Leaning into your people - Staffing on purpose, on trust, and with space to be surprised

Leaning into your people - Staffing on purpose, on trust, and with space to be surprised

A few months ago, our electric company notified us on a Friday morning that there would be a “planned power outage” on SundayWhat is a planned power outage?  No idea!!  After spending 7 hours trying to figure it out by calling the power company, stopping at their local branch (which was locked), visiting our borough building (most helpful and delightful people), calling our township office, and then calling the power company 3 more times and spending over 4 hours on hold, we still didn’t understand what was really going on and for how long.  

So we called off our employees and went in to figure it out.  Can the store be open without power, what would customers think, should we have closed?  Surprisingly, it was one of the most fun days!  People thought it was funny, they were thankful we were open, and we shared a saga that would not have happened without that blip in our lives.  

Last weekend, the power company did the same thing!!  No joke!  They sent us an email Friday about an outage on Sunday (but if it rained, they would do it next weekend). This time, we knew how to run the store so we didn’t call off the staff.  We showed them how to do things, left notes, and allowed them to handle the day.

All the type A control freaks are losing their minds right now!  In the middle of a wacky, unpredictable day, how can you leave the store under the control of 2 under 25 year olds?!  I gotta say… it was a choice.  I was on the phone with them when they got there and alarms were going off and they were figuring out what was going to work. I did almost get in the car and head over.  It was a battle of whether or not an owner should be there or if we should let the staff handle the situation.

But here’s the thing.  These associates are great.  One has been there for years and knows so much more about so many things than we do.  The other is such an incredible, handle it all teenager who amazes me every time she works.  If anyone could deal with the day, these 2 could.  And they sent me pictures to prove it (more on that in a few).

My parting words in that opening the store, alarms going off, how do we run credit cards call was, “Handle it. It’s a wacky day.  Deal with it and have fun.”  

A few hours later, they texted me a picture of a little tree with lights on it with the caption “Power outage… but make it fun!”  Oh my goodness!  Those 2 found a tree, found battery powered lights from somewhere, strung them up, and put it on the counter.  They HANDLED IT and MADE IT FUN!  I almost started to cry.

Small business is hard.  It’s so much of you, your thoughts, your passion, your ideas and you putting in the work.  It’s hard to transfer those things into other people and even harder to communicate and implement all the things you put together in your head.  Sometimes it all falls apart but sometimes you have moments like this weekend that remind and encourage you.

Staff on Purpose:

We inherited an incredible staff when we purchased this business over the summer.  Because it’s a small business, it’s easy to get in each other’s way and put our nose into all the things.  One of the things that’s special here is that we each have a special role and need to be great at that.  

For example, we have a designer who oversees the overall furniture and decor look of the store.  Each week, she sees what furniture is sold and how we can move things around to create new rooms.  She creates themes, sees color combinations, and puts things together in a magical way.  Do I know what she’s doing?  Yes.  Can I help?  Maybe.  Should I get in her way?  Absolutely not.  Her job is to transform and connect.

We have more associates who run the store by answering customer questions, refilling shelves, and fixing issues.  It’s important to have more of those staff on the weekend when there are more customers.  Should they be redesigning tablescapes in the middle of a Saturday?  Nope.  Are they critical to what we do?  Absolutely.

This weekend, we had 2 sales associates doing what they do best.  They were being flexible and handling all the issues.  They were interacting with customers and leaving space to find joy and fun in a crazy situation.  

Staffing on Trust:

When you have a team of part time people, consistency is hard.  It really takes effort to make sure everyone is doing things the same way or even figuring out what the best way to do anything might be.  There is a fine line between doing everything the same and allowing people to use their brain and handle things.  Yes, everyone might do things a little differently.  No, it might not be the way you would choose.  But giving people space and trusting their opinions and judgment is one of the greatest parts of small business.

We have 2 delivery drivers who handle picking up furniture.  So much of their job depends on making good choices.  How do they secure furniture in the truck?  How careful are they with the items?  How do they interact with customers? When something goes wrong, how do they fix it? There is a lot of trust that happens there but the rewards are completely worth it.  Customers will email after a pick up and say how great they were.  The guys will call with a question and a suggestion to deal with the situation quickly.  Yes, trust needs built and earned but the reward to that effort is completely worth it.

Staffing with space to be surprised:

Staffing in a small business is about lists and processes.  We don’t sit in meetings to “get on the same page”, we’re filling orders, stocking shelves, and making choices that impact other staff members who don’t always work the same shifts that we do. We need the baseline of how to do things. We need to understand how what we do impacts the team.  That baseline is not the end but the beginning to how we function.  

We could be rigid with policies.  If a customer does this, say that.  But how often does that happen exactly the same?  Yes, we buy items from customers.  Yes, we buy desks.  No we don’t buy big, executive desks.  Everything is so fluid for us.

Our store changes its layout, its color themes and its inventory so often that it’s hard to tell associates what to do.  This display piece needs to be filled.  But this week it’s with glass items and next week it’s with blue items.  And what happens when someone buys everything on the shelf? We have to train and communicate a baseline with lots of room for decisions.  And when we don’t make the same choices as others, respect comes in to understand why and how we move forward.  Sometimes those differences create something magical.  If we didn’t allow space for new ideas, mistakes, or conversation, we miss out on so much.

Thank you to our staff who make good choices, leaning into the best of themselves to create something great.  Thank you for sending pictures of baby trees with battery operated lights. It is an honor to work with you and share this journey together.

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