We had our first ever Victorian Farmstead Staff Meeting on Monday. I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was kind of momentous for me. I have sat in hundreds of staff meetings over the years. I have been staff and led staff. They have been held in conference rooms, at picnic tables, restaurants, and even the occasional bar. This was the first held in my office, now big enough to hold more than two people, and I actually had enough people at the meeting to qualify as staff. So it was kind of a big deal.

I now have a total of four employees as of about three weeks ago and there was a common problem lurking in the background. A great friend of mine taught me a long time ago that as it pertained to staff, you don’t have problems, you have an opportunity to teach AND learn. So I decided to call a staff meeting themed “Calm the &%#$ Down”. Maybe not the most politically correct title but it works for us. You see over the past 10 days we have had two fender benders, destroyed two cash drawers, and missed out on a couple key opportunities to increase sales because not enough product was going to the farmers markets. Near as I could tell, all of this was a result of everyone trying so hard go the extra mile that they were forgetting the little things (for instance, look in the rear view mirror when backing up!). So a staff meeting was in order!

I set up an agenda and filled it with all the appropriate minutia that a staff meeting should hold. Please make sure to restock this, if the trash is full don’t make a Jenga tower out of it, here is how to properly rotate product, etc. As we were working through the list, and as is the case in most staff meetings I’ve been in, communication was certainly a common theme. The first time it came up was in discussing who is responsible for loading the van for a farmers market, the person bringing it back or the person taking it out? I explained I wanted the person selling from it (taking it out) to be responsible and asked for feedback. What I thought was a fairly simple issue turned in to a long conversation, much to my surprise. We worked our way through it and it was resolved to my satisfaction. The meeting went on and then it was time for a field trip to the van we use for farmers markets.

There is a small possibility that I am a bit OCD about keeping things tidy, particularly when it came to things in use by multiple employees. The van is my pet peeve. So rather than tell them what I wanted I showed them! As I’m pulling trash out from under the seats and untangling the 14 various power cords in the console, I’m getting this vibe of “what’s the big deal here”. It took about ten minutes to get it to what I considered clean. In my mind I don’t want to get in the van at 5am and have to empty out the trash in the cup holder to set my coffee down. There is no reason to jam six months of bags in the van just so I don’t have to remember to fill it next week. Why did I feel like they were not getting the message? Then I said something that will change how I manage and train employees forever.

I was getting frustrated that I was getting pushback on personal items left in the van. The way I see it, if everyone takes all their personal stuff with them at the end of the day and empties the trash, it should be good to go. Finally, I said “I want the van clean enough for a customer to stick his/her head in it and think well of us”. I thought of it as an offhanded and obvious statement. But I looked up to see light bulbs going off as if all was suddenly clear. Unintentionally, I had given them the key to doing things the way I wanted them done. I had given them a reason. While some of them couldn’t understand why I didn’t want personal stuff left in the van to pile up over time, they clearly understood that if a customer stuck their head in to ask a question and saw a bunch of crap piled up it would leave a poor impression. AHA!

I was thinking about this phenomenon later as I evaluated the meeting as a whole. I realized that if I had given a reason, say “the person that is earning commission off the contents will do a more thorough job of restocking the van than the one just coming off a ten hour day and has already earned their commission”, that earlier discussion would have been much shorter! One of the cool things about my staff is that they are all in a position to build and eventually manage a department. Right now I oversee everything, but that has to change over time. The discussions we have are focused on how to train a new employee to do a task. This is a great teaching technique because it forces the person to learn in a more global way, rather than just how they learn. For the first time I’m in a really good spot staff-wise. They are all dedicated to the success and growth of the business and show it every day. If you as a customer see something good, please let me know. If you see an opportunity for me to teach AND learn, please let me know ASAP. Although both are equally appreciated, the latter is more valuable than the former.