To be an outlier in a retail environment means a.) Your store is so far out of the district’s main territory that the DM does not visit much and b.) Your store will have to be on an outlier call, which is a “come to Jesus” thrashing where you better explain why the store did not meet sales, did not meet credit, did not meet payroll, did not meet receiving, did not meet training and generally did not meet, just, well, “did not.”
Retail is more than shopping. Retail is more than Black Friday. Retail is more than racks of clothes, shelves of toys, appliances and electronics all set to a corporate plan-o-gram. Real people with goals, hopes, dreams and families work retail and sometimes their lives do not fit in a plan-o-gram.
Here is what it was like to work HR in an outlier store of a major retailer:
An all too common and, sadly, often repeated conversation with my married, 47 year old boss who perpetually and pathetically pursued 20 year old women associates went something like this:
Me: Why is she texting you?
Boss: I don’t know.
Me: How did she get your number?
Boss: I don’t know.
Me: This does not reflect well on you. This is making other associates uncomfortable.
Boss: -blank stare-
Me: Well, just stop it or it will need to be documented.
-I leave- His behavior was documented on more than one occasion, but corporate did nothing.
Every month the P&L would print. One sheet, tiny print. The store stubbornly entrenched in the bottom 10% of the company. Every month I would stare at this paper with the tiny print looking for something positive. Every month I would bring the paper with the tiny print to my boss who would wearily smile, because he knew what was coming next. I would proceed with my thoughts on how we could, maybe, with hard work and dedication, get ourselves out of the bottom 10%. Every month he would tell me the same thing: “You don’t need to be worrying about this stuff.”
Toward the end, in desperation, and totally disobeying the company policy of not giving proprietary information away, I brought the P&L home to show my husband. My husband knew we were breaking rules looking at this paper with the tiny print, but he was probably as weary as my boss and simply decided to take a look. My husband has a finance degree, 30 years of management experience and has mentored dozens of interesting, fabulous people, so surely he could help me lift the store up, set us straight and, if nothing else, for God’s sake, tell me what all these tiny numbers mean. With his best patient smile, he went line by line, category by category and percentage by percentage until he finally said, “you don’t need to be worrying about this stuff.”
When former employees see me in Kroger, after they give me a hug, they say, “you probably don’t remember me.” Oh, but I do. Your daughter was getting her master’s degree in education. Your husband was in a car accident. You had to leave at two o’clock to pick up your grandson. You liked working in jewelry, but not returns. You had diabetes, but still drank a liter of Pepsi at lunch. You wished your ex-husband would reconcile. Your mother-in-law fell and broke her hip. Oh, yes, I remember. I was with you.
I was in charge of attendance records. Your dog died. Your aunt died. Your third cousin died. Your neighbor’s hamster died. Any relative, friend or acquaintance you ever knew, did not know or even remotely heard of died. All of them. Everyone of them died four times over. I was with you.
I was in charge of store morale and psychiatry. Would I call someone to cover your shift? Can you take a leave of absence and still get paid? Do I think you should buy a house or get a dog or have a second baby? How do I establish my credit? Would I look good as a blonde? What would you do, Ms. Diane? I called corporate looking for employee assistance when we had a tornado. I called corporate looking for medical bill assistance when a baby was born premature. I bought birthday cakes, retirement cakes and anniversary cakes. I was with you.
I worried myself into a promotion. A promotion I did not even apply for, because I spent so much time worrying about whether I should apply…or not. And when I accepted the new position, I was told I would need to do my old job, too. When a new individual was hired for my old position I would need to train them, and by the way, it would be great if you would coordinate the corporate volunteer program. But there was still that pesky P&L with the tiny print. When I expressed concern about the challenges of trying to attempt three jobs and raise the tiny print of the P&L, I was nonchalantly told, “oh we never meet those goals. You don’t need to be worrying about that.”