Monthly Archives: February 2014

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.

Exhilarating Winter Trail Run

Winter_Footprints

Exhilarating. Truly exhilarating. That’s the only way to accurately describe today’s experience. Trail running in the snow? Seriously. What kind of warriors really do this stuff? Not me. I hate exercise. I like being fit but I dislike getting and staying fit. Yet I am not kidding when I say my outdoor exercise experience today was actually fun – more than fun. It was exhilarating!

Almost two weeks ago we returned from our first cruise. A vacation at sea was never on my bucket list but my husband and kids really wanted to go and with Carpe Diem as one of my life mottos I could only stall for so long. Winter cabin fever had already set in so I caved pretty easily. The Caribbean was fabulous – Grand Cayman, Haiti, and Jamaica (my personal favorite). But the gluttony was endless. So much food and alcohol! By day three I understood why so many people get fat; it’s fun! Holy sheep caca the eating and drinking and drinking and eating! Unbelievable. I’m positive “Wall-E” was conceived on a cruise ship. From what I understand, I experienced the cruise ship standard: a weight gain of almost a pound a day. No kidding. They have stats on this stuff. Five pounds in six days. And that on top of an extra ten pounds already from a long winter of laziness. Lord only knows what’s happened with my exponentially increasing body fat. So, yeah, I’m trying to get back in shape. But a trail run in the snow is something for die hard fitness enthusiasts – not this chick.

Here’s the thing. I love all things outdoors, prefer to exercise outside, am self employed with a flexible schedule, own an 80 acre nature reserve with miles of running and hiking trails, and I live in NE Kansas. Our weather here is mild and Midwesterners know not to worry about bad weather because it never lasts long. So I have no excuse for letting myself get out of shape. But, as with most parts of the country, this particular winter has been a little rougher than most. We returned from the cruise on Sunday and I hit the trails on Monday, but, Tuesday brought yet another cold front, Wednesday brought eight inches of snow, and the average temperature has been zero ever since. Until today.

This morning the sun came out and by 2pm we were up to 40 degrees so I cleared my schedule, pulled on my smart wool socks, my best snow boots, squeezed into my ski pants and out I went, excited about the fresh air and sunshine on my face during a walk in the snow. I basically loathe running in general because I am a sprinter by nature. I get a thrill from the short burst of an uphill race on a deer trail in the woods. Obstacle course? I’m there. But the idea of a steady 10k on pavement makes me want to puke. Actually, I’m sure I would puke. Long distances not only bore me, I just can’t do them. My cardio will fail me long before I even feel a burn.

But trail running? That’s different. The soft, ever changing earth beneath my feet, the scenery, the tranquility – I actually like trail running. I’ve run in the mud, through creeks, over rocks, tall weeds, short grass, sticker bushes, and even on light, shallow snow before, enjoying the crisp air and the crunch. Today, however, was my first venture into deep snow. I’m only accustomed to maneuvering through deep snow on skis, not on foot. The trails were hidden three to ten inches deep surrounded by so much snow I sometimes veered off the paths without noticing. Running, by definition, was not possible today. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t exercise – quite the opposite.

I was prepared for a brisk walk while enjoying the scenery. Normally I walk with increasing speed to warm up then I stretch before taking off. Today I don’t know what came over me. I wasn’t ten steps in when I found myself grinning from ear to ear, high stepping through the twinkling snow, overwhelmed with the urge to run and play. Vast, white, fluffy glitter surrounded me, untouched by humans, and in moments I reverted to my five year old self, completely thrilled to romp in the snow, smitten with the scene of sparkling snowflakes. It was like that moment when you realize you’re the first kid outside on a snow day and your entire yard has yet to be touched. At one point I wiped out and laughed myself silly making a snow angel. Even in perfect weather, never before have I maneuvered two miles of trails with a smile that never left my face.

With every step each foot disappeared. Lifting my feet back up through ankle deep snow taxed my muscles like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Although I tried, sprinting up my favorite hill was impossible but even the slow climb blew out my calves and quads. My heart rate shot up and my legs were on fire. Labored steps that should have frustrated me encouraged me instead. The exercise was intense yet delightful. Compared to normal, I covered half as much ground but had twice the workout! My favorite part was considering how silly I would have looked simultaneously giggling and grunting had anyone else seen me but not a soul was in sight. The only human footprints I encountered today were mine.  I was alone – just me, my Creator, and His creation – yet instead of isolation I felt completely connected to the entire world. I let myself fully absorb the experience, taking it all in, marveling at my mere existence in such a mystical, wonderful place, grateful for the wisdom that guided all the choices which led to that moment. Immersed in the scene I searched for adequate words to describe what I felt.

Exhilaration. That’s it. Nothing else captures it.

So here I sit, exhausted, aching muscles from my unconventional workout, and yet all I can think about is doing this all over again tomorrow. Not because I need to shed these holiday pounds – true as that may be – but because the experience itself was so incredible. I’m pushing fifty yet today I was five again. The sun, the sparkling snow, the sights and sounds, the silliness of it all, left me humbled and inspired. Left me…exhilarated. And come on now. Seriously. How often can a person use that word and really mean it?

All About the Words

“You should write that down.”

Why do I hear that so often? Why do I say that so often? My love affair with the written word clearly needs an outlet. Some people think in pictures. I swear, I think in print. I often see my thoughts as words on a page. How weird is that?

I’ve journaled since I could write – even before I could write. My early childhood diaries looked like comic strips with tiny hieroglyphics and symbols I obviously believed were words. Every time I go back to take yet another college course it’s always something language related. I chat and text more than my teenage daughter. And my weekly staff memos read more like magazine articles than emails.

Let’s face it – I’m into words. They’re my thing.

I played around with publishing and that was fun. Successfully publishing two of my first three attempts should have ignited a fire but it kind of didn’t. Sure, I got to create this cool little pseudonym and brag and even got paid but, honestly, the experience left me a little flat. Like many new writers, I ran to every local book store to see my work in print and take pictures for my scrapbook but it wasn’t as rewarding as I expected. I still have several copies of each book but it’s not like I ever open them.

I think I’ve realized that for me it’s not about the paper; it’s about the words.Liberating

As a child of the ’70s and product of the ’80s I battle the ingrained notion that if it’s not edited, peer-reviewed, and published by Pearson then it doesn’t count; hence, my previous motivation to publish and nagging hesitance to blog. Many writers share the fear that the digital age and electronic media will be the end of the written word as we know it. With the exception of tabloids, being published used to mean something more than merely typing and posting. If words were in print, on paper, they were trusted and meaningful. Now everyone with Internet access is suddenly an author and many of them can’t even spell. Some don’t know to use you‘re instead of your and were absent the day students learned the difference between their, there, and they’re. Further verses farther isn’t even on their writing radar. But I have discovered the web-provided-all-access-publisher-pass is not necessarily a bad thing.

Eliminating the need to alter one’s words or follow conventional rules in order to please a publisher is liberating. I am the first to admit that electronic media has altered my writing style completely. Sometimes grammar goes right out the window for the sake of voice.

I. So. Get. That.

Grammatical disasters aside, there’s some serious expression happening on this World Wide Web.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been encouraged to write if for no other reason than because it brings me such joy. If my love affair is truly about the words then why not share them? If my motivation is not about paper, then why not self publish electronically? Truth is, I don’t write for reader validation; I write for me.

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34

My heart is full of contemplation from my life’s experiences and my head is full of words. I need to get them out. If people find my words useful or entertaining then I’m glad I put this blog out there. If not, I hope they find something better to read; there is so much available! And if my words never get read at all, well, what difference does that really make to me?

This blog is not about money, status, attention, or making a statement. It’s just about my words. I have something to say and, because life is short, I’m going to say it.

Thanks for reading.

Writing Tips (Part 2)

Punctuation is complicated. Here are a few tips to clarify some common situations. 

Quotation Marks

Generally punctuation follows logic. However, when using American English in the United States, periods and commas ALWAYS go INSIDE quotation marks, (with extremely rare exception), even inside single quotes within double quotes. It doesn’t always make sense logically but grammatically it’s correct.

The sign changed from “Walk,” to “Don’t Walk,” to “Walk” again while we waited.

The girl’s mother said, “Buy it.”
“What did she say?” he asked.
I replied, “She said, ‘Buy it.'”

Interesting Tidbit
When it comes to periods, commas, and quotation marks, logic has less to do with American English than history. American typesetters were more obsessed with neat, straight, horizontal lines than our British friends. When printed type was handset, a little period or comma tile outside of a tall quotation marks tile at the end of a sentence tended to get knocked out of position, so the typesetters relocated the tiny tiles inside the quotation marks to keep them in line. British typesetters risked the misalignment of their periods and commas to maintain grammatical logic while Americans kept things conveniently straight and tidy regardless of logic. Nowadays, with printed material widely available with both British and American English influence, the comma-period-quotation marks issue is increasingly complicated. So when in Rome…

When we use a question mark or an exclamation point with a sentence that ends in a quotation, we logically place the question mark or exclamation point where it makes the most sense.  If it is part of the quotation itself, we put it inside the quotation marks. If the whole sentence is a question including a quote but not the material being quoted, we put it outside the quotation marks.

Have you read the email, “Monday Memo”?
No, but I did read, “Where Are The Tortoises?”
Well, you didn’t miss much because that email was exactly like, “Tuesday Memo”! 

Remember, when it comes to commas and periods, though, logic is not followed in the United States.  Commas and periods go inside the quotation marks, regardless of logic, even when the enclosed text at the end of the sentence is a single word.

To see the attachment, click on “Open.”

The only American exception is when the last enclosed text is one letter or a number. In that case the period or comma goes outside the closing quotation marks. I have no idea why but I’d guess it’s for clarity.

The tank that needs cleaned is marked with a large “X”.
On this scale, the expected rating is a “5”, not a “10”.

To further confuse matters, if another set of words or a parenthetical citation gets between the quoted material and the end of a sentence, then the comma or period will follow the intervening elements.

 “Ian, put the siphon down and go eat lunch” was what Sherry said, but what Ian heard was “You’re too thin” or something equally mothering.

As taught in the seminar, what you must remember is the concept of, “perception trumps intention” (slides 2-3).

Apostrophes

Use an apostrophe with contractions. The apostrophe is always placed at the spot where the letter or letters have been removed to join the two words.

do not — don’t
is not – isn’t
you are – you’re
they are – they’re
she is – she’s

Use only an S to make something plural and use an apostrophe S to show possession. Place the apostrophe before the S to show singular possession, after the plural word ending in S to show plural possession.

She learned her ABCs in the 1970s.
In the ‘80s we thought big hair was attractive.
(plural only, no possession so no apostrophe)
The Emersons usually park around back. (plural, no possession, no apostrophe)
Those are the Emersons’ vehicles. (plural, possession)
The old, black pickup is Tim Emerson’s. (single, possession)

Although names ending in S or an S sound don’t require the second S added to show possession, it is preferred for the sake of clarity.

Kansas’s weather is always interesting.
Maria Jimenez’s shift ends at 11.
Reese’s peanut butter cups are delicious.

“It” has an exception. Use “its” without the apostrophe to show possession.

It’s looking for its food.

The only time an apostrophe is used for “it’s” is when it is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.”
I don’t know why. It just is what it is.

It is looking for its food.
It’s been eating a lot lately.

 

Finally, the semicolon.

The most common use of a semicolon is to connect two independent, complete sentences that are each grammatically complete but so conceptually connected that you are tempted to create a run on sentence by using a conjunction. Basically, when you need to keep the two grammatically complete thoughts together to better convey your meaning, use a semicolon.

Read your email; that situation has already been addressed.

Okay, that should do it for today’s lesson. Please feel free to plagiarize this email for your next grammar essay and my employees should keep it handy when doing any writing for Pet World. Yes, you should have learned all this by middle school but they just don’t teach grammar like they used to.

Writing Tips (Part 1)

My recent staff reminders for our writers, bloggers, status updaters, and any other interested parties.

In everyday communication, text, chat, etc. no one really cares about this stuff. Half the time the mistake belongs to auto-correct. But if it’s going in print for others to read in any form of publication, make sure your writing is correct. Intentional rule breaking for the sake of voice and expression is one thing. Sloppy writing is another.

Your, You’re

“Your” is possessive.
That is your cage. It belongs to you. It’s yours.

“You’re” is a contraction and used in place of “you are.”

Tip: When you come across the words “your” and “you’re” while proofreading say the words “you are” to yourself to confirm the correct “your” is being used. IMAG4221_1

He likes your smile.
He likes you are smile.
Nope, that doesn’t make sense.

He likes you because you’re funny.
He likes you because you are funny.
Yep, that makes sense.

If you can substitute the words “you are” for your “you’re” then you’re using the correct “your.”

There, Their, They’re

THERE
Remember this: Where? Here or there?

To designate placement, look for the word “here” inside the word “there.” If you can logically sub “where” or “here” for “there” and the sentence still makes sense, you’re good.

He has too many fish in where?
He has too many fish in there.
He has too many fish in here.

Where is your order?
There is your order.
Here is your order.

THEIR

To show possession, use “their.” Notice the letter “i” and let it be your cue.

I don’t own it; it’s theirs.
I didn’t get a frog and this one is not yours so it must be theirs.
They own it, not I.

THEY’RE

“They’re” is a contraction, just like “you’re.” If you can’t sub the words “they are” then you are using the wrong “there.”

I don’t know what they’re thinking.
I don’t know what they are thinking.
Yep. That works. 

Then and Than

“Then” indicates progression.
First I fed the fish and then I rearranged the décor.

“Than” is used in comparison.
I’d rather have freshwater fish than saltwater fish.
My tank is bigger than yours.

Further verses Farther

“Further” is conceptual.
She made it further in life than anyone thought she could.

“Farther” is measurable.
He can throw it farther than his brother.

Accept and Except

“Accept” is in regard to “acceptance.”
“Except” is in regard to an “exception.”

I accept your proposal, except the part about the reduced wage.

Note the “ex” to EXclude the item and make it an EXception.

 

To, Too, and Two

Please give this to the cashier.

She needs a copy, too. (Tip to remember? Add a comma, add an O. Also or in additionadd an O)

That’s why we make two copies.

 

I know you didn’t pay attention in school because you never thought you’d need this stuff but I promise, it’s important. Bad writing can distract readers to the point of losing interest. It’s annoying. If your words are worth saying, they’re worth proofreading and editing.