How to ru(i)n a business… And some more people I meet at work

The title of this blog might give the impression that either the company I used to work for or the company I currently work for are doing poorly and will soon go out of business.  Not the case.  Just saying.  I think they’re stable and doing fine.

But, like anything, there are things that can be changed.  In this post, I’m going to focus on the decision makers.  Not simply ‘managers’, because I have seen that in some companies, the title of ‘manager’ is meaningless when it comes down to making decisions beyond ordering inventory or scheduling hours.  A decision maker is a person who has at least a bit of autonomy when it comes to saying yes or no to writing a significantly sized check.

Very often, that check is requested by the people in the front lines who see the need for a change or a repair to make the business work more efficiently or make life a bit easier for the workers.

In my previous job (ethanol plant engineer), I was a decision maker.  If the operators in the department were complaining of a valve that was very difficult to turn, then I had the power to pay money to get it fixed or replaced.  And why did I do that?  I went out and tried to turn the valve myself, and boy was it a pain to turn it.  I didn’t hesitate to try to get it fixed for them.  If the microwave in the break room was breaking down, I’d get a new one because I used that microwave, too.  I understood what the workers were going through because I was right there beside them.  I knew their names and I knew their jobs.  There were still things I couldn’t get for them.  Either it was too expensive, unnecessary, or too impractical.  I had my spending limits.  Any more than my limit, and I’d have to make a request from someone higher up the ladder and more removed from the front lines.  In short, I listened to the workers and helped them when I could.  I felt good when they thanked me for following through on a request.  I also noticed that as long as I listened to them and righted what I could, they would go out of their way to do their jobs well.  If we asked them to stay late, they would.  They would bring me problems that they noticed in the process before I noticed them and before it caused even bigger problems for me.  They would even give me ideas to make the place run more efficiently.  They cared about what they were doing, because we cared about them.  We worked together to make the plant and the company succeed.

In my current job (gas station clerk), I’m on the bottom of the ladder.  I’m in the position that creates the transaction between the customer and the company.  But I’ve noticed a different attitude toward running the store.  The top dog in the whole store is the General Manager, but even he is limited to what he can do for us clerks (I would use my official title of ‘associate’, but I don’t feel like one).  The GM is not a decision maker.  He’s a glorified clerk.  I have some specific examples here of the decision maker not knowing what it’s like on the front lines.

  1. This gas station has a car wash.  Half the time, the car wash is offline.  Of the time it’s online, it malfunctions half the time (dryer quitting early, no soap during wash, etc…).  There’s a laundry list of things that need to be repaired or replaced on that car wash.  The repair man only does a few of those things, because he says that the corporate person who approved the fix only approved a few specific things to fix, while not approving the other things.  I suppose the corporate person didn’t think they were critical enough to warrant fixing.  So the car wash comes back online, and we at the clerk station have to constantly deal with the ongoing customer complaints and giving refunds.
  2. There is an ice machine on our fountain drink dispenser that has a failed bearing.  The ice machine still works, but the noise it makes is maddening.  I had to endure the past three 10-hour days listening to the warbling, horrific squeal of it.  It startles the customers and gives me a headache.  While we have requested many times to get this thing fixed, nothing has happened.  I suppose that they think that because the ice machine still works, it’s not critical to replace it.  I argue otherwise.
  3. I personally noticed an ant problem about two weeks ago and asked the General Manager to get something done about it.  He sent in a request.  One week ago, it got so bad that we couldn’t make fresh baked cookies to sell because they’d be swarming with ants within an hour of leaving them out.  We sent request after request to have something done about it.  We were doing whatever we could to keep the ants out of sight of the customer and off the food.  It was literally just yesterday that the exterminator showed up, saying he got word from corporate that morning about some kind of ant problem.  At least they finally did something, but at what cost?

How many customers do you suppose didn’t complain about any of the above but still have chosen to go elsewhere from now on?  How miserable do you think the front line workers are?  No worker expects to have a job where they don’t actually have to work or be uncomfortable every now and then.  But when it seems like the decision makers are never around and have no idea what you actually go through, I can tell you that the workers are less likely to care if the company succeeds or not.  They’ll do enough to look like they’re doing just enough.

What do I think you should take away from this?  When you run a business, the decision makers need to be at or near the front lines.  Yes, the CEO can come down from On High and make token visits to some stores, but what worker in their right mind would tell the CEO about their honest complaints and ideas?  Or if they did, who would expect the CEO to even listen?  If you do this for the workers, they might even give a little bit extra for you.  They’ll go out of their way to come up with clever solutions to some problems, because they know there’s a chance that the company will use their clever solution!

That’s my rant.  Please leave comments below so other people can see your clever ideas, too!


Anyway, in the title I promised to talk about a few more of the people I meet at work.  That’s one thing I didn’t get to do at my previous job.  I never got to people-watch.  But now I’ve discovered many various subspecies of douchebags, and some cool folks too.  The following are just from last night.

I’m In A Hurry And I Get So Angry About Dumb Things: The ‘Pay at the Pump’ option, where you get to swipe your credit card at the pump, asks about three questions (do you want a carwash, do you want your receipt, what’s your billing zip code).  This person sped into the building to get stuff while the gas was still pumping into his vehicle and announced that if the pump asked him too many question that he was gonna explode.  He literally said that.  Then he asked for a scratch-off ‘Booklet’.  I asked if he meant the ‘Game Book’ (which is a book of scratch-off tickets for $20).  He got annoyed and said yes of course that’s what he meant and that he calls it a ‘Booklet’ because he always takes shortcuts.  I refrained from telling him that I didn’t think that was necessarily the best strategy in life.

Very Important Cell Phone Guy: Everyone has seen this guy.  He’s on his phone, comes up with a pile of whatever and drops it on the counter, completely ignoring anything I say to him.  If you do this, please don’t.  Give the clerk the ten seconds of attention it takes to do an exchange of goods and services.  I’m a person, and I’m trying to help you.  Please acknowledge my existence.

The ‘Murican: He walks in and says to me that he feels less and less like he’s in America.  I give him a puzzled look (for two reasons: I have no idea what he’s referring to, and I have a suspicion that with an opening line like that, I will agree with precisely nothing he says), and he goes on to explain that he saw at least four different nationalities of people and languages filling up at the gas pumps around him.  I merely replied that they probably wanted to come to a great country.  He thought that was a good answer and went on to buy a ludicrous number of lottery tickets and a huge bag of candy.  ‘Murica.

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