Offer Solutions, Not Complaints

Anyone can whine and complain about problems in the store. Be the associate who brings the boss solutions, not problems.

Offer Solutions, Not Complaints

If my multi-year stint in retail sporting goods was any indication of the state of the American workforce, it’s no wonder millennials are regularly viewed with suspicion or frustration. The perpetual state of whining dissatisfaction from many (certainly not all) frequently got on my very last nerve. This was particularly pointed after being promoted to low-level management and ambushed daily with dramatic complaints. This whining did nothing to endear me to these people, particularly when delivered with a pontifical air of the young. Nope, quite the opposite, really.

More troubling, perpetual whiners are like that single rotten apple in a box of many, spreading their infection and quickly tainting those around them. Believe me — managers notice such things. The best description for one of my persistent problem children: the ogre of the gun counter. This fellow was hugely knowledgeable about everything related to firearms, ammo and reloading. He was generally pretty good with customers.

But behind the scenes, he never quit carping. Mostly he grumbled that he couldn’t provide the products he thought customers actually wanted (usually highly specialized gear not likely to appeal to the masses), his basic premise being that our buyers and upper management were lazy idiots unwilling to do their jobs.

So, one day I gave him an opportunity to solve his problems and better serve his department. I asked him to create a detailed list of frequently requested or important items that we were failing to provide. It was his opportunity to shine, to solve his perceived problem. I was told that we were not paying him enough to provide this; complaining was apparently more appealing than solutions. When we fell into our annual late winter/pre-inventory slow period, he became an obvious candidate for layoff.      

I also easily recall another employee. Jovial, generally positive and bubbly, she nonetheless became someone I dreaded being approached by. By all outward appearances, she harbored delusions of manager status. She regularly delegated duties to new employees, but more annoying, she requested closed-door office meetings at least once a week. There she would deliver a litany of everything employees in other departments were shirking, neglecting or avoiding — as if I were unaware of what was going on around me.

These meetings were little more than tattletale/gossip sessions. It was tiresome and brought nothing productive to the table. My answer was always the same: “Concentrate on your own department and don’t worry about what others are doing.” After a while, a request to talk was met with an unceremonious no. As employees came and went, there were occasional shift-manager positions to fill. This woman never made the cut.        

Problem Solvers

No one happily suffers woe-is-me whiners, chronic complainers or gossipy tattletales. The general impression by harried managers — and yes, managers garner higher wages because they actually accomplish things, while also carrying added responsibilities — is that of immaturity, someone not willing to be part of a team, perhaps even not bright enough to assume added responsibilities. Valuable employees are those who note problems — maybe one a manager had no idea existed — and offer solutions.

Easy example: During the hustle and bustle of everyday commerce, the multiple trashcans about the store became filled and floors grew dirty (especially during snowy winter and muddy spring months). When trashcans began to overflow, an irritated manager was forced to order someone in that department to take out the trash. This removed a sales associate from the floor during business hours, taking them away from customers. One day I saw our general manager sweeping our dirty floors and asked why he was doing that and not one of the lower-level employees. He said it was simply easier to do it himself than cajole a reluctant employee to perform the task.

A light bulb went off, a simple solution to a reoccurring problem. My off-the-cuff proposal went something to the effect of, “You know, when we lock up for the night and the cashiers are tallying tills, the gun guys putting handguns in the safe and so forth, everyone clusters to chit-chat. Why not use that time to empty trashcans, replace trash liners and sweep all the floors? Everyone would be responsible for tidying their department. No one goes home until all departments are cleaned. Peer pressure will assure it all gets done, as everyone is anxious to get out of here at the end of the day.”

Additional floor brooms were ordered, an employee meeting was called, and my simple suggestion became absolute rule. I got a pat on the back (and was eventually made first a shift and then an assistant manager).

Keeping a smile on your face rather than complaining will go a long way with customers, as well as the boss.
Keeping a smile on your face rather than complaining will go a long way with customers, as well as the boss.

Another one: One of the girls was constantly complaining about the state of our public restrooms, which was funny only because the woman’s room was pristine compared to the men’s. She pointed out that it wasn’t fair she was the only one cleaning toilets. I thought she offered a valid point. Moving forward, every employee took at a turn at this detested duty during evening closing-time clean-up. Our bathrooms became much more presentable, no doubt helping elevate our image with customers.

The point of all this rambling is if you want to get ahead in the retail game, land that promotion, be granted the better time slot, or even coax a manager into granting that two-hour lunch or leaving work early to accomplish an errand, be the person who offers solutions, not irritating criticism.

Take a look around. What could be improved, what small tweak might provide customers a better store experience, or what reoccurring problem might you have a bright idea to remedy? Then approach your boss and clearly state your case — avoiding any sniveling. See a problem, make your boss aware of it, but then offer a viable, thoughtful solution.

There may be an unforeseen reason your plan is not workable, but you will still be viewed as someone looking out for the good of the store, your fellow employees and especially its all-important customers.


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