a belly-full of economic fears, whether grounded in reality or not, many of our customers are weighing decisions—and some of those decisions involve us.

Being extra nice isn’t going to cut it.

What we need to do, just like those folks at 7-11, is our jobs—just as well as we possibly can do them, with positive attitudes and good work ethics, with efficiency and certainly without the hand-wringing that can only slow us down and possibly affect the actual outcome or the quality of it. Certainly, we will all be less miserable if our focus is on good and valuable work, instead of fear and fantasy,

That may not stop our customers from needing to make other decisions, and it may not affect inflation, but….maybe it can. Multiply this little 7-11 example by a million other businesses in the U.S. behaving the same way, doing their jobs pretty darn well, providing valuable service, putting in a good day’s work if they are fortunate enough to have a job; and what might happen? We would certainly get a little more work done, waste a lot less of a lot of people’s precious time, give businesses the best shot they have at continuing to produce a survivable bottom line and maybe help a few thousand jobs stay viable longer…maybe long enough to weather this economic storm.

Economies of scale work this way too.
And self-fulfilling prophecy thinking is a dangerous thing.

Now…go back to work! And I will too.

PS I’ll let you know when I meet him/her…and tell you what I learn.

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