Okay, I may have taken some liberties with the English language and with Mr. Dickens’ fine book title.

Grocery and managementBackground story

There are these two grocery stores that I shop at each week. One is your basic store. There are very few gourmet type foods, no electronic scanners to use at your cart and the prices are lower. The other grocery store I shop in has more variety in produce, ready-to-eat foods, exotic foods and some technological stuff for customers to use while shopping. Since I have family members with food restrictions, I have to go where the food is.

These stores are completely different. But the most outstanding feature is how the managers and employees interact. In the first store, I’ve seen managers walking around the store and chatting with people stocking the shelves. The employees are welcoming, helpful and move quickly to serve their customers. In the second store, I’ve seen managers avoid speaking to employees and be critical of their performance. The employees barely make eye contact with customers and move so slowly that you just know they are paid hourly. Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct an food order when they’ve give me the wrong amount or the wrong item.

You can learn a lot about management while shopping

The  next time you’re waiting for deli meats, fresh fish, the butcher or cheese, watch the way the people behind the counter move and interact with you. It gives you a window into how management treats its employees. Retail may be one of the few places where you can witness management interacting with employees in a very public way. Sure, you might see glimpses if you visit an office but when your office is packed with customers along with employees, it can get very interesting.

Maybe you can’t determine the whole culture based on 1 store

But you can determine how much management values the people who do the work. There is a lot of talk about servant leadership or transformational leadership and these are styles to definitely aspire to. However, you don’t need a fancy leadership theory to be effective. The idea of  treating your people as, well, people seems to be missing in most places. The first store I told you about is simple and somehow pleasant despite being busy. It looks as if the management encourages positive behavior and they model this from what I’ve observed. The management in the second store sends out a message that their workers are not important and are replaceable.

What are you telling your employees?

How is this being expressed in your customer service?