I visited a friend yesterday in the store where she works in the mall. It was great to see her mingling about her eight associates, mostly kids who were hired for the holidays. Weekdays can be dull until December, but there was fun and energy in her store. Hiring the right people was a fun challenge, training and time proved whether or not the choice was right.
I'd worked a couple of other jobs over the course of my life, but retail was (especially at this time of year) like touching a live wire. It was experience- and personality-packed.
I remembered that going into one Christmastime, a seasoned manager sat serious-faced, observing an associate. What she said struck me as funny:
"She doesn't belong here."
"No, don't think so?"
"Nope. She belongs in Lindt Chocolate."
I liked Lindt Chocolate. They were friendly in that small, intimate store, gentle-spirited... the recipe-exchange types of people, who conveyed the "I got your back" demeanor toward one another. They were sweet and non-pressuring with their customers (then again, how do you push chocolate?)
But I understood the implication. The associate that the manager referred to had lacked the coveted speed and energy that was needed to create a buzz at the lease line. Still, I'd watched her hover nearby customers in a sweet, caring way. She explained products and listened to what they'd said. She provided a sort of holy ground experience that made customers feel good about what they'd purchased (and they'd purchased plenty) as they often told me how good they'd felt being helped by her.
In my mind, that sort of personal experience was what solidified the image of customer service for our company and brought customers back.
But whatever. The "You belong, don't belong" game was now fixed in my mind, and I'd concocted my own scenarios, suiting others (and myself) to jobs where we'd all be better off.
After I'd said goodbye to my friends and family on Thanksgiving, knowing that I would not see them until well after the holidays, a giggly girl I'd met through an associate stopped in to say hello. She wore the cute little Santa's elf costume and toted her usual armadillo pocketbook. She was always so giddy that (I am sorry to say,) I often wondered if she was a little "slow," (either way, it was an enviable quality.)
"Oh, wow, you work for Santa now?" I asked.
Her shoulders lifted up around her ears and she giggled, swinging her armadillo bag.
"Yeeeeah, I just started last weekend."
"Oh yeah? Do you like it?"
Her face was lit.
My suspicion was that anywhere she worked, she had fun. But my well-kept secret is, I'd long observed the smiling elves in their cute, colorful costumes, coaxing the cute-dressed children who waited to enjoy the magic of Santa (even though I'd pocket heaps of Tylenol for when their cries turned shrill.) Still, Santa's Workshop certainly lacked the two-hundred, nail-breaking, apron-dirtying boxes of shipment to break down each day. It was on my list of Most Favorable Work Environments.
Then last year I interviewed one of Santa's elves and discovered the elves enjoyed corporate sales pressures that included a camera that was linked to headquarters and was fixed on the elf as he or she presented customers with photograph packages at the register. The imagery of elves breaking sales pressure sweats tickled my funny bone. This elf broke every rule of the interview process as she leaked stories of add-on pressures and personality clashes, giving me a much-appreciated reality check.
"Even Santa doesn't like the manager," she said.
I turned my head, covered my mouth, feigning a cough, and returned to the interview straight-faced.
"You mean, the manager's on Santa's 'bad list'?"
"Yup. He's always screwing up the schedules."
Okay, this dude has got it worse than most.
What was it like for that manager to deal with dense holiday traffic, the crowded parking lot and hoards of overheated shoppers to arrive to Santa's Workshop to miserable-faced elves and a grimacing Santa? I mean, shouldn't that be an easy job?
So here was my dilemma: I could hire the insanely interesting turncoat from Santa's Workshop whose stories would remind me that things could always be worse; however, I also risked what she'd tell Santa about working in our store.
Well, what would you do?