The Produce Market Standards  

These are the standards I learned in Sterling, and later found useful while working as a retail sales associate at a department store. I was surprised to find how well these standards from the Sterling service environment applied to "the real world" (as exemplified by my department store job). In fact, the Sterling standards seemed to actually be a (almost comprehensive) statement of the policies applied in the store.

After some discussions with others experienced with the two environments, it was clear that I had found a case of convergent evolution, or (perhaps more likely), common origin. The two sets of standards were the same because of the similarity of the two environments — for all intents and purposes, both are customer experience environments and part of the "service sector".

I began to suspect these standards have been around as long as service-sector industries have existed, which would go back at least as far as early commodity-exchange markets (the ancient predecessor of a modern farmer's market or urban street produce market). That's why I'm calling them the "produce market standards". They are standards (patterns of behavior) that originated in produce markets.

In the ancient markets, one had to find a balance between excellence in performing one's own job, treating the customer with generosity and respect, and defending against dangers. The successful patterns of behavior that resulted, have evolved through millennia of cultural and technological sophistication, to give us these modern standards, by which employees in all service industries are expected to behave. In no particular order (well, actually alphabetical) they are:

Be Supportable — Trust your co-workers and managers. If you find everyone else is "wrong", you are not being supportable. If you are getting tired, you are probably "doing it alone".

Confidentiality — In addition to the standards of industry trade secret and personnell confidentiality in the employee manual, confidentiality extends more generally to anything you see and hear while working, that might cause harm if misused by another. This includes exceptions to policies and procedures, and involves the idea of "circles of confidentiality" — things are kept confidential to the people who know them. For example, if one customer "got away with something" that would not normally be allowed, don't start treating the other customers as if that rule no longer needs to apply to them either.

Details! Details, Details! — Look out for any overlooked details. The smallest thing (such as a bit of discarded paper on the floor) might distract a customer at a crucial point in their shopping experience. One often-overlooked detail is relationship — are you paying attention to the tasks, and ignoring how well (or poorly) you interact with others?

Do Each Job Completely — Be clear on what and how much you have been told to do; when done clean up after yourself; report when you're done to your manager or whoever gave the task. Note that completely runs across purposes with on time, and resolution of this conflict can only come with mutual understanding of all of the goals and projects, and their relative priorities, or more importantly, what purpose is being served. Failing to recognize this conflict is a common symptom of inept management.

My hobby: revealing blindingly obvious rule failures
Do It Right or Finish On Time?

Don't Make Anything Up — Even if it makes sense, it isn't the right thing to do unless you ask your manager first. Beware of your ego here — it probably doesn't serve you. If your manager doesn't like your idea and even if your way is "clearly better", remember it's not about "you", and the manager probably has reasons that you are not aware of. If you do find that you were "creative" or made something up, tell your manager what you did, so they can compensate for it.

Don't Take it Personally — Often others are in a hurry, leading to a sense of unfairness or frustration when your orders are changed, or the purpose of one order conflicts with another. Remember that what happens in the store is not about you — there is often not time to be polite.

Excellence — Giving your absolute best — 100 percent of what you are capable of. There is no "105 percant", if there were, then that would be your best.

Honor the Site — Leave things better than you found it. If you need to mess something up, put it back afterwards (make a diagram if necessary). This includes the relationships you have with others not directly associated with the store (such as when you are at other stores in the mall during your break). You represent your employer in everything you do. Also remember that despite the quality of your standards while on-the-job, you should not be a self-appointed "policeman" in another store.

How to Interact With Customers — Be professional, but not "effusive". If you are uncomfortable answering a question, just refer them to a manager. Treat all customers the same — don't play favorites. Don't let your ego get involved — even if they seem to be trying to upset you.

How to Handle the "Furious Walkaway" (this is an irate customer, one who is walking away in disgust or anger) — Ask if they can wait while you get your manager. If they are dead-set on leaving, get their name (if possible) and encourage them to leave an appropriate comment at Customer Service.

How to Interact with Celebrities (this includes the company president or other high-up managers) — Don't distract them with your selfish desires, such as requests for an autograph. If they initate a conversation, just be yourself. Remember your role is to be of service, which is not the same as be helpful. When you are being of service you are "invisible". (And yes, I have actually put this one to practice twice — in two different stores, at two different times; both celebrities were recording artists.)

Never Leave Your Post — In addition to physically being where (and doing what) you have been asked to do, this standard includes mental attitude. If someone takes over for you, make sure they know completely what it is you were asked to do. Do not let your presence at a task interfere with the other standards (such as being attentive to customers). If a higher-level manager tells you to go and do something else, make sure and tell your own manager this has happened. Ask for help if you feel you need it, or if you feel your manager has "forgotten" you.

Smoking — Only allowed during your breaks, and only in the place(s) designated for employees to smoke. If customers see you going out the nearest door to smoke, it looks unprofessional.

Standards — As an employee you are expected to follow a set of standards that are high, possibly higher than anything you have ever lived before. This is an opportunity to raise your own standards.

Your Well-Being is Your Own Responsibility — When you have a break, give 100% to it. Don't feel obliged to compromise your health even if it means asking for more than a co-worker asks for. Don't forget to drink water, particularly when you are continually busy and have lost track of time. Don't leave personal things in the wrong place, or expect others to keep track of it for you.

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