Well, Here I Am…Again!

The man with many hats.

“Today has been one helluva week” – Me

I think I’ve said that four out of the last five days.  That, or, “This is my xth Monday this week”, which is another Xtopher staple. 

I like to mix my charming sarcasm up a bit. Now that I type that out, I feel it should have its own Chrisism since its so often the case:  charcasm.  

Does that work?  I know it’s no shituation, but…wudyagundo?  Who knows?  Maybe it’s too easily confused in conversation with the gap between a cookout and grilling.  One would need to rely pretty heavily on contextual clues to discern the potential presence of a silent h.  So, back to the matter at hand.

My hats this week:

My normal HR and merchandising awesomeness chapeau.

A handsome bowler for the opening duties I’m picking up for one of our two morning Zone Managers, who’s out on Leave.  Ish.

Oh, and a practical and summery straw hat for the responsibilities I’m picking up each morning for our other morning ZM, who had a planned vacation land during the aforementioned and unplanned Leave.

Again, wudyagundo?

And how about one of those tall, furry marching band hats for our bookkeeper?  He had a planned vacation that was slated to be covered by an associate who was cross-trained in bookkeeping.  Alas, a family emergency put her out of the picture a few weeks back so we needed a back up plan.

“How about that ZM with the straw hat?”  The Boss.  

Me: “Vacation.”

The Boss:  “OK, how about training a new associate, there’s just about enough time.”

After putting our heads together, we come up with a back-up for our back-up.  I check in to gauge her interest level:  super excited.

“As long as it doesn’t mess up my vacation!”

I swear, I can’t make this shit up.

“Well, I guess it’s us”, The Boss says, speaking of himself and his Ops and HR managers.  

The Ops manager in question is someone I cheekily refer to as Capt Can’t.  Not because he’s like a basic white girl who literally can’t even.  No, it just popped into my head one day after I suggested a different way of doing something for yet another acknowledged broken process that was hindering success and making everyone equal parts nuts and frustrated – I’m all about process improvement, which makes one of us.

Here’s how those too frequent conversations kinda went:

Me:  “We should try X”, not the drug, Diezel.  In this case “X” equals any old problem and I’m solving for a solution to X.

“We can’t!”, Capt Can’t.

“OK.  Why not?”, Me, seeking to understand the obstacles.

“It won’t work.”

“Why?”, Me…again.

“Because it won’t!”

Seriously, there’s a solid and well-thought argument, right there, people.

All.

The.

Time.

The Boss and I come up with the simplest of plans, each of the three of us will have one training day a week for two weeks.

Easy-peasy.

I go first.

Now, our bookkeeper…nice guy, bless his heart.  But he spends the better part of 40 hours a week in a 5×8 room with no windows and usually with the door closed due to Loss Prevention protocols.  When he’s not trapped in that eggshell hole, he’ll talk your ear off.

Can’t really blame him.  Plus, he’s usually good for some real dad jokes and groaners.

I go in for my training at 6 am on a Tuesday.

Search and Rescue pulls me out five hours later.

Just kidding.  I tunneled out through the drywall.

The Boss looks up at me over his glasses, “That took a while!”

“Five hours”, I say, carving drywall dust out from under my nails with a letter opener.

“How long should it take?”, he pointedly asks.

Like I’d know.  I’m almost at my one year mark here, he and Capt Can’t have 20 between them, so I give him one of these

…and guess, “Three and a half, maybe four hours?”

He’s moving on, “Can I do it?”

“No.”  

Probably, I shouldn’t just barf out answers like that.  I’m aware of the difference between giving an honest answer and giving the wrong answer, at least.  

However, in this instance, my bald response earns me another over the glasses glance.  This one rather amused looking.

“Oh?”

“Seriously.  It’s unnecessarily complex.  Two different programs, two data entry webpages and a spreadsheet.  I’m probably missing something, too…cuz it’s my first day!  Your head will explode.”

“Can he handle it?”, chuckling and gesturing with his head to Capt Can’t’s desk.

“Probably.  Sure.  His head won’t explode, but he might kill our bookkeeper after 90 minutes of being trapped in there with dad jokes”, I’m not kidding…this is the guy I’ve referred to in other posts as a festering wang of a human because of his bullying and brutish outbursts aimed at my favorite person.

New plan:  me and Capt Can’t will take the training and pick up shifts during the week of the bookkeepers vacation.

Of course, I keep to myself the realization – and subsequent alternative new plan – that I let Capt Can’t do the training but figure out a way to not have to share bookkeeping responsibilities in order to maintain bookkeeping continuity.  It’s a good plan, the second part.  

The first part is me just thinking that I’m helping him be as awesome as he’ll tell you he is by facilitating his learning something someone so awesome at their job would already know how to do after 11 years in his role.

I’m a giver like that.

Still shutting up, Diezel.

I happen to be off Wednesday and Thursday of that week instead of my normal Thursday/Friday – someone needed Friday off, so I switched up my days because I’m also a giver like that…it doesn’t have to be all snarky, all the time with me.  So, I come be-bopping in on Friday morning and during my chat with The Boss ask how Capt Can’t’s training went.

“Oh, it didn’t happen.”

Not for the first time in a decade, I think.

“Yeah, with our warehouse ZM being out, he said he just didn’t have time.”  Which should be partially true, sadly, the irony of the shituation is that he put so little effort into developing the manager he is now – allegedly or conveniently, I can only guess – crippled without.  Had he put in the same time to develop his direct report before losing him to a LOA, he would have had a higher functioning team to support him – all of us, realistically – while the warehouse is down its manager.

But, y’know…can’t.

…And that’s how I got to be the back up bookkeeper.

“But it’s not awful”, says Xtopher as he heads home on his Friday after about a 55 hour work week starting daily at the luxurious time of 5 AM.  

Don’t be jealous.

Seriously, though, besides the start time – MAX gets me there at 4:39, but a couple of days I took the second train and got in at 5:14…don’t tell! – I made a nice routine of it:   

– Check prior day’s time cards and track infractions and missed punches – something I’d usually do;

– Put sales from previous day up on the whiteboard – which is something I sometimes do;

– Run change to each of the five stores and check in with everyone – not my normal routine, but I usually cover for ZM absences or vacations;

– Process the deposit and cook up them books – definitely not something I’d normally do!

After that, I’d have a few hours to return to my normal work flow, writing a schedule or processing and placing souvenir apparel in our shops.  I’m on vacation myself starting this Sunday, so I had my normal schedule to write for the coming week + the schedule for the week I’ll miss + the schedule for three weeks out, just so my re-entry from vacation doesn’t have a looming task…because you all know what it’s like coming back from vacation.  

I’m being proactive!

This usually ended up being about 1 1/2-2 hours of “me” time before I did the second change run of the day between 11 and 12.  After the first couple of days, I learned this is a good time to cram something into my lunch hole since I’d been there at least 6 hours at this point.

After that second change run, I was really pretty much done with any duties I needed to perform to cover our missing compatriots.  Somehow, most days – except Acupuncture Monday – I managed to keep myself busy until 3:00 or later.  Saturday and Sunday because the closing manager didn’t arrive until 3:30 and there’s usually a good 30 minute download as we hand over the reigns for the day.  Those were easy 12+ hours days…although Sunday I was begging to be out by 4:00!

It’s an impressive display of…a complete lack of dignity?

I think what made this week most challenging and rewarding was that first change run of the day.  Normally, I’ll run around the stores and check in as I make a game plan for what merchandising needs are priorities.  Only, then I have the luxury of hitting all or only some stores.  When you got a bag of change strapped to ya, you ain’t got no choice but to hit every stop on the tour.  There I am, literally hitting the ground running each day, and about day three it hits me:  these fine folks that get to work at 4-damn-o’clock every day aren’t looking at the hats!

I can’t say that I blame them.  As managers, the senior team isn’t the most visible to the associates throughout the day or week.  Heck, the day side associates are lucky, most of the night side team hasn’t seen the other two seniors in just about ever!  One night side associate who quit a few months back told me during our casual exit interview that she liked seeing me, because she never gets to see any managers during her shift, “I haven’t seen Gary in a year!” she says, referring to The Boss.

His name’s not Gary!

Anyway, since that talk, I’ve really made a point of being accessible for all shifts – even swapping out two of my shifts to start at 10 AM instead of 6, so that I’m there until at least 6 PM.  On those days, I usually plan on being there until 8, but it depends on how the week has gone…if I’m over 50 hours, I generally GTFO a little closer to 6!

So, being Mr. Accessible, I don’t point out the hat-of-the-moment and just try to do it all.  Usually, this means I’m getting a pocket full of scraps of paper with scribbled things to do between finishing the deposit and that second change run…sorry, souvenir shirts!

Sheesh, people are so needy!

But I do try to do my best to be in service to my team, I expect a lot from them so it seems fair that I meet their expectations, too.

Hat be damned.

<author’s note> I walked away from this post six days ago…I was torn about whether I was telling a story or bitching pointlessly about work.

The point that I originally wanted to make was about how I found myself amused to realize something on that Wednesday morning.

Nothing, too deep – definitely derp – this is me, after all.

I realized that during my normal morning circuit there are a few associates I tend to expose myself to in doses, our Russians.

How timely is that, with Russian election collusion on the minds of most Americans these past months.

Seriously, we have several team members who emigrated from Russia or former USSR countries.  They are intense.  And kinda hard to understand, having not left their accents behind as readily as their former homelands.  I appreciate them all, performance opportunities and accents included, their success in their roles is important to the success of our five store business as a whole.

Still…they are intense.

When they have something to say, it will always be about what they need to execute their job responsibilities to their standards. It might just not be something that there isn’t a process in place to provide already.  A lot of times, I’ll pop into a store shortly after 6 when I arrive.  The common litany is something along the lines of, “I need this or that”.  Stated with an eastern bloc urgency that used to send me running for the warehouse in compliance to the need.

What I’ve learned is to suss out the actual urgency.

These ladies have had two hours to settle into their shift and usually have nailed everything that they deem important to a well run store.  I make that point because one of these associates refuses to comply with the expectation that associates wear a name tag.  

My belief is that she thinks it’s fun to throw down the silent challenge that someone correct this minor infraction of hers.

You know me, I’m rules-y, so we would butt heads on this.

But then I realized that I could leverage her demands with her lack of compliance.

Does that sound like good management? I ask seriously, since the conversation that occurred usually did not sound remotely adult.

“I need paper towels.”

“I need you to put on your name tag.”

Or, even less mature, “I’m sorry…do you work here?  It’s so hard to tell since you aren’t wearing any company ID.”  But I do so enjoy taunting people and she enjoys my verbal parry to her thrusts.

However, that’s not the usual response I expect to my greeting upon entering the shop.

“Good morning!”

“I need paper towels.”

So I’ve also trained her to indulge in a little small talk before throwing out her list of needs.

Plus, that small talk kills time between my arrival in the store and the start time for our warehouse associates, who start at either 6 or 7 each day.  Since “paper towels” usually end up falling into their responsibility buckets, I can put off her request to the rightful owners of the process at issue.

Indeed, I’ve even learned over my near-year on the job that when she wants “paper towels” it’s usually just the tip of the iceberg.

Here’s my observation and rationale.

This person was born into a Socialist culture of bread lines.  Many have observed that her primary store is usually overstocked with stuff squirreled away everywhere.  

This initially prompted me to change my response to her morning demands from “run to the warehouse” to “verify actual need”, which is another dance we do after the Name Tag Dance.

“Good morning!”

<small talk>

“I need paper towels.”

<walks to supply closet>

“You have five rolls.”

“Yes, but sometimes people spill things or the warehouse runs out and then it’s good to have extra”, she counters.

<blink, blink>

“Also, you know I like to keep my store clean.  These other people, they don’t clean enough.  Every day, I come in and it takes 30 minutes just to clean up the mess.  There’s coffee drips and sugar and food all over the tables and coffee bar, you know?  Why don’t they clean?  It’s so dirty.  I’d get bored if I didn’t do anything during my shift.”

And there it is.

Initially I didn’t realize it.  It took me a few months, so I’d respond, “Well, you can probably get by with ‘five rolls’ of ‘paper towels’ until 7, so put it on your list for the warehouse.”

She’d laugh at that last move in our morning verbal sparring, acknowledging my so-called victory.

Until.

One morning she came back with this rejoinder, “I put it on my list, they don’t bring for me.  They don’t do anything.  It must be boring to come to work and not do anything all day.”

And that’s when it clicked with me.  She may only wear one hat at work, but she wears it pretty damned well.

I often say that employees watch their managers.  They take their cues not just from how we manage them, but how we manage ourselves.  Of course, I should have realized this whole time that they’ve been watching their co-workers, too.  Store associate and warehouse associates.

When she says “It must be boring to come to work and not do anything all day”, what she’s really saying is that her co-workers aren’t meeting her expectations.  Up until this point, I’d just leveraged her passive-aggressive complaint against her Russian-bred work ethic and acknowledged to myself that most Americans working lower wage jobs will not provide performance that meets their job description in exchange for that wage. 

We’re lucky.  The Boss and I will routinely discuss our hero associates that have been there consistently over time delivering on their job expectations and then move on to our lament about the millennial work force, which so frequently takes us to our warehouse associates, who are largely millennials.

Who also work under Capt Can’t.

And look to him for their performance management and example.

And they see can’t.

Knowing that, having observed this over time, could I really expect things to change in this he said/she said relationship the store associates appear to have with the warehouse associates?

Well, yes.  But only because I’ve been lucky to find a few non-millennial applicants for recent warehouse openings that also seem to hold themselves to a higher performance than their millennial peers or leader.  

But that’s just luck.

So, on this Wednesday morning, I took off my HR, bookkeeper and morning ZM hats, put on my warehouse guy cap and went and got her some “paper towels”.

If for no other reason than to take a moment and reward both her work ethic and her patience at putting up with an American work ethic – that may never actually meet muster for her, regardless – with some goddamned paper towels.

We both won that verbal dance off, and went off about our respective days smiling.

Well, Here I Am…Again!

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