The Long Way Home 9.22.23

Management is like parenting. Both are nearly impossible to teach, and many of us reach management and parenthood with little or no practical training.

Since moving back to the North Shore, I have never wished I was back in management. It ranks up there with officiating youth sports and having a colonoscopy.

I am still an observer of business and government, as a consumer of both. The success or failure of those ventures is a direct result of management, and too much of management seems wanting. 

Management comes with little training, despite the vast armies of consultants scooping up gobs of cash and time from entrepreneurs and government agencies.

My long-suffering wife, who I fondly call the Bohunk, had an experience recently at a local retail business. Neither of us has gotten out in the world of shops and restaurants much in recent years, so when we do, it often leads to the big question, "What were they thinking of at ___ ?" I know most of you ask that question sometimes, too.

At this shop the Bohunk visited, one she'd not been in before (did I mention we don't get out much?), she walked inside and was the only potential customer in the store. A few more came in while she looked around. The two staff members working the store (we don't know if they were employees, managers, or potential robbers) were conversing behind the counter. They failed even to greet or make eye contact with the Bohunk, much less the others that entered after her. She left without speaking to anyone and without buying.

Bad management leads to that kind of customer neglect, which leads to lost sales. The experience is far too common.

Before moving back to Grand Marais seven years ago, we lived in Belleville, IL, a small city across the muddy Mississippi from St. Louis. A nearby Walgreens store was a place we visited frequently to get everything from C-cell batteries to ibuprofen and whatever drugs the doctors prescribed for high blood pressure and rising cholesterol.

Someone in management at Walgreens decided to make it mandatory that cashiers, placed wisely by the entrance, greet everyone coming in the door. In a monotone drone known to those raising teenagers, you'd hear, after the bell tolled at the opening door, "Welcome to Walgreens." There is no eye contact, just a drone. It's as aggravating as being ignored, if I'm being honest.

Business is all about people. Sure, the quality of a product or service matters, but people are the essence. 

The most important people are the owners of small to mid-size businesses. The management decisions these leaders make determine the profits and continued existence of the enterprise. They need to communicate well to explain why the organization exists to employees, vendors, including the bank, and, most importantly, prospective and existing customers. People. It is damn near impossible to communicate anything positive when you ignore those you need for your business or agency.

The bottom line is that people almost always do business with others they know, like, and trust. At the very least, a business owner should accomplish one of those three with good hiring, solid training, ongoing communication, and proper leadership. The best achieve all three.

Missing out on connecting with customers at every encounter raises questions about whether a business should be trusted. Having employees express a rote greeting like "Welcome to Walgreens" while curling their bangs and gazing at the stockboy doesn't count as connecting.

For Rhonda

To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart." — Thomas Watson, Sr. IBM.