You may be familiar with the checkout scene at Whole Foods. I have one of their stores near me, and for over 2 weeks, the checkout monitor was broken. It went something like this:

whole-foodsWhenever the yellow lane got called, you’d hear the number, but it would not appear, so the screen was blank, and you’d hear “register 8”. However, without fail, the person in the yellow lane would stare blankly and stay put, and only the blue lane would move, creating a bottleneck, and frustration.

My assumption was that a manager would be monitoring things like this, and get it fixed. But the problem persisted. The yellow lane stood still, the numbers did not appear. So, in week 3, I walked up to my register, and I said to the cashier, “You do realize that the checkout lane monitor is broken, right?” I explained the experience. The cashier next to mine said, “Oh, is that why everyone’s been looking so confused?” And my cashier thanked me for letting him know. Two days later, I returned, and the problem was fixed.

We all have assumptions about how business should, and should not, operate. The challenge is, everyone’s assumptions are different, and if nobody says them out loud, which happens all too often, we all end up with frustrating experiences like the one I just described. So, how do you avoid causing your staff, your customers, and yourself all that frustration? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Communicate expectations. This is the worst of all assumptions on a team – stop assuming ANYone thinks like you, or does things exactly like you do. Start explaining how you would like your team to operate, and any make-or-break behaviors so that everyone knows what you need.
  2. Check in once in a while. Depending on the size of your business you may be at an office daily, weekly, monthly or less. The less you’re there the more you need to develop the reflex to check in on staff behaviors and customer experience. You may have communicated what you expect, but even then, people sometimes interpret things differently, and sometimes they just revert to habits that are most familiar to them.
  3. Empower your team. Often times, bigger teams can’t serve their customers because they have to ask someone permission who isn’t available or they are conditioned to wait for a manager to handle problems. Imagine if, in the situation I opened with, the cashier saw customers behaving strangely, and took the initiative to ask or, on a break, walk over to the area customers were confused and try to figure out why – that problem might have been fixed in one day.

What assumptions are you holding on to that you can let go of to help your business move forward?

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