Category Archives: Training Employees

My Tale of Two Traffic Stops: Facing the Reality of White Privilege

sirensRecently, I was talking to my husband, Tim, about our teenage son and his reckless driving. I explained how much I worry about him. He’s a sassy kid but for all the right reasons. He constantly pushes the boundaries because he’s a free spirited, adventurous, independent thinker who is frequently misunderstood. He questions everything, including authority, but he’s not disrespectful and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He just has issues with bureaucracy, red tape, traditional brick and mortar classrooms, and unnecessary rules that seem to serve no purpose.

My son has had his share of heartbreak and trauma and growing up in a small business family is not easy. But, for the most part, he lives a fairly charmed life. Like most moms, I simply adore my son. He is brilliant, witty, tall, handsome, physically fit, and as charismatic as he could be, possessing all the traits our society deems important. But when he starts that arguing he sometimes comes off like the worst possible version of a privileged, white, fraternity brat. Not only is he good looking and articulate, he drives his Jeep too fast, gets As on all the assignments he actually deems worthy of completing, and could not care less about the Fs from the work he considers to be a waste of time. He’s almost finished with high school so I don’t worry too much but I constantly struggle to balance my efforts reeling in his overzealousness while not squashing his initiative and inquisitive nature. I admire how he speaks his mind and thinks for himself and I don’t want to stifle his independence. One of my biggest fears regarding my amazing son is that he’ll be misjudged when in reality, even with his faults, he is a truly wonderful human being with endless potential.

While my husband and I were chatting about our son getting pulled over for speeding, I mentioned a couple of other boys who got pulled over recently. Just the other day two different young black men we know both got pulled over within days of each other. One texted me, “I just got pulled over,” and the other one posted it on his Snap story. In both cases I immediately dropped to my knees and prayed that they were stopped by legitimate good cops and not a poser-bully-with-a-badge.

We then talked about how much we hate crappy competitors because they make our entire industry look bad and I said how hard it must be for young black men every time a black criminal is on the news. I said I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to work as a police officer right now. As if the on-the-job risk isn’t bad enough, a bad cop makes daily life total hell for the all the good cops. I talked about how I cringe when I hear of a mass shooting, assuming it will be a white kid with his parent’s gun, and how I sometimes let the pain from that association overshadow the real tragedy at hand. I think our conversation even detoured so far as to discuss how incorrectly trained pit bulls give all bully breeds a bad name. I clearly take issue with blanket assumptions.

After getting back on course I continued with my story, sharing how I prayed that the boys who got pulled over would be respectful and compliant and live to fight the bigger fight. I knew these boys were fine, young men and prayed they were not perceived as dangerous threats in any way. These boys were like family and I couldn’t bear the thought of their young lives – both so full of endless potential – being cut short. I hastily texted back, both hands on the wheel. Polite. Compliant. Exactly what I tell my own son but with much deeper meaning. I even scolded one of them for not posting a follow up showing he was okay, to which he replied, “Sorry Mama Emerson,” then updated his story. In both cases – as in most cases – everything went fine. Uneventful. In fact, both of them drove away with nothing more than a polite warning. But that fear… the fear of thinking, my God, is one of their names going to be the next hash tag on Twitter… that fear was debilitating. I still choke and tear up thinking about it. And these boys are not even my sons.

I went on to say how when our son gets pulled over the most we worry about is that his smart mouth will get him a ticket. Then suddenly our conversation stopped.

SILENCE.

My eyes opened wide and I said, “Oh my God. All this time I thought I understood the concept of white privilege.”

I swallowed hard. More silence.

“I think, maybe, I didn’t truly get it until this exact moment.” Not only did I suddenly understand it, I actually felt it.

My words: I admire how my son speaks his mind and thinks for himself and I don’t want to stifle his independence.

That’s what this white mother worries about. Yet we must tell young black men to be compliant because they have more to worry about than just a ticket. We stifle their independence to avoid them getting wrongfully accused or worse. As a white mother, my concern is that my son speaks respectfully so he doesn’t seem arrogant. Black mothers are worried their sons won’t come home. I knew this before but I had never felt the pain.

My words: My biggest fear regarding my amazing son is that he’ll be misjudged.

That’s my biggest fear. He’ll be misjudged. Misjudged and then what? Given a ticket? Even if he is misjudged, he’s not likely going to be killed for it. Black mothers worry their sons will be misjudged, too, but the consequences they could face are much different.

As the words nonchalantly fell out of my mouth about how I felt when my white son got pulled over verses how the fear I felt when these two young black men got pulled over I could not breathe. Ironic, I know. It was like for one brief moment I could finally appreciate the anger that fuels movements and inspires protests. For one brief moment I could feel what I told my staff two years ago during the Ferguson riots about being careful not to fall into the blanket assumption trap or make this crisis something it’s not. Too many times I’ve explained to whites, as well as non-whites, that when you see #BlackLivesMatter it means what it says because they do. Black lives do matter. That doesn’t mean other lives don’t. It’s a reminder that black lives do. If I say #cancersucks it doesn’t mean diabetes doesn’t. When people of color are free from systematic oppression, we all shall be free. Until all are free, none are free. I’ve understood all this for a long, long time but until this moment I had never actually felt it and I was feeling it to my core. I’m talkin’ a nose-tingling-goose-bumps-raising-nausea-inducing kind of moment here.

As a successful business woman in a male dominated field, I’ve felt oppression, judgement, and discrimination. I’ve had the usual issues like customers calling me “little lady” and asking to speak with “the man,” salesmen asking to meet my boss, or bankers wanting me to come back with my husband but that’s about it. Sure, growing up in the poor part of East Topeka may have given me a little insight but I’ve spent the past 30 years in Lawrence, Kansas which is unlike any other Kansas town. We have an abundance of female entrepreneurs. What I’ve experienced here has been nothing compared to what other businesswomen face elsewhere. We also don’t have racial tension here anywhere near the levels other communities experience. My daughter’s boyfriend is a black college athlete from the Detroit area. When he moved to Kansas after high school his family worried for his safety dating a young, white girl in Kansas – the daughter of a camo-wearing hunter, no less. But we explained to them that the majority of Lawrence folks are just like us. We have good public schools, Haskell University (a Native American college) as well as the University of Kansas. Most of us stand in solidarity, teaching tolerance, supporting all people equally regardless of color, gender, or sexual orientation. Bi-racial couples and gay couples can walk downtown holding hands with no fear. Piercings, tattoos, non-traditional hair – no one cares. Many homosexual kids “come out” in middle school here.

It’s not perfect, but our community is so accepting and accommodating that our kids grow up somewhat sheltered from the extreme prejudice seen in other towns — so much so that they are often not prepared to accept the harsh realities of systematic oppression or that they could unwittingly play a role in it. And that sheltering is in some ways a privilege – much like the privilege of being white – but it’s also a curse because we assume we can understand things that we can’t possibly comprehend. When “townies” leave Lawrence they are always faced with a rude awakening that the rest of the world is still asleep. We hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and use social media to shame others into compliance then sit back as if we are actually accomplishing something great when, in reality, we’ve done nothing more than raise a little more awareness and preach an extra sermon to the choir. Not many folks around here can even begin to relate to the struggle.

So am I awake now? Maybe a little more than before. But I still won’t pretend to understand the struggle. Even after my epiphany, I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know a few things. I know that blanket judgement of people is wrong. Making assumptions based on appearance is a mistake. Fighting hate and unjustified violence with hate and unjustified violence won’t solve anything. All groups have an inherent culture that is to be embraced and accepted as equal, not same. We’re all different and that is a good thing. And all groups have what I call posers who don’t deserve to be in the group. Don’t be fooled. Posting a politically correct or socially popular banner doesn’t stop a company from secretly denying employment based on race or ignoring their own gender bias. Folks need to dig deeper than that. It’s better to judge by the way people live their lives, the way they conduct their business, and the way they interact with their community, or better yet, don’t judge at all. As for me, my family, and our business, we’ll let our record be the judge because ultimately we only answer to One and His judgement reigns Supreme.

I’ve been told to watch what I say but I refuse to submit to labeling by the meme of the day or be told what to say or how to act according to a trend, a group, or business advice from a corporate suit. We were advised to post signs in our business in support of the second amendment and advised to post no-guns allowed signs, both in the same week. We posted neither. We think for ourselves. I will still stand during the national anthem but I will not condemn those who kneel. I won’t condone bullying, oppression, or the judgment of all based on the actions of a relative few. I won’t deny my faith in a group of non-believers. I will stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed as I always have regardless of whether or not it’s the popular thing to do. I will continue to stand in solidarity long after it is socially required. I will teach my kids, my employees, and everyone under my influence to hold each other up and never get sucked into mediocrity and shallow, blanket judgment. Maybe my beliefs mean I’m more awake than some but I’m comfortable admitting that even at 50 years old I still have much to learn.

As we teach in everything we do, I’ll remind anyone who’ll listen that it’s never about WHO is right; it’s about WHAT is right. Systematic racism and oppression is a problem in every culture that must be addressed. Our culture is no exception. We need to do better and denying our shortcomings won’t make them go away. Admitting failure takes courage. Exposing weakness shows strength. No, not all white people get a pass or an easy life but white privilege is real and acknowledging it is not choosing a side; it’s merely facing a truth that allows for further enlightenment. We must all work to be part of the solution or, if we can’t make things better, be supportive of those who can. People of all races must try harder to feel each other’s pain, put ourselves in others’ shoes, and do everything in our power to be better, more understanding, more supportive, and share any insight that comes our way the minute we’re enlightened.

My blog has, what, 12 readers or something? Who actually reads 2000 word blog posts? So this post may shed a little light but it won’t change the world and make things better. Although, at least, if nothing else, it won’t make things worse. I can relate to women but I can’t ever comprehend the oppression felt by Native Americans and people of color and, unlike some well-intentioned white folks, I won’t pretend to act like I can ever relate. But I will continue to listen and ask and do whatever I can to not be a part of the problem in hopes that on some level I can be part of the solution.

No Memos

Memo Moratorium: Think You Should Send? Think Again.

MANAGEMENT MEMOS. We can’t avoid them. No Memos
But, I assure you, we can reduce them tremendously if we simply take a moment to think. When something goes so wrong that a manager feels the need to address it with one reprimanding, blanket, team memo that’s usually the very time a memo should not be sent. Corrective blanket memos are rarely, if ever, needed. In our company they are not even allowed because they do more harm than good. Our managers have to work harder than that.

 

Public praise? Sure. Education and training? Absolutely. But keep criticism private and accurately directed. If you’re a manager, always consider the math.

 

Good LeadersIs this an isolated issue? Are only a few people involved? Then why should the entire group be addressed? A blanket memo addressing an entire group is about as immature as a subtweet and will garner about the same level of respect. Passive aggressive anonymity appears weak and transparent, even snarky. Savvy readers know who you’re talking about and get irritated with you wasting their time, requiring them to read a memo that has nothing to do with them. Even using “we” won’t hide that you’re addressing others, not yourself. Plus the offending party will likely think it’s about someone else anyway. Or worse, they’ll resent you for calling them out in front of the team while the other team members learn to distrust you for that practice. Corrective group memos either cause bad energy or get ignored. Good leaders get to the source of the problem and deal with it directly.

 

Is this a total team fail that you think warrants a group memo since everyone was involved? Think again. When everyone on the team makes the same mistake, including managers and trainers, you need to look for a system flaw. And who is in charge of the system? You, the manager. Team FailTake a little time to go over the routine and consider the possibility of some systematic failure – a gap somewhere, a missed step maybe, distraction perhaps – some reason why something bad would go unnoticed or be mishandled by an entire team for so long. Good leaders get to the source of the problem, remember? The source of a total team fail is always the system put in place by leadership.

 

My husband, who is also a coach, once told me he never understood coaches who publicly reprimand players after the fact for not doing something they didn’t know to do. He said that just exposes what the coaches failed to teach. A good coach teaches before the play, recognizing that a player’s mistakes reveal what still needs to be taught.

Mistakes

When addressing problems, remember, people support what they help create. So rather than cracking whips and breaking employees down, try collaborating. Maybe start with something surprisingly vulnerable, like, “Hey guys, I need your help.”

 

If you push something on me I will push back in reaction. Shove someone and they’ll shove back. So pull instead. Pull the blame on yourself. Be honest. Say, “My system has failed,” and offer supporting details. Their natural tendency will then be to pull the blame back on themselves. Hmm, that might not be the manager’s fault. Surely we knew better. Tell your team what happened on your watch and invite suggestions for improvement because the responsibility is yours, not theirs. If they could do everything right without you, they wouldn’t need you. Or, more likely, you’d be working for them. Ultimately, it’s the manager’s job to ensure the success of the team. If they all screw up, it’s the fault of the leader. So set the example and take responsibility yourself.

 

Deal directly with the source and spare everyone else the stress. When you discover the source of the problem is you, own it and be honest. Your team will realize (without you telling them) that as part of your team they are collectively to blame. What’s more, they won’t get defensive or resist correction because you didn’t heave the blame on them. They’ll respect that you were strong enough to hold yourself accountable and follow your lead. In the end, you still get what you need – they know where they failed and the correction happens anyway – but it’s handled as a team with a leader who is confident enough to accept responsibility. Rise above the corrective group memo and go straight to the source of the problem, even if the problem is you. Correction: especially if the problem is you.

Staff Memo Regarding Ferguson

As small business owners, we’re sensitive to our roles in our community. We are involved in all the local public schools and nearly all of our employees are under 25, most under 22. In our very small pond, we are decent sized fish with quite an audience watching our every move. In light of recent events in Ferguson, we knew we’d need to address our employees. My wonderful staff members were feeling the weight of all the hate and our memo sparked much needed conversation. It was received with so much gratitude and support, I felt compelled to share our message publicly. In the spirit of transparency, this is basically the essence of how we handled the subject with our employees.

We’re all troubled by the state of affairs in Ferguson and what this unrest represents, but we must not lose our heads. Are you angry? Good. Injustice should trigger anger in us all. Frustrated? Good. Problems with complicated solutions – or maybe no solutions – are nothing but frustrating. How about sad? Because unnecessary loss is very sad. Loss of property and, more importantly, loss of life. And what about shame? Are people who share your heritage acting in a way that embarrasses you, leaving you feeling disconnected? That’s what I’m hearing from you. White, black, mixed — we’re feeling uncomfortable in our own skin. That’s okay.

These feelings are all appropriate for what is happening in our world right now. You might not know exactly what to do with these feelings but I assure you they are all appropriate. Just remember you can’t control what is happening but you can control your reaction and subsequent action, or inaction, as the case may be. All I am asking is that you please be very careful before you act.

In our personal experience it seems that many folks, especially bi-racial people, and close friends and family from the very poor, predominately black neighborhoods of our childhoods, are frustrated with the social media outpouring from the white youth and the privileged people of all races who can’t possibly understand. And I don’t just mean the racists on Twitter. People who have never experienced oppression are not helping by raising fists and acting like they get it; they don’t. They can’t. And they need to stop. A privileged, mixed, suburban male can’t simply put on his flat billed cap and think he understands the thug life. Listening to gangster rap while growing up wealthy and white doesn’t mean you understand ghetto life. A person born in the 90s can’t begin to comprehend growing up in the 60s. It just doesn’t work that way. Folks mean well but they just don’t get it. More good is accomplished by simply being supportive and acknowledging that they can’t possibly relate than insulting someone’s culture by acting like they can. They simply cannot. Instead of bandwagoning with one side or the other please consider sitting back and listening to what is truly needed and doing something to help or, if nothing else, clear the path for others who are helping. But don’t make things worse.

Also, please remember that protestors are exercising their rights AS THEY SHOULD BE. We’ve fought and continue to fight so protestors can peacefully assemble and be heard. They are angry AS THEY SHOULD BE. Let them disrupt the status quo. That’s the purpose of protest – to call attention to injustice. Their message needs to be heard so let them say it. Remember, the vandals and looters you see do not represent the protestors, the black community, nor any other community. The thieves you see consist of many races and are not part of the black culture; they are opportunistic posers hiding being people with legitimate reason for their anger. Furthermore, the actions of some police officers do not represent the actions of all police officers. In fact, men who rape women don’t represent all men. Pet store employees who neglect and abuse animals don’t represent all pet store employees. All bully breeds are not dangerous. Are you with me? Blanket judgment is the very essence of racism and it’s just flat wrong. Don’t succumb to blanket judgment calls. Look beyond the obvious. Cops are not the problem. Blacks are not the problem. The fact that a dysfunctional system allows bad cops to make blanket assumptions about black men which leads to unnecessary death is the problem we’re talking about. Don’t fall into the blanket assumption trap or make this something it’s not. When you see #BlackLivesMatter it means what it says because they do. Black lives do matter. It doesn’t mean other lives don’t. If I say #cancersucks it doesn’t mean diabetes doesn’t.

My point is this: All groups have an inherent culture that is to be embraced and accepted as equal, not same. We’re all different and that is a good thing. And all groups have what I call posers who don’t deserve to be in the group. Please don’t condone the judgment of all based on the actions of a relative few. Don’t abandon your heritage in frustration and feel compelled to “flip to the other side” — whatever that means — whatever your heritage. Don’t get sucked down into mediocrity and shallow judgment. Rise above the easy, lazy, bandwagoning path and think for yourselves. Dig deep. Deeper. Remember it’s never about WHO is right, it’s about WHAT is right. Systematic racism and oppression is a problem in every culture that must be addressed. Our culture is no exception.

One thing I can promise you is that fighting hate and unjustified violence with hate and unjustified violence won’t solve anything. Please do not support or perpetuate hate and injustice. Be part of the solution or, if you can’t make things better, be silently supportive of those who can.

 

Lights! Camera! On the Job Training!

Real employee training begins after the trial period.

At Pet World, we hire twice per year. The process takes about six weeks. After completing the first nine steps of our non-traditional hiring process, applicants are narrowed down from hundreds to usually less than a dozen.  New hires shadow trainers and work up through three levels. At Level 1 they merely shadow, observe, and ask questions.  This is where we test their ability to pay attention, memorize procedures, and keep pace. At Level 2 rookies demonstrate procedures with a trainer supervising closely and correcting as needed. This is how we discern their retention skills. At Level 3 they demonstrate while supervised from a distance. This is where we observe initiative and independence and either add them to our set schedule or cut them loose. New hires are given a minimum and maximum number of hours to complete the three levels. For the first few weeks this system is intense and our trainers maintain great focus.

Upon completion of the three levels, new hires are added to our set schedule, alone in the easier departments, and with a trainer where needed.  They attend weekly training seminars and, even when they have a trainer present, always have a back up manager on duty who is also a trainer. At this point our trainers tend to exhale and relax when, in reality, they should take their training up a notch. They push rookies to be independent but sometimes at the expense of the customer experience. About six weeks into this process, we usually find the need to regroup.

The memo typically goes like this:

Trainers, as we settle into the new set schedule I need you to ask yourselves something. Are you still training? Because, as you know, employees can’t learn everything in the Education Room. All we can accomplish in there is a solid foundation on which to build. The real training happens on the job. You know this. We’ve laid down the law that employees cannot share anything they haven’t learned at Pet World so are you still maximizing their opportunities to learn? Teach them to use their Pet World resources – more experienced coworkers, trainers, managers, breeders, vendors, books, etc. but not at the expense of the customer experience. Remember, once that open sign is flipped and customers are in the store, it’s show time. It doesn’t matter how busy you are. Is the employee’s question not something you can answer? Aren’t you the expert? If so, answer it right away. The task at hand is always the customer. Yes, employees need to learn independence but never at the expense of our customers.

ComeToSeetheShowWhen the issue can’t be handled by the employee, don’t stand there and tell them what to say. Instead, have them listen to how you handle it. The fact that rookies are seeking your help means they are not yet ready to fly solo. Praise them for recognizing that they need assistance. Have you forgotten how it felt to be new and inexperienced? I understand your intentions but trainers must remember who they’re dealing with. Has your rookie completed sixty hours in that zone or only sixteen? Sometimes Tim and I will have a manager handle something instead of doing it ourselves as part of their training but these are managers we’re talking about. They want to do it on their own. They need to prove they can fly solo. Expectations are higher for seasoned veterans and managers. In no way can rookies be expected to handle much of anything without help. Not only are they not yet capable, they’ve been told not to say anything beyond the scope of their training. When you handle something for them, with them or in front of them, you are training them and the customer not only gets the better employee, they see how much we care to train the newer employee. Then, next time, the rookies will know what to do and, perhaps, instead of asking you for help, they’ll ask you to supervise while they attempt to do it on their own. Independence is the goal but only when they’re ready. Set them up to succeed, not fail. Remember, our success depends on their success.

Letting rookies privately flop on projects is one thing. Letting them fail in front of a customer is quite another and, frankly, a total fail on the part of the trainer – not the rookie. The customer deserves the best person for the job. Getting rookies trained is not the customer’s problem; it’s ours. The audience doesn’t pay to watch a rehearsal; they come to see the show. Sacrificing good customer service in order to train someone the hard way not only demoralizes the rookie, it makes us all look bad. The trainers appear arrogant and rude, too busy for the customer, too distracted to help the rookie, giving off the perception of condescension and disinterest which is actually nothing more than personal incompetence. This approach – especially with the added pressure of the customer’s presence – sets the rookies up to fail. And when they fail, we all fail.TrialByFire

As a trainer or manager, I expect each of you to hold yourselves to a higher standard and set the example for the rookies. Your job as leader doesn’t end when their trial period is over; it ends when you pick up your last paycheck. New employees need to see you immediately drop everything for a customer. Immediately. Everything. Every time. No task is more pressing than the customer. Without the customers, you have no tasks. Everything else – and I mean everything – can wait.

Now, when you find yourself repeatedly bailing out the same employees in the same situations you can deal with that after the fact, back stage, during follow up. We’re looking for employees who never need to be told twice. But when the moment is live, it’s show time. Until the closed sign is flipped and the curtains are closed, it’s lights, camera, action and you remain in the spotlight. Positive, encouraging training can and should happen in front of customers while you have the employee watch you work. Everyone wins with that situation. But employee trial by fire has absolutely no place on the retail stage.