Saturday, October 31, 2009

From the Bowels of Hades...

If you're going to read this, go get a cup of coffee or something. Maybe two. Tell the family you're going to be away for a while. Take a sick day from work.

All right, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little. But you're gonna need some spare time, cause this thing clocked in at 16 pages in Microsoft Word.

Wow, I think I just heard the sound of fifty people clicking the back button on their browsers. Don't worry, it's OK. I don't blame you. Writing this was more of a chance for me to vent than anything else. If you don't read it, I won't hate you. Not for too long, anyway. :)

But if you're still with me, then tighten your seat belt. Things are going to get bumpy.
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My District Manager - The Prince of Darkness

Well, here it is. The story of a man who, by his own words, was "born to make money." This is a man who, despite the fact that his children's sports teams do not keep score so as to preserve the fun of the game, will tally the score himself and then tell his children after the game that they lost and therefore shouldn't have bothered playing. This is a man who only smiles when he tells you how horrible you are at your job despite any and all accomplishments you've got under your belt. When you perform well, you failed to perform like a god. When you perform poorly, no one on the planet could've done worse. Suggestions of positive reinforcement bounce off of him like common sense tossed at a customer. And like a cockroach in your home, you just never know when he's going to show up and ruin your day.

Obviously, for the sake of my job I'm not going to use my district manager's real name. So for this post, we'll just call him Bill Lumberg.

My first encounter with Bill was, oddly enough, for my second interview with the company. I was being hired as head of the office department, and all department heads were required to interview with the DM for the job. His office wasn't located in the store I was going to be working in, so I went to his store for the interview. It went smoothly. He seemed like a nice guy, quite personable and friendly. He gave me the whole speech about customer service and making sure people are taken care of, but the majority of the interview focused on what I'd need to do to get the office department back into shape since the store had been without a department head for so long.

My strongest points have always been organizational. Things like getting reports done, sending out paperwork, researching discrepancies, organizing and setting up displays, and managing inventory were tasks that I was able to do better than anyone else. In fact, I was pretty sure I could perform just about any job better than anyone else which the exception of one: Sales. I've never been good at sales. I don't like to push people into a purchase or use assumptive language to try to manipulate inflated sales out of people. And when I tried to do it to avoid being yelled at, I sucked at it. And I told Bill all of that in my interview. I said that I had no problem helping customers and I'd certainly try to "maximize each sale," but I could never guarantee I'd be able to hit any sort of "goals" as far as sales numbers went. Bill seemed OK with that - the majority of my job would be keeping the department clean and the planograms up to date.

After about a 20 minute talk, he shook my hand and sent me on my way. The general manager of the store called me a day or two later to offer me the job, and obviously, I took it. Now, at this point, I had nine years of retail behind me, most of which I spent as manager of one department or another. At my previous job, CompUSA, I had run the front end, the upgrades counter, inventory control, and merchandising on floor. So I came with high recommendations. When CompUSA closed down, two of the managers who closed my store with me went over to my current company as well. They were nice enough to pass along good words about me to the HR department because they knew full well I could do the job I was being hired for.

I suppose Bill trusted their judgment, because he went ahead and hired me based on all that. I knew I could do the job given the chance, and when they gave me the ball, I was prepared to run with it.

Once I was in the store, I got right to work. The displays were old and outdated and most needed to be completely reorganized and set to show all the current product we had in stock along with current prices. I had four and a half aisles that I was responsible for, each about 80 feet long with product on both sides set to a company - mandated planogram. Every product had to go in it's precisely correct place in accordance with the planograms in order for us to be in compliance. And at the same time as I was setting all that up, I had to help customers and play spare cashier. I spent about half of every shift on register because our main cashier kept calling out sick. Then she quit, and I spent 90% of every shift up there for a few weeks.

Anyway, within my first month of working there, Bill visited a number of times. The managers would get kinda antsy with him around and I wasn't sure why because he'd seemed like an OK guy in my interview. He didn't interact with me too much during his first couple of visits. Just small talk about how I was liking the job and so on. But somewhere around my fourth week, he gave up on the pleasantries.

He was walking the store with our GM, going through my aisles and pointing out things that were wrong. Now, to that point, the GM had been totally happy with my work and had nothing but good things to say about me. But while she and Bill were looking at the snack display, I was working in an area nearby. I was called over by Bill, and the following ensued:

Bill: "How's it going?"

Me: "Things are good. What's up?"

Bill: *Points to the display* "Is this set to planogram?"

Looking back, I now know that he was fully aware that it wasn't set to planogram. Bill's biggest "teaching tool" is to ask rhetorical questions to prove his point. It's obnoxious and belittling and it makes me want to punch him in the head.

But at this point, I had only been in the store for a few weeks. It would've been physically impossible for me to go through every single planogram in my department and reset them that quickly. There was a chance it was already set correctly as there were a couple areas here and there that didn't need to be reworked. I hadn't gotten to this display yet, so I honestly didn't know whether it was set or not. On top of that, a huge portion of my time had been spent on register, so that slowed my progress quite a bit.

Me: "I don't know, Bill."

Bill: "You don't know? I'm sorry, I thought this was YOUR department."

Me: "It is. I just haven't gotten through all the planograms yet." At this point, I was still trying to use common sense with him, foolishly expecting he'd understand. He didn't.

Bill: *Points at some pretzels on the top shelf* "Is that supposed to be there?"

Me: "I don't know, Bill." Didn't I just say I hadn't done the planogram? "I can go print the planogram if you'd like."

Bill: "Please."

So I went and printed it up. During the whole thing, my GM kept trying to get words in, but Bill wasn't having it. She understood. She knew I'd been working hard. She knew I was in the process of turning the department around. Bill, however, apparently thought I was a magician or something. To this day I sometimes wonder if he knows there's no such thing as magic.

When I returned with the printout, Bill took it and looked it over.

Bill: "I see." Sarcasm was getting clearer in his voice. "So they aren't supposed to be there."

Me: *Looking at the planogram* "No, it looks like they've been moved down to the second shelf now." Yes, you read correctly. That was the minor change he was giving me crap over.

Bill: "Right. So maybe you'll want to update that."

Needless to say, I didn't really like Bill anymore after that. After he left, my GM pulled me aside and told me not to take it seriously and that I was doing a great job. But I did take it seriously because I honestly wanted to show him that he'd hired the right guy. Plus, two of my friends from CompUSA had vouched for me so that I could get the job, and I wasn't going to make them look like fools by performing like a schmuck.

And I did NOT want to have another conversation like that with Bill.

Another month goes by, and I managed to avoid Bill's critical eye during his routine visits. Meanwhile, the department was really starting to shine. My list of things to do each day was dwindling, and keeping up with things became easier and easier the more changes and updates I made. Before long, everything was up to date, shelves were full, prices were updated, display bins were packed, and it was smooth sailing. And after one of Bill's visits, I asked our GM what he had to say about the store. She told me that he really couldn't find anything to complain about in my department.

Ah, victory.

But not too long after that, my job position was eliminated. That's like the umpteenth time in my retail career that the position I happen to be flourishing in has been eliminated. But there was a new position being created, a "Customer Service Lead," and my GM wanted me to take that. It was either take that or be cut down to part time and have my pay reduced by four dollars an hour. I didn't really have much of a choice. But I did strike the bargain with my GM that if I was going to take the job, I wanted a guarantee of Saturdays off. I'd work any other hours they wanted me to, but Saturdays would be my off day. She said she'd run it by Bill but she didn't think it was a problem. He approved it, and so I accepted the position.

The new position was pretty much like a front end manager's job. Make sure the front runs smoothly, get change for the cashiers, do cash pickups for the cashiers, handle customer issues, and help anyone who walked into the building. I had to go to some key holder training class which was a grand waste of time given that I'd been a key holder at CompUSA for the majority of the time I worked there. I was pretty much being trained as the "unofficial" fourth manager in the building and I was supposed to cover the front end so that the rest of the managers would be freed up to help drive sales, perform audits, and so on.

Of course, true to retail tradition, there was no pay raise for taking on all those responsibilities.

What does any of this have to do with Bill Lumberg? You'll soon see.

At first, they told us that our main focus was to be the company rewards program. You know, those little keychain cards that every company has? Yeah, I was in charge of getting sign ups for the rewards program and for increasing the store's overall penetration percentage. So it wasn't up to just me, I had to motivate and train the other associates to try to increase their numbers. Funny, considering how I'd told Bill that convincing customers to take something they didn't want was my only weak point. But whatever. I needed a paycheck, and I wasn't about to give up without even trying.

So for about six months, I did nothing but push our rewards program. My own rewards percentage was already one of the highest in the store, but I needed to get the other employees on board. I held contests using money out of my own pocket, I taught and I nagged and I reminded and the numbers started to rise. We were getting more sign ups. The cashiers were actually trying to get better numbers than each other. I'd created competition and an interest where there had previously been none. It was working. I was succeeding.

The biggest thing that hurt our progress? Bill Lumberg. Every time Bill came into the store, he'd rip us apart for something else. Most of the time his complaints contradicted themselves - often he'd complain about things he'd previously TOLD US TO DO! And, of course, he'd feign innocence. There was no positive reinforcement. We'd made good progress with the rewards program, and all he'd ever have to say was, "What's your current number? Is that the goal? So you're not at company goal? Is that something you should be proud of?" And when I'd try to say, "Look, we're not at goal yet, but we've shown tremendous improvement and promise," he'd simply come back with, "If you're playing a basketball game, and your opponent scores 100 points, it doesn't matter if you score 1 or 99, you still lost the game."

He is, by far, the biggest de-motivator I've ever met in my life.

But I kept on pushing the employees. The girl who worked at night was always asking me what her number was at and bragging about it whenever she was the highest in the store. We were on track to exceed goal; it was only a matter of time.

On Christmas Eve, he showed up to spoil our party. I had gone to use the bathroom, and when I returned to the front he was standing there talking to the manager on duty. He saw me and shouted, "Hey! Look at Mr. Glum over there! C'mon! It's Christmas Eve, you should be excited! You've gotta capitalize on all the sales coming through the door!"

Now, I don't know anyone who would be excited to go to work on Christmas Eve. And having a visit from Bill on Christmas Eve should be considered a crime against the holiday or something.

However, I'd like to point out that I don't think I was looking glum. In fact, I try to act even more upbeat when he shows up just so he won't complain. The problem is that I naturally look like I'm annoyed if I'm not smiling. And I'm not the only one in my family. My sister has it, my mother has it, and it's just the natural look of our faces. I smile more when I'm talking to customers, but I'm not gonna just walk around the store with this big goofy artificial grin on my face looking like a circus clown or something.

Since then, he's routinely complained about my enthusiasm. I'm not a male cheerleader, and I never will be. Sorry, Bill.

No, wait, I'm not sorry.

At any rate, that was at the end of 2008. The beginning of 2009 brought with it one of many giant slaps in the face that Bill would give me this year.

Now remember, my main responsibility aside from running the front end was to push rewards. I had to attend a five hour training class for the job which was hosted by all of the local district managers and the regional HR managers, and the entire thing revolved around the rewards program. They handed out training materials on the subject, all of which I still have in my locker at work. There could be no question what I was supposed to be doing.

So when January came around and Bill pulled me into the office during his first visit of the year, I was blown away by the verbal beating I received. It had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with rewards.

It was because I wasn't selling enough warranty plans.

In essence, he told me he wasn't sure I was the right person for the job because I wasn't selling enough plans. Funny, I thought my job had been created to free up the sales manager so that he could go help drive that number. I reminded Bill of my initial interview when I had told him that I wasn't very good at selling plans, and he said, "Well let me hear how you sell it."

Having worked at CompUSA for so long, I certainly had a number of options to choose from; they'd taught us hundreds of different "methods." The biggest thing that had always been driven into my head was not to call it a "service plan" because the stigma that goes with that name has a tendency to make people say no right away. A better way to present it was to ask the customer if they'd like to purchase a "protection" plan so that they could "protect their investment." So that's what I said to Bill.

"It's not a protection plan," he said, clearly annoyed. "It's a product replacement plan or service plan."

For the record, I personally think all of these "methods" are a bunch of crap. People should just be asked if they want it, and take the yes or no that follows. What you call it means very little as long as you explain what it does.

"Well, I always thought of it as protecting your investment," I told him, "so that's what I call it."

"No, you're not protecting anything." His mouth twisted particularly tightly around that sentence. "You're either replacing or you're servicing. That's what we do."

Couldn't that be considered protecting your investment?

My GM was in the room for the meeting, and Bill looks at her. "It's no wonder his numbers are crap." He looks back at me. "Your presentation is crap."

As someone who takes his work very seriously and only puts out the best he can, there was no way I could take that other than as a personal insult. Especially when you're talking about someone as subjective as the wording of a sales pitch. "Bill, it was my understanding that my focus was supposed to be rewards. I've sold some plans - more here than I used to at Comp, but my focus has been on getting the rewards number up."

Inside, I was hoping to get some kind of compliment for the progress I'd made on rewards, but by now I knew what kind of man (and I use the term "man" loosely) Bill was. "So you don't think its important if the store makes money?"

I ground my teeth. "That's not what I said, Bill. I simply was under the impression that it wasn't to be MY focus. I thought my job was supposed to free up the sales manager to do that."

We went back and forth for a while. Eventually he told me that there was an inventory control position open in another store and that I should consider taking it. "I don't want to have to come in here and tell you that you can't do this job anymore," he threatened.

I told him I'd have to think about it and walked out of that meeting feeling defeated and helpless. I could do any number of tasks with confidence and I'd do it better than anyone. But my one weakness had set me up for a blindsided attack by a weasel who didn't even have the decency to admit that I'd done well in other areas. My other managers told me that this was just "his way of doing things," but I refused accept that as an excuse. Bill was of the "Management by Intimidation" school of thought, the lazy and cowardly way of doing things. Anyone can look at an employee and say, "Do this or you're fired." But it takes a talented and compassionate individual to really make the effort to bring out the best in people. When you have a child who does poorly in school, you don't verbally bash their skills or knowledge. You work with them, build them up, isolate their weaknesses and focus on eliminating them. You tell them that you know they can do it and that you'll help them in every way you can. That's what a good manager does, too. I've been lucky enough to work with several guys like that during my career, and to Larry, Gordon, Rich, John, Scott, and Mike, I thank you.

After all that, I thought back to when I'd been given the Inventory Control Coordinator position at CompUSA. It was a complex job with a LOT of responsibilities and I didn't think I'd be able to handle it all. I was VERY overwhelmed at first. But I got to a point where I said, "You know what? If someone else can do it, then so can I." And I wound up reducing our shrink (inventory and/or paperwork losses that cost the company money) by 68%. By the time I got laid off because CompUSA decided to eliminate the inventory control job, I'd managed to work out a weekly routine where I could do the number of counts in one week that other stores required two people to do. I settled for nothing but the best out of myself back then, and faced with this sales dilemma that Bill had placed before me, I started to feel the same way.

Taking the other job in the other store as Bill suggested would've been the easy way out. But I wasn't going to take defeat that easily. So I stuck with my job and realigned my focus. Now, I was going to be all about selling. Can you guess what happened?

Yes, I know I sound arrogant. I'm proud of what I've accomplished despite how my job situation continues to spiral downward. Sue me.

For the first four months of this year, my sales numbers doubled and sometimes tripled that of anyone else in our store. And, out of curiosity, I looked back at the previous six months of sales and found that I'd at LEAST doubled what the highest seller of each of those months had brought in. Again, I pushed myself to be the best, and that's what I was.

So when Bill called the store one day looking to talk to our GM and I happened to be the one who answered, he asked how many plans I'd sold that day.

Me: "One so far. I'm averaging two per day, though." Before this, I'd been selling maybe 5-10 a month. Now I was on track to sell 40+ for the month.

Bill: "That's not good enough. You gotta push out 3, 4, 5 per day."

Me: *Grinding my teeth* "I'm working on it, Bill. There are days when I'm getting that many, but the average is 2 per day."

I was so annoyed by that phone call that I considered giving up. I was improving myself with something I'd always been terrible at and it still wasn't enough from him. But I kept going anyway, determined to not only be the best but to set the bar so high that no one else could touch it. By April 22, 2009, I'd brought in 232 plans. I still have the print-out from our system in my desk at home to remind me that I can and will do whatever people think I can't.

So, of course, I was expecting some sort of thanks or appreciation from Bill. And, oddly enough, I eventually got it. Although given the effort I put in and the huge improvement that came from it, I'll admit that I was a bit under-whelmed when he simply said, "Good job," one day as he was walking out the door. I mean, this was my huge weakness! The problem I'd had for years and years at CompUSA! The hurdle I could never get over had finally been conquered after he told me that my sales skills were crap, and all I get is a "Good job?" How about a "Congratulations?" How about an "I knew you could do it!" A handshake? A pat on the back? SOMETHING? Some sort of acknowledgement that you were wrong?

No, instead he decided to give me the second slap in the face. And it was this one that broke my spirit and crushed my resolve.

Another thing our store gets scored on is our customer satisfaction. That number is calculated by the surveys that print up randomly on customers' receipts. A phone number and a website are listed at the top and people are supposed to visit one to leave feedback about their shopping experience. And despite the fact that there are like 20 questions on it, only ONE of those questions determines our overall score - the "Extremely Satisfied" percentage.

There are a hundred reasons why this program is a sham, but I'll just name the biggest ones here. First off, an angry customer is far more likely to leave feedback than a happy customer. Angry people are just itching for a place to whine and try to get associates fired. On the other hand, happy customers leave the store and we don't enter their minds again until the need to stop by for something else. So it's a safe bet that the first 5-10 people who respond to the survey are automatically going to be angry customers. Maybe even more, I dunno.

Then, there's the scoring system. There are five possible answers to each question:

1 = Extremely Dissatisfied
2 = Dissatisfied
3 = Undecided
4 = Satisfied
5 = Extremely Satisfied

Now, you'd think that corporate would take each of the scores received and average them out, right?

Wrong.

Instead, the measure it by how many 5's we get. Anything else is considered a 1. So we could get 50 people giving us 4's and 13 giving us 5's and we'd get a customer satisfaction score of 20% out of 100 because only 20% of respondents gave us 5's. In essence, corporate rates 4's as being on the same level as just giving the customer the finger when they walk in.

Our store usually brings in scores in the lower 60's. I happen to think that's pretty good. However, our store's goal is a 65%. And that brings me to the third thing wrong with this scoring system. Not all stores are measured the same way. While our minimum goal is 65%, another store's goal might be 60%. They claim its based on the volume of the stores, but that doesn't make any sense to me. A percentage is based off of individual performance to begin with. If I have more customers and sell 10 plans out of 20 sales while you have less customers and sell 5 plans out of 10 sales, we still both got plans on 50% of our sales. Just because a store sells more or less during the year shouldn't affect the expected percentage of satisfied customers. It makes no sense and works to our disadvantage.

The last thing I'll mention that's wrong with the system? Tampering. Since starting with the company, I've already seen a number of employees fired for submitting their own customer service surveys - something we're not supposed to do because it affects the legitimacy of the score. Who's to say there aren't others who haven't yet been caught?

Having said all that, Bill came into the store one day to cause more trouble. Whenever he visits, the first thing he does is stand in the front of the store by the entrance and observe the store for about ten minutes or so. During that time, I was going back and forth across the front of the store looking down each aisle to see if anyone needed help. I saw Bill, he saw me, and I headed over to say hello. However, on my way toward him, I saw a customer who needed help, so I stopped short and went back to help her. When I was finished, I headed over to him.

He asked me what our last customer service score had been. In the past, the heat for that number had fallen on the GM's shoulders. Everyone has a hand in customer service, but Bill himself had made it quite clear in our last meeting that I was to focus on sales and so that's what I'd been doing. I had a vague idea of what the latest scores had been, but I didn't remember the exact numbers.

Bill: "Well, what's your goal?"

Me: "65%."

Bill: "Do you think you hit your goal?"

Me: "No, I know we didn't."

Bill: "So how are you going to hit your goal if you don't know what your current scores are?"

Me: "Even if we were hitting our goal, we'd still want to keep improving, so I always just keep in my mind that we need to get better. We've got to approach every customer and offer assistance and walk them to their product."

Bill: "No, you need to keep a scorecard so that you know where you are. How are you ever going to beat the other team if you don't know what the score is?"

I tried to explain to him that this kind of score wasn't quite so cut and dry. It wasn't something that we could track daily, nor was it something that changed daily. The new customer service score comes out once a month. I knew that we hadn't made the goal, so I simply put it in my head that we need to get much better. I think number-cruncher management overcomplicates things. You give an average associate 200 different number goals to beat and they're going to get overwhelmed. Especially when your associates are 17 year old high school students making $8 an hour. They're not going to care enough to put in the effort to hit all the goals you keep beating them over the head with.

But, of course, explaining all of that didn't make a difference to him.

Bill: "You know why you get bad customer service scores? I see it every time I walk into this building. You all walk around looking miserable to be here. No one is happy to be a part of this company, no one seems to like working here, and that comes across to customers."

I was at the end of my fuse. Everything from day 1 had built up inside me and it was time for me to speak my mind. Foolishly, I thought that maybe if I explained to him how we felt about his attitude, he might see how it affects us.

Me: "You don't exactly make it easy for us to be happy, Bill."

Bill: "What do you mean?"

Me: "Every time you come in here all you do is rip us apart for everything we've done wrong and ignore everything that we've done right. We look miserable when you're here BECAUSE you're here."

Bill: "So you give terrible customer service because of me?"

Me: "We don't give terrible customer service. We--"

Bill: "That's not what I'm seeing. That's not what your service scores say. Everything I'm seeing says you give terrible service."

It was about this point when he got a cell phone call. He went into the back while I fumed up front. Eventually, I was called to the back office to continue the discussion.

In the back, he gave me a chance to fully explain my frustrations with him. And I did. I told him that his attitude brings people down, kills motivation, and the mere thought that he might come in on any given day has the associates keeping one eye on the door at all times.

Bill: "Who says that?"

Me: "I do."

Bill: "No, you said "we" don't feel like I support you. Who's we."

Me: "The associates of the store."

Bill: *Grabbing a piece of paper and a pen* "OK, like who?"

Me: "I'm not giving you names, Bill."

Bill: "Well, you said "we" so I assumed you meant more than just yourself."

Me: "I did, but whether or not those people want to come forward with their feelings is up to them. I'm not going to volunteer them and I'm certainly not going to let you force me to throw them under the bus."

He kept on me for a bit, trying to get me to transfer is targeting scope to someone else in the store. But I wouldn't do that. I was speaking up for everyone of my own choice - no one had asked me to do it. So I wasn't going to subject them to his wrath without even asking if they'd be OK that I mentioned them. I thought it was despicable that he was trying to manipulate me into giving him more people to yell at. And I knew full well what would've happened, too. Those people who didn't want to speak up for fear of their jobs would deny what I'd said. Then Bill would've come back to me saying I was making it all up because no one confirmed my story. I mean, I could understand why they wouldn't want to say anything, but I felt as though I had to. As you might imagine, that didn't sit too well with Bill.

Bill: "Well, if I can't verify what you're saying, then all I can do is go by what I see."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Bill: "Your attitude. I come into this store time and time again and every time I see you you're not smiling and you're just moping around here like you're just watching the minutes tick by."

Now, in all fairness, that may have been true when I was working the office department. However, as I said before, I'm not going to walk around with a big dopey looking forced grin for no reason. I smile when I help customers - I always have. And every time Bill comes into the store, I make sure that I'm running around helping people. I know I have the reputation he just described so I do everything in my power to shed that appearance.

Me: "That's a bunch of crap. I've been helping people all day long!"

Bill: "You ignored me. What if I'd been a customer?"

That caught me off guard. I had to stop and figure out what he was talking about. Then I realized he was referring to the moment when I'd seen him and was going to say hello but stopped to take care of a customer first.

Me: "There was a customer who needed help so I went and took care of them. I figured that was more important than small talk with you."

Bill: "What if I was a customer?"

Me: "Then I would've helped you."

Bill: "But you didn't. You ignored me and went on your way."

I was so ready to break his nose. I'm not exaggerating.

Me: "But you're not a customer! If you were, I'd have helped you. But you're not!"

Bill: "Sure I'm a customer. We're all customers."

Don't ask me what that meant. I still don't know.

Me: "I don't get it. I just don't understand what you want from me."

Bill: "I want you to smile!"

Me: "I DO SMILE!"

The argument continued. He brought up the service score again. I told him all the reasons I thought it was a flawed system. He told me I was the only one who thought so. I told him it wasn't fair to have the responsibility for a number dumped onto my shoulders that I didn't know was my responsibility, and don't have complete control over. I can tell the associates how to treat customers until I'm blue in the face, but if they don't listen, there's nothing I can do. A real manager would write them up or fire them if they couldn't do their jobs properly after so much time, but I don't have any authority like that. All I can really do is train them to do their jobs and take the beating when they don't. He asked me for names of people I thought needed to be fired. I gave him several because those people were really standing in the way of progress. He claimed that they'd be put on final warning and then be fired. That was months ago. Only one of those people improved. They're all still employed with us.

I avoided Bill like the plague after that. Clearly this man was not reasonable. He reminded me of my seventh grade reading teacher. She had a sign on her classroom wall that read:

Rule #1: The teacher is always right.
Rule #2: If the teach is ever wrong, see rule #1.

That was Bill's mentality. No amount of logic or honesty could reach him. And now I was faced with a challenge that I really had no way of fixing. No amount of my own effort would raise the customer service score of the associates didn't want to cooperate. The store is open seven days a week for thirteen hours a day and 8 on Sunday. I'm only there for a portion of that time. And even if I WAS there for every hour, there's no way I could personally interact with and take care of every customer myself. If the other employees weren't going to do what was necessary to help raise the score and I wasn't going to be given the authority to really enforce those rules then my hands were tied.

So it was at that point that I pretty much gave up trying. Bill had shown me that nothing I accomplished mattered. He put me in the office department and I brought it as close to perfect as it could possibly be. Then he put me in charge of rewards and I turned our percentage around. Next he cried about my sales. So I overcame that barrier to do it better than anyone else. At no point did the pressure ease up. At no point did I earn any amount of respect from the man. At no point did my efforts yield any sort of appreciation for my hard work with the company. Instead, I was constantly beaten down. Nothing I accomplished mattered to him regardless of how huge of an accomplishment it was. Every time we talked he just tore me down further, threatening my job and asking why I even worked there. People told me that's just his management style, but that's completely unacceptable to me. His style didn't do anything to motivate me. I was motivated out of my own desire to be the best.

All he taught me was that it didn't matter how hard I worked or how much I achieved. I was going to get my beatings regardless of what I did, so why bother killing myself anymore?

I gave up. And I'm not ashamed to admit it.

So for the last several months, I've really just shown up to work to pick up a paycheck. My sales numbers went to crap, and I honestly don't care. I proved to myself that I can do it. That's really all I wanted out of the whole thing. With the exception of the service score, everything they've placed in front of me I've been able to do better than anyone else. And if Bill would give me the power to write-up and or fire people who stand in the way of the service score, I guarantee I'd have the best score in the district. But without complete control over the number, no one could really do much more than what I've done. It's like telling a person to fix a car without changing the parts that are broken.

A couple weeks ago, Bill showed up with a representative from the company that handles our service plan claims. I didn't know they were there at first. I was in the front of the store, and I asked a lady near one of the displays if I could help her find anything. She said, "No, thank you," and headed on her way. As she walked away, I saw Bill standing not too far away looking right at me. No matter how much I wanted to give him the finger and walk away, I knew I had to be polite and shake his hand and say hello.

While doing that, the lady I'd approached came back over and stood next to Bill. I hadn't realized she was with him until that point, and after an awkward moment of silence, he introduced her and told me who she was.

And for the next hour, she proceeded to rip me in half about my sales numbers. She kept telling me she didn't have faith in me to lead by example to get the rest of the front end staff selling. I wanted to go off on her about how well I'd done earlier in the year, but I really didn't feel like getting into it. I just let her ramble on and nodded occasionally to make it look like I cared. Eventually, Bill piped up and said, "You were on fire earlier this year. What happened?" I wanted to tell him that he'd killed any and all motivation I had, but I was smart enough to know that nothing I said would get through to him.

While he was there, he also complained to my boss that I helped a customer "start to finish." Yes, he complained that I DID help them start to finish. Apparently, I'm supposed to hand off customers to the department associates rather than help them through the whole sale.

Yet, at the same time, I'm supposed to be selling all these plans and signing up all these rewards customers. How is that supposed to happen if I've gotta hand off all my customers to other associates? What is it exactly that I'm supposed to do??

I came to the conclusion a long time ago that this company has no idea what they want to do with this customer service position they stuck me in. I get told I'm not supposed to ring register, then get yelled at by Bill if I don't jump on when there's a line. I'm supposed to stay up front, but I'm supposed to walk every customer to the product they're looking for. I'm supposed to get change, do cash pickups, make sure checkout lines do not get too long, and resolve customer disputes at the front end, yet when I mentioned to Bill that I had been in charge of the front end of CompUSA and had a lot of experience in that area, he scolded me and said that I'm not "in charge" of the front end. I'm supposed to sell plans without ringing or finishing sales. I'm not supposed to process website orders for people because it takes up too much of my time. I have the only freakin' job in the store where going above and beyond the limitations of my position will get me chewed out!! How am I ever supposed to shine that way!?

The day following Bill's visit, he had the nerve to complain to my GM that I didn't offer help to the warranty representative when she was in the store posing as a customer.

That pretty much confirmed to me what I'd always suspected to be true. His problem with me has little-to-nothing to do with my work ethic. For whatever reason, he just doesn't like me. Maybe it's because I stood up to him. Maybe it's because I'm foolish enough to speak my mind. I don't know, but whatever the case, for him to stoop to the level of making up lies to build a case against me shows that he just wants me gone. And yesterday, after a year and a half in the position, my GM informed me that he has a problem with me having Saturdays off. I told her that we had agreed to it when I was given the position and that it had been cleared with him. She suggested the possibility that he might be picking on it now because our numbers suck and that he might not have said anything before because we were doing better. I wouldn't put that kind of crap past him for a moment. "Sure, I'll stick to the terms of our deal as long as it works to my advantage. However, I'll change it if I feel like trying to blackmail you into leaving."

What bothers me most about the Saturday thing is not only the fact that he cleared it when I was given the job, but also the idea that he expects me to have 100% complete open availability. I already work garbage mid-shifts which leave me with very little time to do anything else with my days. I also work Sundays when the sales manager does in accordance with company policy.

On top of all that, I have the responsibilities of a manger. I am called for key holder calls and customer disputes. It's my job to train and "coach" the other associates on how to do their jobs. I have numbers to meet.

And I remind you - I got no pay raise for this position.

What if I was still going to school at nights? What if I worked another job? This position doesn't pay enough for me to pay rent on an apartment in New Jersey, so they can't be expecting that I'm living on this money alone. That means that the only people who can really work this position are those who don't really have any aspirations outside of this company. In short, the position was created for people who live and bleed for the company. Sorry, that ain't me. Never will be, either.

And that brings us to today. Why am I still with this company? Well, my fiance and I are looking to move out of the state when we get married, and my job is a worldwide fortune 100 company. It would be a LOT easier to move out of the state if I can just transfer to another store wherever we move to rather than have to find a new job out there.

But at this rate, it doesn't look like that's going to happen that way. I'm going to fight them tooth and nail for my Saturdays - it's my only thing I can really look forward to every week. If they threaten to fire me over it, I might just have to let them. I've been researching the idea of starting a business with my fiance anyway. Maybe we'll go ahead and do that. Or maybe I'll end up at another large retail chain. I hear Costco is supposed to be a nice place to work. No warranties to worry about, at least. :)

If you've read this whole thing, I thank you for listening to the ramblings of a man fed up with the retail industry. And maybe next time you see that guy walking around your local K-Mart with a glum look on his face, you'll think twice before just assuming that he's a lazy bum who doesn't want to do any work. There is often much more going on right in front of you than you realize. Customers aren't our only source of frustration.

Thanks again for reading. Now go outside.

1 comment:

  1. 100% true...just gotta ignore it. I've been yelled at in every department I've worked in just say yep I'll improve and continue the exact same thing I did the day before. Its funny they never complain about the same thing even if you do the same thing day after day. Asked for a raise, about 4 years working at the company and less than $1 more than I started, was told the GM's all lost 8k in stock options so I probably won't be getting anything. Maybe the GM's lost their stock because they weren't doing their jobs right, which has nothing to do with the associates.

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