In one of my many appointments in the army, one of them was as Gunnery Assistant. I would be involved in the planning stages of brigade-level exercises. I was trained to think at higher levels of command than most soldiers my rank could or should. We had to consider the big picture.
During one particular exercise, I overheard the Commanding Officer (CO) of an infantry battalion berate one of his Company Commanders, saying, “A Company Commander leads platoons; not sections. You were ordering section movements as if you were a Platoon Commander. Let the Platoon Commander lead his sections; you will lead the platoons.”
(For the uninformed, a section consists of seven to 10 men and is led by a sergeant, who is a non-commissioned officer; about four sections make up one platoon and is led by a junior commissioned officer usually the rank of lieutenant; four or so platoons of soldiers is led by a company commander led by a slightly more senior commissioned officer usually with the rank of captain; and a battalion is made up of four to six companies led by the CO usually with the rank of Major or Lieutenant-Colonel.)
The point that the CO was making to his Company Commander was to think of the bigger picture and not micromanage.
We often hear of or experience first-hand how we hate our managers to micro-manage. Yet when we become managers ourselves, how often do we lose sight of the big picture?
My father, a project manager in the construction industry, upon learning that I was a newly minted manager of 70 people in retail, gave me an hour-long lecture on how I should always think of the big picture when dealing with my subordinates and with customers.
The managers of a Safeway groceries store in
however, seem to have got it all wrong. Luckily for them, the Safeway
public relations team knows how to do its job and picked up the mess. Honolulu, Hawaii
(Background: Last week, Marcin and Nicole Leszczynski were detained after Nicole forgot to pay for two sandwiches that she had eaten in the store during their groceries shopping in
They bought about $50 worth of groceries; the sandwiches would have added
another $5 to their bill. Honolulu
When confronted by store managers, the Leszczynskis presumably explained what happened, and offered to pay for the sandwich. But the store managers refused to let them do so! Instead, they decided to escalate the situation by treating this as a case of shoplifting and calling the police. Worse, when the police arrived, they had Child Welfare Services take away the Leszczynskis’ two-year-old daughter.
It became a public relations nightmare for Safeway and
store when the Leszczynskis’ lawyer suggested taking the story to the media.
Fortunately for the Leszczynskis, the news media lapped up the story.) Honolulu
Consider the circumstances:
- The Leszczynskis were prepared to pay for $50 worth of groceries. The sandwiches cost five dollars.
- Safeway is a groceries chain store toward the higher end. Would riff-raff to shop there? If undesirable characters did not frequent the store, was there a reason to suspect that a middle-class-looking family would steal $5 worth of sandwiches? After paying for $50 worth of groceries?
- Even if the Leszczynskis had indeed intended to steal, why would Nicole eat the sandwiches while shopping around the store, where there were witnesses and security cameras to catch her in the act?
- Would a thief bring his heavily pregnant wife (Nicole is at 30 weeks) and two-year-old daughter to steal? After buying a cart full of groceries? Doing that makes no sense if one wants to make a quick get-away after getting caught. The news story did not say so, but it makes even less sense if the couple had paid for their groceries with a card, with which they can be tracked.
- When given a perfectly reasonable explanation, why did the store managers not believe the Leszczynskis, allowed them to pay for the sandwiches and apologize for “the misunderstanding”?
- Did the store managers not realize that it is bad practice to accuse customers of stealing? That’s why record companies are reluctant to sue consumers who download music illegally, but instead go after those who provide the technology to do so, for examples, Napster and makers of video tape recorders.
If the Leszczynskis were new in town, wouldn’t the store want their business in future? A family of two adults and two young children would easily spend at least $10,000 a year in groceries and toiletries. (Infant formula and diapers are not cheap.) Store managers could have easily verified their story of being new in town by checking their drivers’ licenses. (Yes, the store managers would have done that if they had detained the Leszczynskis and accused them of stealing.)
Even if the story had not made it to the news media and become such a fiasco, what about the time spent getting the police involved? Manpower would have to be deployed to watch the “thieves” and time would have been wasted giving statements to the police. The whole process would have taken at least an hour or so.
Suppose the security guard and two managers were involved. That’s three man-hours wasted on a five-dollar case. Even at minimum wage (and it won’t be if store management was involved), three man-hours cost more than $20. That’s more than four times what the sandwiches cost. That aside, the store has certainly lost the business of the Leszczynskis. Ten thousand dollars a year.
Also, consider that there would almost certainly have been a commotion when the police arrived to arrest the Leszczynskis. What kind of impression would it have made on other shoppers? Would the store’s reputation be damaged? As in, “I didn’t know that this store was in such a bad neighborhood. I won’t shop here next time.”
For the sake of argument, let’s consider the scenario that the Leszczynskis were in fact thieves. What would be the repercussions of letting petty thieves go scot free? Sure, they might come back to steal, knowing that they would be let off, but the next time they stole, they would steal more, and they would definitely be caught. On the other hand, the fact that they were confronted by the security guard would have sent the message that the store does watch shoplifters. This might have deterred them from stealing in future.
Instead, all the store managers chose to see was the five dollars worth of sandwiches which the Leszczynskis had not paid for, despite the fact that they had just spent $50 in the store! The sandwiches probably cost less than half that to acquire or make, yet the incident, handled poorly, had very nearly cost Safeway its reputation.
Having said all that, store managers should not be seen as going soft on thieves, or else employees would get the idea that managers would not back them if they caught a shoplifter. They would then not take theft incidents seriously, causing losses. Worse, employees would start stealing from the store.
Retail store managers should stand by their employees when they catch shoplifters or would-be shoplifters. The store managers in this case could have done that by debriefing the security guard on their decision to let the Leszczynskis go: “They had indeed not paid for the sandwiches, and after talking to them, we realized that it was a misunderstanding. We accepted their explanation of forgetting to pay for the sandwiches, and the store managers want you to know that you did the right thing in stopping them and asking if they had remembered to pay for the eaten sandwiches. Keep up the good work.”
Always remember the big picture. If you don’t, at best, it may cost you no more than $20 in wages. At worst, it may cost you ten thousand dollars a year, and your organization’s reputation to boot.