While COVID was creating restrictions for getting out and around, one of my excuses to leave the house was a weekly visit to the grocery store.  (Home delivery is great, but I like to be inspired by and inspect my fresh produce.)

After a few months, I found myself irritated that the employees in my local (Call it brand O) store treated customers like we were nonexistent or even a pain in their universe.  Not only were there no greetings, there were no offers to help and no conversation of any kind.  In fact, the checkers, and other workers (half of them union) were busy talking to each other and frequently ignored their paying customers!  More than once I saw people wait to be told what their total was.  The checker couldn’t be bothered to note the total and never thanked anyone for their business.   

I tried the local Trader Joe’s and received the very best customer service.  Unfortunately, they don’t have everything I want, so I decided to try Brand O’s store in another location a few miles further out.  What a HUGE difference.  Everyone was smiling, helpful to customers, and helpful to fellow team members.  Employees seemed happy to see their customers. Imagine! The difference, I was certain, came from the tone at the top.  The store manager was interacting with customers and employees every time I was there.  She was friendly, professional, and helpful.  Of course, her employee team members reflected those qualities. How nice to skip the sullen, rude employees at the original location. 

I tested my assumption that there was a significant difference between the two locations by asking my husband and a few neighbors if they had or would visit both and notice any differences.  Their answers reflected attitudes at both locations.  Not surprisingly, the strong healthy culture store was clean and organized, lines moved faster and even customers seemed happier.  No, the story isn’t scientific, but I’m a believer that it starts at the top and then everyone must jump in to make it work. 

Although I wrote a couple of times to ask why this was allowed to continue, it was just recently that I learned that the manager was promoted last fall.  I had to visit to see if there was any improvement in employee attitudes and otherwise in my original location.  I already see a change for the good.  Although I didn’t see her, I did see employees smiling and interacting with customers.  Someone offered to help me find something.  Shocking!  I will keep visiting both locations to see how things progress.  Next time I see her I will ask about her experiences in the new store (specifically the cultural differences) and how she is managing that. 

I know from experiences in other operations and management jobs I’ve had that it’s not just the manager’s responsibility to effect a cultural change, but that’s a critical part of it.  Another part is recognizing the damage one negative employee can make, especially if the behavior is acknowledged and is tolerated by management.  Regardless of how much we need employees, it never pays to keep someone who creates negativity.  Better for them to be released to find a situation where they can be happy and productive! 

In leading operational integration projects, I have personal experience with the power and impact of leaders who consistently “walk the talk” and communicate the vision, values, plans, and performance to create a strong, healthy culture.  Companies that have a strong culture have increased revenues, profitability, and net income.  Your employees want to be part of a healthy culture so they can focus on achieving amazing results.  

Are you and your managers leading your company to have a healthy culture? Great!  Your success will attract customers and employees.  Successful companies have more flexibility in their exit planning and more value in the marketplace.  Have you been wondering what other steps a smart owner can take now to prepare for an exit from the company while achieving his/her goals?  We will be happy to have a confidential complimentary conversation with you. 

You can reach me via email: [email protected] or on my cell phone a: 224-688-8838.  

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Alison Hoffman

has more than 25 years of experience in strategy, operations, mergers and acquisitions and delivering business-to-business client solutions. Her areas of expertise include managing operations for profitable growth, organizational design and strategy activation. She brings a wealth of experience through her work in evaluating, valuing and purchasing over 30 companies, leading company-wide cultural and business integration projects and consolidating best practices among business processes and corresponding computing systems. Read Full Bio