Several people have written to say that they appreciate how I use my own mistakes and shortcomings as examples when discussing how to do things better. To be honest, I don’t know any other way to do it. My only experiences are my own, and I figure that, if I can be honest about my own failures, then maybe others can be honest with themselves about their own. Then, we can all get better. My job as Sales Manager at Larry’s Music Center is to support my coworkers…to help them do their jobs, to solve problems for them and, most of all, to make their jobs easier. I take it very seriously, and I truly value all of them. So, when I’m letting someone down, that really sucks for me.
One personal anecdote I can draw on is rooted in the consolidation among vendors we’ve seen in our industry over the last couple of years. Large companies are buying smaller companies…sometimes two at a time. All that changing of hands often introduces new headaches. We’ve experienced frequent, and frequently long, shipping delays from nearly every small goods supplier, and even instrument manufacturers. Those supply chain issues have made for some difficult situations, and they’ve hampered our ability to source many products. Some manufacturers try to find their own solutions, such as reaching out to stores to offer direct sales, even if it means suspending their usual buying or dealer requirements. It’s all resulted in some very tricky maneuvering to get products from vendors, as well as frustration and waiting for both our staff and our customers. Just keep that backdrop in mind; it’s going to be relevant later.
For now, though, let me introduce you to David, a longtime coworker of mine. He is our Educational Sales Manager, a fellow tech nerd, a drone enthusiast, a dog lover and a good friend. David spends most of his time “on the road,” and I don’t mean that in a poetic sense. He drives from school to school across three or four counties, picking up and delivering repairs, meeting with band directors, attending band meetings and helping first-time players try out instruments. He attends band concerts, marching performances and college performances, and he teaches at the College of Wooster, a local institution of higher learning.
If I’m calculating correctly, this column will be published just as we’re entering back-to-school season, otherwise known as band-instrument-rental season. That time of year is pandemonium, and David regularly works 12- and 15-hour days during that season. At the times when I feel overwhelmed, I look at his schedule and, in my head, I hear Gunny from those History Channel shows telling me to man up. I honestly don’t know how he does it. In any case, I try my best to support him and to be efficient, not only because he’s a friend, but also because he’s the caretaker of a huge segment of our store’s business.
David handles a lot of orders for school accounts. As with other special orders at Larry’s Music Center, he uses the Slack app to feed me the orders, and then I fulfill those with our vendors and make sure he gets them when they arrive. The system has been mostly great; part of the reason I’ve mentioned it repeatedly in “Retailer Rebel” is that I’m proud that an idea I had has been so successfully implemented by our staff. Except, that is, when it’s not.
You see, as I had been trying to fill orders from multiple vendors, all of which were experiencing painfully slow filling and shipping due to sales and acquisitions, I had been neglecting to keep David and other staff members updated on their orders. Worse yet, Slack makes it incredibly easy to do, because the app offers direct messaging. That has the benefit of relying on Slack’s own architecture, as opposed to e-mail or text messaging; so, in essence, you can scroll through every message or order you’ve ever sent. The bottom line? The delays between order times and arrival times, as well as sometimes not finding out a shipment was delayed or on backorder until I placed a follow-up call, created a lag in me keeping track of pending orders. To put it more clearly, I was dropping the ball.
I should have been following up on each order and updating staff as I received new information, backorder statuses and shipping updates. There isn’t a great excuse for why I hadn’t been doing that; basically, it just slipped through the cracks. Those are the kinds of mistakes that trouble me the most: the knucklehead ones that are so easily avoided. It might not seem like a big deal if you’ve ordered one set of half round guitar strings for someone. However, when a band director needs tenor heads for his marching band, it’s a very big deal. It’s so easy for a small problem to compound into a larger one, especially when it’s rooted in a simple mistake or a bit of careless negligence.
When working as a team, you’re only as good as your weakest member. Everyone has to be able to take care of himself or herself, making sure his or her responsibilities are well tended to. When there is an issue or something isn’t getting the attention it needs, it’s important to know that you have the kind of team in which people can offer criticism and, thereby, help you see a better way to fulfill your role.
My oversight or mistake can cause a major headache or inconvenience for someone else down the line. It’s a difficult pill to swallow…that something you’ve overlooked could be adversely affecting someone else’s ability to perform his or her job. It’s important to make sure we’re backing up our fellow staff members, we’re giving them the support and resources they need, and we’re welcoming when offered criticism or suggestions on how we can all manage our role better.
What are some of the ways in which you encourage communication and constructive criticism in your workplace? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.