I was in Stop & Shop a recent Saturday morning, one of the hundreds of Long Islanders who decided to run to the supermarket to beat the blizzard that was about to hit New York. Everyone in the store (it’s one of those jumbo-sized establishments that are about a mile long and a mile wide) was in a panic; we all had an hour to do all of our food shopping for a week that included Christmas Eve and Christmas day. There were no shopping carts available, so you had to stand in the parking lot in the cold and wait for someone to pack up their car with grocery bags and then ask them for their basket. Back inside, all the milk was gone from the shelves (how much milk do people need?). The aisles were packed. You get the picture.
After a while, I started thinking this could have been a nightmare, but it really wasn’t. The manager of the store was on the intercom the entire time, instructing staff to come to the front to open up more checkout counters. He also calmly made announcements about store specials. At one point he made a somewhat hurried request for John to bring a mop and a broom and some sugar to aisle nine and that he should come quickly (oil spill; it wasn’t me, I swear). All in all, I felt he was very much able to handle anything that could happen.
As I passed the meat department, deciding which kind of ham to buy for my Christmas dinner (love the spiral but really, those things can last three months), I heard one guy behind the counter contentedly say to another, “We’re doing all right here today, we’re really keeping up.” When I reached the bakery area, the staff was patiently fielding requests for special orders. When I asked for croissants, the baker apologized because they were still in the oven. As I walked away, toward the frozen appetizer section, I heard him calling me. He had found a batch from earlier that day and was rushing to pack them up for me. Then, he ran from inside the bakery area and put them in my basket. He seemed relieved that I didn’t have to walk away without them.
When it was time to check out, the line was only about three carts deep, because the manager had apparently called in extra help that morning. Then I heard him on the intercom again with an announcement for the employees of the store. First, he thanked them for all that they were doing and then he revealed that he had good news. Linda Johnson had been promoted from part-time to full-time. He said he was so delighted she had accepted the full-time offer and that there would be cake later on to celebrate. (Cake, for all of us? I wondered). Before you knew it, everyone in the store was clapping for Linda. I was teary-eyed. I felt sort of sad that I wasn’t working here.
At the end of it all, I realized this was a great manager, not just because he handled the operations of a huge store efficiently and expertly, but because he never stopped celebrating, and guiding, his employees. They clearly felt respected, and for that reason, enjoyed providing stellar customer service. He also demonstrated leadership. Despite the challenges posed by the impending storm (and holidays), these employees didn’t seem frazzled because he was letting them, and us, know that things were under control.
It’s likely that your employees and colleagues have just helped you get through one of the most challenging years of your career. The best thank-you gift you can give them is to celebrate their successes, not only internally but in the eyes of your clients and your vendors. To make the potential difficulties of their days go a bit more smoothly you can also provide strong leadership. Do this even if you’re not running the office. There’s nothing better than knowing that the person at the desk next to you not only has things under control but is ready to jump in and help everyone out. If you do run the show, let staff know that you are able to navigate your agency through whatever comes your way. They’ll not only admire your strength, but the confidence you instill in them will be redirected to your clients.
And finally, never forget that a little bit of cake goes a long way.