Many years ago, I sat in a large room with about fifty “pods” of people, all of us in circular cubicles with low walls so we could see each other. Putting on our headsets, we proceeded to take orders for hours. I was the proud employee of Sears Telecatalog.
I had an evening shift because I was raising a six-week and two-year-old as my day job. I have to admit that getting dressed up at 6:00 p.m. (Sears required business attire) was kind of fun after a day where “dressed up” means making sure you don’t have a gummy bear stuck to some bodily part. I would prance out of my house in panty hose that usually had at least one run in them and place my cold Coke in the drink holder. I then had the luxury of spending twenty minutes in a car where nobody was dropping a pacifier, crying, asking why they couldn’t have a Slurpee, or filling the area with the olfactory representative of the only tangible thing a six-week old baby could proactively contribute.
Those twenty minutes were heaven. I sat behind the wheel and smiled like I’d had one head trauma too many. Then I’d walk into work, thrilled with the energy of a large room that was filled with adults and not one Raffi song. I put on my headset with enthusiasm, and prepared to talk to people from all over the country. The phone would ring, and I’d answer with a smile, asking for their name, address, and catalog number. It was easy and fun. Most people were thrilled to be ordering from the Sears Catalog, and I was away from the mind-numbing beauty of being with small children. We were all happy.
Then one night I had just finished entering the catalog number for a flannel shirt when I saw a prompt that said, Would you like a pair of thermal socks with that flannel shirt? I looked around for the practical joker that had entered this message, but only found equally confused expressions on the faces of co-workers. Once the call had concluded, my manager proceeded to tell us that we were now expected to cross-sell items while talking to customers, and our pay would depend upon meeting a certain threshold of cross-sold items.
Flush. My lovely island of happy service turned into the land of high expectation sales. My manager apologized for not having told us sooner, and we were quickly thrown back on the phones and told that mystery shoppers would be listening to make sure we offered every single item. I gave it a shot, but without much sincerity. It was especially embarrassing when I was helping a gentleman who was ordering a pair of blue jeans, and I automatically read the prompt that said, “Would you like to purchase batteries with those blue jeans?” We had an awkward moment of silence, and then the man said, “Well, it couldn’t hurt.”
A lot of people left our happy Sears family work once the new cross-sell initiative was put into place. Here’s what leadership could have done to make the change work more effectively:
Change is often a dirty word because leaders fail to actually acknowledge it. They roll out a new initiative as if it’s business as usual, and it’s not. Without explanation and clarity, the change itself can seem out of control. A change in culture is not something you check off a task list because it involves people. Prepare yourself and others for what is coming. Whatever you do, make sure that nobody in your organization offers batteries with blue jeans.