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Second Fiddle

Rethinking your management strategy

 “Second fiddle”, was the answer given by Leonard Bernstein of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra when asked what was the most difficult instrument to play. You might think his answer had something to do with the difficulty of the musical score traditionally assigned to the orchestra’s second violin. But Bernstein made it clear he was not talking about music. He was talking about teamwork. 

“Everyone wants to play first chair”, he would continue.  “Nobody wants to play second fiddle.”

As a business owner you know full well the importance of your second fiddle, your store manager. Store managers know the importance of their second fiddles, whether they are buyers, stockers or cashiers. The store where an owner or manager does not recognize the importance of these players or is unable to gain the support of them is a store that will not be around too long.

But it works both ways. Those who play second fiddle typically play it best when they know they are appreciated and that their efforts take them closer to their career goals, however humble or sophisticated.

As an owner, ask yourself what would happen if your manager were suddenly not available to manage your store. Would the store continue to function?
The answer needs to be both yes and no. Yes, because the owner would know the responsibilities of his manager and could step in to take his place.

But the answer should also be no, for if there would be no difference with or without your manager, then you either have a bad manager or one who is not being allowed to prove him or herself.  Ask yourself if you think your manager could be persuaded to go to a competitor if the pay was comparable, but the challenge to his skills were greater. Would he welcome the opportunity to make a difference?

From the standpoint of ownership, we always make a point to spend a considerable number of hours on the sales floor each week. Yet, for every hour there were team members in the store, there was someone else, a supervisor, who had total responsibility for the store.  We explained this decision to our team by stating that we knew how we would react in a situation, but we needed to see how a supervisor would react. What better way to find out than an occasion when the owner was in the building, but was allowing his people to manage? As a result, we learned what we could expect from our team members and our supervisors whether we were out of the store for an hour, an afternoon or on vacation.

We also reasoned that if we were to give a key to the building to an employee, and there were several hundred thousand dollars of inventory in the building, we had in effect, entrusted that amount of money to them. Then, why not allow the employee to make a decision when the amount of money involved in the decision would probably be less than one hundred dollars?

The downside to our situation was that our team members often did not learn how unique and beneficial our management style was until they had left and taken a job elsewhere. Of course, we had several who later returned to our team. And for those who only stopped by for a visit, we welcomed the opportunity to hear them tell us about what they missed by no longer being a part of our team.

It is not only an opportunity; it is your responsibility to promote your management technique to your “second fiddle” and his subordinates so that your “orchestra” is in tune. Your customers will greatly appreciate it, and the bottom line of your profit-and-loss statement will reflect it.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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