PEMBROKE, Mass. — You hire a new staffer and put her through your training program. The new member of your staff is OK, yes, but she’s slow, and she gets ruffled easily. And she comes in 10 or 15 minutes late at least twice a week. Should you fire her? You could. Then you go through the same process all over again.
Maybe a better option would be to see if you can correct her bad habits. Work with her, mold her behavior, correct her errors, and maybe she’ll become an excellent worker. In corporate speak, this is called “employee development.” Unfortunately, most laundry owners accept what they get after a brief training period.
Of course, employee development takes work. Every day, offer feedback, make comments, give instruction. Do role playing. Observe her progress. Keep a notebook of comments to ascertain what kind of advancement you are making.
Let’s take a look at a few specific problems, and I’ll suggest how you might handle them.
The staffer comes in 10-15 minutes late twice a week. The first thing you must do is impart the importance of being at work on time. It could be opening up, relieving a staffer, taking over a new shift, or pushing out the work in a timely fashion (and that means getting there on time). Nothing works like a visual explanation.
Portray a customer coming to the store at exactly 8 a.m. and finding the shop closed. Pitch a fit in front of the store. Stomp around. Swear. Show the anger and frustration. Then have the staffer open the front door. Walk in, sour-faced, as if one false word from the attendant will make you explode. Point out that this is the normal reaction of half the paying customers, and rightfully so, because they get up early and they expect the shop to come through with its half of the bargain.
Alternately, pretend that you’re a worker who had to stay late because the next staffer walked in 10 minutes late. Yell at the staffer, reject excuses, kick cans around. Indicate that you had somewhere to go tonight, but now will be a half-hour late.
By witnessing these dramatic examples, the staffer will get the idea that she can’t be late.
In addition, provide helping aids. Offer to phone the employee for the first two months of her trial period, or to buy her a good alarm clock. Or give the worker preferential shift treatment and see how she does, or suggest she advance all her clocks by a half-hour. One of these devices will cure the problem, if the individual wants to solve her weakness. Point out that lateness is a curable bad habit, and with some effort and focus, it will be a thing of the past.
MAKE NO MISTAKE
What about a staffer who makes a lot of mistakes counting poundage and making change? Maybe he’s dyslexic, but is loathe to admit it. For starters, confront the staffer with customer complaints that point to him. Point out that such errors are symptomatic of a loose, inefficient company and send a bad message to customers. State that customers will be less kind to machinery, personnel and rules when they think that the company is not in control. Establish that you insist on running a tight operation and he will have to improve to continue being your employee.
Then give him tools to improve. Teach him to count money like bank clerks do: they add two or three piles, then compute the sum of the piles, then double-check by adding each bill. If he is dyslexic, provide clues as to how he can distinguish ones from fives from tens from twenties. Look for the curling bottom of the $5 bill. Recognize the picture of Andrew Jackson on the $20, which looks like an older Fonz.
Review with him the counting of poundage. Perhaps apply a color-coded marker on the most common amounts—10, 15 and 20 pounds—to help his counting. Role-play so that you are sure he understands what you are saying. After a while, he will improve his counting and numerical skills. It’s simply a matter of determination and practice.
What if the staffer is excessively slow? First, convince the worker why being speedy is important. Point out that a brisk, energetic attendant gives the customer confidence that the operation is competent. Then show how to do tasks more speedily.
Try some role-playing again, with you portraying a customer annoyed that the machine is malfunctioning. Call the attendant over. On the phone, she holds up her finger, indicating that you should wait a minute. Get increasingly irritated. When she finally arrives, yell at her. State that a customer in trouble is more important than taking a personal phone call. If the staffer puts up a fight, shout her down. Don’t let up. Show her your anger. Be angry that the staffer can’t fix the machine quickly. Point out that customers generally allow more time to workers who hustle than those who move slowly.
Give wash/dry/fold examples—fast and slow. Explain that processing wash/dry/fold poundage speedily can make a difference between making a profit and incurring a loss. Provide hints to hasten processing—folding shirts by holding them up between chin and chest and using both hands to fold; timing drying so that loads come out in a sequenced time frame; matching socks by combining obvious matches and spreading out remainders—all the skills you’ve acquired in a lifetime in the laundry business.
Of course, this isn’t a one-time lesson. Development is ongoing. Periodically watch the staffer to make sure he or she is doing it the right way. Give more pointers. Offer constructive criticism. At the same time, pay a compliment when a task is performed well.
The principle that an individual can be coached into becoming a better worker is true for maybe two-thirds of all individuals. If you determine that an individual is part of the 33% minority, and you are having no luck with development, then a quick dismissal is your only answer.
Follow these suggestions and soon you’ll be developing your employees into productive, business-building workers.