The medical professionals unanimously tell us one simple truth. We need more masks on our faces, not more people in our faces, in order to stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect ourselves. And it’s basically up to all of us, because the maskless narcissist in chief and his sidekick, who until recently also denied the science, refuse to accept the shameful reality that things are once again getting worse while they run around the South holding largely unwelcome rallies for superspreaders. Shame on us for sitting back and assuming that our leaders would do all the heavy lifting.
Deciding how to handle your team’s concerns about your customers’ social issues, and how to navigate the pre-election cultural wars without cratering your company, is going to be excessively challenging. And, as the boss, these issues are likely to land right in your lap. Not that it’s fair, especially with everything else on your plate right now, but honestly, who else would you rather have working on the difficult problems? You need make a plan and take some prompt action to try to stay ahead of the curve, if and when the world returns.
The squabbles in Starbucks and the stink eyes on the subway are just the beginning. You can’t talk or turn around in the elevator. You can’t stick your head too far into the salad bar (as if that was ever OK), and, of course, there’s no double dipping. You can’t really interrogate the driver at length from the curb before you grab your next Lyft or Uber. And what are you supposed to do when you walk into an important business meeting and no one else in the room is wearing a mask?
At the same time, you can check out a new confrontation or 10 every day. Seniors screaming at seniors, shoppers yelling at store clerks, cranky crusaders lecturing us about their medical problems, and phony First Amendment protestors carrying fake “exemption” cards telling us not to pounce on their rights with our stinkin’ masks. Your team members — especially the critical frontliners — are all going to be stuck right in the middle of these scenes.
For the moment, let’s start with something pretty simple: How do we make sure that everyone has a mask on and that no one spends their days trying to get up in other people’s faces? And, most important, how can you be sure that your team and your people have a clear and concise understanding of your position, the new rules of engagement, and who’s gonna explain and enforce these new behaviors for your customers? Because we’re all going to be stuck with these new realities for quite a while, and everyone is going to have to be part of the process and the solutions rather than part of the problem.
As we’ve discussed this with a wide variety of business owners and operators, there are a few common things to keep in mind.
Take a stand. Write it out. Distribute it widely. Stick to it.
If your message isn’t clear and simple, your people are going to try in their own ways to express, explain, and justify the new rules, meaning it will be a mess regardless of how sincere their efforts. Consistency is far more important than correctness right now. As “inhuman” as it seems in these complex times when basically there are no right answers, it’s actually better to have them simply repeat the rules, respond politely to whatever they’re told, and plan to escalate disputes with problem customers to the appropriate managers. You can’t do business with debates raging all over the store, and you don’t want to have new issues arise because the message gets muddled or the customer claims to have been told something else.
Protect your people and your property.
Even your most well-intentioned and charitable team members are going to quickly tire of being screamed at, tormented, and otherwise abused — and their reactions are perfectly understandable. Businesses can’t live without customers, but you’re going to have to put your people first in these situations if you want to stay in business, and you’ll need to step in to protect them when necessary. The customers are always right except when they’re not, and you have to be the one who draws the line. Ultimately, this is critical because — just like with our kids — you’re never any happier than your least happy employee. And it’s those frontline employees who drive and dictate how your business looks to your customers.
Don’t take it personally and give even the bozos the benefit of the doubt.
As Little Steven always says, there’s nothing more personal than your politics, but mixing your business and your politics is a prescription for heartache and disappointment. It’s beyond sad that wearing a mask has now been transformed into a political statement by our thin-skinned president, who says people are doing it just to aggravate him. Of course, everything is always about him. But, remember, notwithstanding his bluster, that it’s never really about you. So, don’t take it personally, don’t get hurt or upset, and try to remember that there are undoubtedly some decent, if deluded, people who think that wearing a mask is some kind of intolerable imposition on them and their inalienable rights. If you look around, you’ll quickly find that some of these folks are family members, relatives, or neighbors and not just nut cases. There really aren’t two sides to any discussion with them — just like the anti-vaxxers, or the idiots who are vaping their lungs away. So it’s best to leave them be and simply encourage them to get in, get out, and move on. It’s not your job to change their minds.
Bottom line: Your job is to take care of your team and your business. Give them masks and the tools and other information they need to be successful. And just as they tell you on every airplane (in case you’ve understandably forgotten), “put your own oxygen mask on first.” You can’t help others if you’re helpless yourself.