Sunday, November 14, 2010

Strategic visioning workshop

I was working in a Starbucks because I needed an internet connection. [Yes, if you read that too quickly, it will sound as if I’d been a Starbucks employee.] I confess I usually try to avoid the places with their unimpressive coffee doled out at higher-than-appropriate prices based on the added volume of milk whipped into the drinks, but I know they are adored by just about everyone else (when doused with Splenda by you yellow packet worshippers).

I saw them when I walked in: a mixed bag of eight newbies getting indoctrinated “The Starbucks Way.” They were guided by an upbeat trainer who gathered them around two Starbucks standard-issue round tables pushed together in front of the sales counter. The regional trainer who said he “floats between stores” led the mismatched collective through a series of discussion topics from “creating a customer dialogue” (a.k.a., upselling), meeting customer needs, keeping the store clean, getting to know your customers, selling seasonal items, and providing excellent customer service. He was a good facilitator: asking lots of questions, doing ridiculous exercises, and remained endlessly upbeat about the Starbucks brand. As I listened in on the conversation every once in a while, I thought to myself that I would be really good at doing a corporate training, getting people to buy in to a culture they were stuck with because they needed a job.

At first glance, I thought the people at the table were high school types or people who might otherwise be college students. All except for two were white. Three in the group were women. And the oldest was a white man, probably at retirement age – presumed by me to either be retired or to have lost his job in the recession.

I tried not to pay much attention. After all, I had a really important meeting I would be facilitating the next day and was trying to develop some exercises to make sure leaders from around the region engaged to provide helpful, honest input.

The Starbuck group did some interesting exercises. For example, the trainer asked them all to close their eyes and point to the most important Starbucks customer in the room. Then they opened their eyes and the trainer said, “Whoa. You’re pointing in a bunch of different directions. That means our most important customer is everyone you see – all around us.” I was amazed.

Later, the trainer hopped up from his seat and talked about the Christmas holiday displays, breaking open one of several large boxes stacked near the counter. He pulled some bags of holiday peppermint brownies and the group talked about the white color of the brownies versus the green color some years ago. And then, the tough question was posed by the trainer, “How can you connect with a customer over a Peppermint Latte?” The young Black man sat back in his seat and said, “Well, you know they like Peppermint Lattes and so you could say, ‘if you really like peppermint, you should try these limited edition peppermint brownies next time you’re in’ or something like that.” Brilliant.

They went on to talk about giving someone a sample of a peppermint brownie if you want to encourage them to make a purchase, and the trainer said it was really okay if it happened to be a slow time in the store.

Keeping the store clean was another useful topic. The trainer reviewed the importance of making sure the counters were wiped down, spills cleaned up, and that the restroom was always well stocked and cleaned. He confirmed that keeping the restroom clean was an assigned responsibility, but suggested that everyone could pitch in. By eavesdropping I learned if you don’t have bathroom duty but go to use the bathroom and discover a paper towel on the floor, you could pick it up and throw it in the trash. I appreciated that team player approach to the training session.

And then I felt sad. There was a sixty-something year-old man sitting with an 18-year old guy with long hair listening to this training and participating. Maybe all of the people sitting at the table didn’t realize they were being talked to as if they were clever morons. It was a bit like watching a person who works with developmentally disabled young people leading a socialization session with a series of exercises, eliciting very active responses for which high-fives were deserved. But these were grown-ups and this was their job. And with heaviness in my heart, I packed up my PowerPoint presentation for the Strategic Visioning workshop I would be leading the next day and left the building.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Am I on a bus?

People behaving badly. I am on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark to San Francisco, lucky enough to be upgraded and sitting in First Class. Everyone was just boarding and filling up the bins. I watch as a sweaty late 40s white Continental male flight attendant (who calls himself a flight coordinator), “Rick,” from Houston runs around frantically trying to take drink orders, stow luggage for old people and restrict the flow of passenger traffic down the aisle.

The flight seems to have a bunch of New York suspects, claiming large amounts of space in the overhead bins, talking loudly on cell phones with aggressive accents, and making demands that the flight attendant store their belongings in the closet at the front of the plane.

And down the aisle comes Number 1, “Vinny,” a big bonehead of a white guy who is seated in front of me in Seat 2A. He tries to put all of his clothes in the overhead bin, including a massive garment bag. He’s tall, shaved scalp, and of course, reclines his seat as soon as he gets into it. He picks up his cell phone and starts screaming at somebody about their relationship that got all fucked up and there’s something somebody doesn’t know about him.

Number 2, “Steve,” a nebbishy Jewish-looking guy, gets on the plane and wants to put his things in the same overhead bin that Vinny used. Vinny gets agitated so Steve tells him he is going to take Vinny’s garment bag out and put his suitcase in, and then put Vinny’s bag back in. Steve adds his oversized suitcase to the bin and then shoves Vinny’s garment bag back into the overhead. Steve doesn’t want to sit in seat 1B quite yet, so he stands in the front of the plane blocking the aisle and proceeds to talk to Rick the flight coordinator, but Rick politely yet firmly tells him to step aside.

Then comes the fun part: “Gloria,” a Chinese-American woman in her 50s toddles over to seat 2B, behind Steve and next to Vinny. She begins by trying to pull out all of the things Steve and Vinny have shoved in the overhead bin above her seat to make room for her pink oversize suitcase and her leather coat. Rick, trying hard to ‘coordinate’ the flight, informs Gloria that there’s plenty of space in the bin above seats 4 A and B. Gloria is spinning around in front of her seat muttering to herself that she wants to put things above her and she’s not going to put things two rows behind her. That’s when “Denise,” the African-American gate agent with a hefty Jersey dip to her voice, gets on to finalize seating so the plane can depart on time.

It all goes something like this:

“Eunice” in Seat 4A, behind me – (to Gloria) Excuse me! Make sure you don’t put anything on my tennis racket up there.

Flight Coordinator Rick – It’s no problem. I’ve got space for her here. (To Gloria) there’s no room up there, ma’am.

Gloria – We need to move things around so I can put my bag up here. I don’t want it behind me because I might forget about it.

Flight Coordinator Rick – Don’t worry. I doubt you’ll forget about your suitcase when you’re getting off the plane in San Francisco.

Gate Agent Denise – (To Gloria) Excuse me, ma’am. We need to stow your belongings so the plane can depart the gate.

Gloria - [She starts spinning again in front of her seat]. (Shouting) I just had a medical procedure and I think I have the right to put my things above my seat! You cannot tell me where to put my stuff! I want to put it here above my seat.

Vinny (in the seat next to Gloria’s assigned seat) – (To Gloria) I understand. But I got on here first and I put my stuff up there.

Gate Agent Denise - Ma’am you really need to stow your bag so we can go.

Gloria – (Shouting). You cannot tell me what to do. I will forget my bag back there!

Steve gets out of his seat (1B) to look at the bins and to confirm Gloria hasn’t shifted his suitcase either.

Joey (me) – [Starts laughing out loud and then silences self]. (Quietly to neighbor in Seat 3B) Oy vey. It’s just like commuting to work on the bus.

My neighbor in Seat 3B: Oh, is this your regular commute between New York and San Francisco?

Joey (me) – Oh, no. I’m just saying that with the crazy screaming lady [who can hear every word I’m saying], it's like being on the bus for my commute in San Francisco.

Flight Coordinator Rick assists Gloria with her bag and puts it in the overhead bin above Row 4. Gloria follows him to make sure it is really there, two rows behind her seat.

– (To Rick) How am I going to remember it’s there?

Eunice in Seat 4A – (Shouts out). I’ll remind you!!

Man next to her in Seat 4B – I’ll remind you, too!!

Woman across aisle – I’ll remind you, too!

Neighbor in Seat 3B - I think everyone is going to remind you!!

[Laughter from the other passengers.]

I’m hoping they will just drag Gloria off the plane and this incident can end up on the local Newark News at 6 pm.

Gloria - [Says something unintelligible, but recognizing she’s in a losing battle]. I had a medical procedure! I had a medical procedure!!

* * *

Everyone returns to their pre-flight cocktails and fumbles with their DirecTV channels, none of which are working (and none of which work throughout the entirety of the flight).
About Me | Contact Me | 2007 Joey Goldman