Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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Who has the big hat?

Understanding customers are the responsibility of everyone

Walk into many businesses and in addition to the basic items, they stock seasonal or fashion items. As a clothing store, perhaps they have a selection of hats. Most of the inexpensive hats a store will stock have a tag in the back of them. The tag reads, "One size fits all". It saves the retailer from stocking a lot of extra merchandise as there can be many different sizes of hats with some styles.

Having a "one size fits all" hat can be a good thing. Especially if it is a hat that pertains to your business. Before speaking at a trade show in Atlanta in February, I decided to have a late breakfast. There were only two or three people eating in the hotel restaurant as the hostess seated me. Then a second person arrived at the table and offered me coffee and orange juice. Several minutes went by before the hostess again passed close enough that I could get her attention. When she approached, I said I wanted to order breakfast and gave my order that she reluctantly took.

In another few minutes a third person approached and asked for my order. Explaining my previous interaction with the hostess, this person still wanted to take my order. Although confused, and expecting that two meals might show up, I did repeat the order to the third person. This third person explained that the hostess had sent her to take my breakfast order.

A woman sitting a few tables away initiated a conversation with me by saying, "I understood the first time what you wanted. I think the problem is that the hostess does not want to wear that hat. She wants to only wear the 'big hat'".

The woman went on to explain that she found this experience to be quite common. Someone decides what their job entails and any of the other tasks are either beneath them or are just not their responsibility. Instead of helping out when necessary in any aspect of the business, they simply put on the invisible 'big hat' and go find some 'busy work' to occupy their time.

I think the woman has a point.  Somehow this hostess sees the job of offering coffee or taking a meal order as not being her concern. In a small shop, I now realize I have experienced the 'big hat' syndrome as I stood at a cash register waiting for someone to arrive to complete the transaction. A person walked behind the counter and without so much as looking at me, hollered, "Jim, you have someone at the register."

As Jim arrived to complete the transaction, I asked him who that person was that called for him. "Oh, that's the owner of the shop."

There is no need or place for “hats” with regards to our business. The woman in the restaurant said so, and she is right. She said that if the situation called for pushing a broom, that's what should be done. Whatever the task at hand, that is the hat that should be put on. Unfortunately, there are too many situations and individuals that have their sights set on a bigger hat. Or, as in the case of the shop owner, they are comfortable with their hat, and any other hat is too small for them.

Treat an employee with the attitude that you have certain responsibilities while the other tasks belong to their subordinates, and you will quickly develop employees that are looking for someone or something to be beneath them. They will find the justification based upon a variety of reasons.

Perhaps, the other person is younger than them, or the other person has less experience or knowledge than they do. It may be because of sex or race, but they will find a reason to designate someone as beneath them.

And with that designation, they will demonstrate their 'big hat' in a variety of ways. At best, they will tell the customer, "I will get someone to take care of that for you." Most of the other ways of designating someone else to do the job become somewhat nasty and definitely destroy morale.

This writer has watched in businesses as the employees did their battle for superiority and 'hat size'. In one occasion, there was a battle going on with one person staying out of the situation by keeping busy with a broom. After a few minutes of watching this, one of the combatants gave a hush sign to everyone else with a quick, "Hey, there is a customer in here".

And as the broom sweeper passed by, I noticed their name tag had the title of "manager". Hats are fine if you are selling them as a part of your product offering. But the scenario in which employees are battling to determine who is wearing the big hat and which hat is for another employee, is not a battle that is going on in private. The customer knows what is going on.

Checking your hat at the door as you come to work is the solution that works best to the challenge of the big hat.

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
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