A job candidate appears too good to be true … and it turns out that he is.
Should the store owner fire him or give him more time to learn?
Life was good at Island Diamonds and Gems. Sheryl Saroyan had made the decision to move to her favorite Gulf Coast vacation destination 14 years ago and bought the store from a retiring owner shortly thereafter. What started as a two-person shop — Sheryl and Gina Hayes, Island’s long-time manager — was now an eight-member team.
When Island’s top salesperson announced her retirement, Sheryl put the word out that she was looking to fill the position. After talking to several candidates who had plenty of enthusiasm but little retail experience, she got a call from her good friend and banker Alan Scott. Alan said that his older brother Jeff was moving to the area and was looking for a job. Jeff had been working as a fine jewelry salesman at a high-end department store in Chicago for the past six years. Though somewhat hesitant to hire the family member of a friend and important business contact, Sheryl agreed to talk with Jeff and set up a lunch meeting.
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Jeff’s skill set and experience appeared to be a perfect fit for the store’s needs. In person, he was a bit more reserved than Sheryl expected, but he appeared to be knowledgeable and personable. He was an easy conversationalist, had a good understanding of relationship-building and high-level customer service, and he made it clear that he really wanted the job.
After going over his resume, verifying previous employment and comparing interview notes, Sheryl and Gina decided to offer Jeff the position.
Jeff started at Island Diamonds and Gems the following month and began working through the company’s new-hire orientation and training program with Gina. His first week — and the first few sections of the program, covering store history, standards and expectations and customer service — went very well. Jeff was engaged and seemed to have a solid understanding of how to create a memorable client experience. When he had the opportunity to talk with clients, he was pleasant and welcoming.
Jeff’s second week began with an introduction to the store’s point of sale system, basic transaction processing and client database management. To say that the process was challenging was a bit of an understatement — but Gina reminded herself that the system was a bit cumbersome, and that most of the salespeople struggled with it at first. In the following weeks, Jeff’s opportunities to work with clients increased as the store got busier during tourist season. Both Gina and Sheryl noticed that he wasn’t closing many sales, but they were confident that his willingness to turn over to other associates meant that the store was not losing business.
Several more weeks went by with little improvement in Jeff’s sales performance, despite Gina’s near-continuous monitoring and coaching. He was good at greeting clients and engaging them in conversation, but it seemed that unless he was asked directly about a specific item, he just couldn’t make the transition to a selling situation. Worse, when Gina tried roleplaying with him, Jeff couldn’t recall even the most basic feature and benefit information about the store’s designers and products. His efforts with the POS system went from bad to worse, too. He couldn’t remember how to handle simple transactions. Gina and Sheryl were stymied, as his resume and application clearly indicated that he should have a much stronger grounding in product knowledge and computer skills. When Gina asked him how he managed to sell jewelry at his last job, he said he never really needed to know much, as the department was very small and the customers only came there to buy brands they knew. He said he was not a pushy salesman and that he felt more comfortable building relationships than closing sales. He insisted, though, that he loved working at Island and promised to try harder and study the information until he got it.
As Jeff approached the end of his 90-day probationary period, Gina told Sheryl that he was not a good fit for Island and that they needed to cut him loose. Sheryl could see the issues but wondered if they didn’t owe Jeff a bit more time and patience — or maybe a different training approach. Mostly, she was concerned about what might happen to her relationship with Alan — as a friend and as the store’s banker — if she fired his brother.
- Are Jeff’s issues just about growing pains?
- Should Gina continue to look for a new training approach in an effort to benefit from Jeff’s “nice guy” personality and service focus?
- If they do cut Jeff loose, how should Sheryl handle the situation with Alan?
Expanded Retailer Responses
Chadds Ford, PA
It sounds like he could become a valuable team player given the proper time. I would pair him with a strong closer so he continued to contribute to the relationship building of the store and balance the atmosphere. His willingness to learn and positive attitude to do better is commendable and should be fostered.
First, there should be an employee procedure manual in place. Second, each employee should have a documented performance plan. If the employee is not meeting the requirements of his or her performance plan, then an initial meeting with that employee should be held to determine what steps need to be taken. This improvement plan should be documented. If the employee still cannot fulfill their duties, a second meeting should be held with the employer and employee again documenting the problems and what the employee and employer are going to do to solve them, with the employee being informed that they must fulfill the improvement plan to remain in their job. If after this the employee is still unable to perform their duties, they should be let go.
A different training approach would benefit both Jeff and Gina. As a manager coming from a training background, I’ve always felt that everyone learns differently and unless I have done everything I can to insure the success of my employees, we’re not done training. Jeff’s friendliness and customer service skills are a plus and can be capitalized on.
If he is not catching on to the basics of the POS and depends on the customers to close themselves, there is no growth potential there. I call it a salesperson who “shows” jewelry, not one who “sells” jewelry.
It may seem cold-hearted after only three months training and trial, but I would cut him loose now. We have had an underperforming employee for 10 years, and what started as hiring a friend for some needed help when times were good has deteriorated into a toxic environment. From my experience, the longer you wait, the more difficult acting on your gut will be. I wish you well; this is something I have never had the nerve to act on and it has hurt our business.
La Grange, IL
We have lived by the motto “hire slow; fire fast”! If he doesn’t fit with their selling culture, show him the door. We had a perfect candidate, just like Jeff. Excellent references and referrals, only unfortunately, she had “Resting Grouch Face”. After six weeks, we had to fire her; she just didn’t fit our motto of friendly, professional goldsmiths at your service! Business owners have a responsibility to their bottom line, to their mission statement and to their customer base to provide the best service possible. Take the “be nice” gloves off; hire to reach your goal!
Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada
Sometimes square pegs will never fit in those darn round holes, and as this is a business and not a popularity contest, he needs to be set free. The relationship with Alan is not even a consideration, for the same reason. If Sheryl truly believes that this will affect her business relationship with her banker, she is with the wrong bank.
Jeff seems like a nice guy but there is a reason for the 90 day probationary period. If he isn't showing marked improvement, you need to cut him loose. This is a business decision and Sheryl and Gina need to have productive employees. Hopefully, the banker will understand that business is business.
A simple solution would be to put Jeff on 10 percent straight commission. This would take all the pressure off the owners and put it squarely on him. Hopefully the sleeping tiger would wake up!
St. Charles, MO
While I believe it is difficult to find all the attributes that one desires in a single employee, it sounds like Jeff's shortcomings exceed what he offers to the company. The fact that his computer skills and closing skills have not improved in 90 days (especially considering previous experience in the industry) leads me to think that expecting much change isn't realistic. He may be a friend of a friend, but business is business and he needs to go. Hopefully, if done with grace and compassion, Alan will understand. We've always had this conversation up front anytime we've hired family or friends of friends. The introduction and opportunity comes from the connection, but the rest is up to the individual and the employer. Mostly, this has worked for us, but it's definitely a "risk vs reward" scenario to consider when looking at connections from friends or family as potential employees.
Ninenty days should be enough time to know if he will make a good attribute to the store. Since he has trouble closing a sale, I think they should let him go. He is not making enough sales to pay his salary. The store cannot afford to lose money. As far as the banker, they need to invite him for coffee and explain the situation. I'm sure he understands business.
New York, NY
Although it is understood that all salespeople have their own personality and method of selling, it is up to the owners to set protocol as to how they want their salesmen to sell. That being said, perhaps 90 days is not enough time for Jeff to acclimate to a new environment and a new system that is admittedly "cumbersome." I would suggest that the owners, not Gina, sit down and speak with him regarding their concerns and to reiterate that while his method of selling worked for him in the past, he does not yet know how to sell with them. I would give him an extra 60 days and see if his progress improves. If not, I would fire him and explain to his brother that it was not a good fit and he was given every opportunity to prove himself. Business is business and personal is personal. If his brother cannot understand that point then there is nothing that can be done.
I think Jeff should get three more months. I've had employees that pick up on our POS system immediately and I've had employees take a while to get it down. If he's pleasant with customers and a good conversation starter then maybe he just needs a little more time to get comfortable with his new surroundings. It's also hard for an employee to go from a department store in a large city to a smaller, interdependently owned business. I get it....you want results asap with a guy like this but maybe he just needs a little more time to get the engine turning.
This employee needs to find a new employer, ASAP. His excuses don't hold water, and unless you want to write a book of excuses, dismiss him . After 6 years in retail he should grasp the POS fairly quickly. Moreover he should be well versed in of the basics of jewelry and able to apply that to any line. The reason he was looking for a new job is more understandable now.
It may be that he is suffering from some kind of neurological problem, maybe his brother Alan could be quietly consulted before the "release" to get him to a doctor for evaluation/diagnosis.
In any case, sadly, if he isn't up to speed in 90 days, that's enough, he needs to be released before the "hire" becomes permanent because his past experience is obviously insufficient or has become compromised, and is unlikely to improve after the 90 days, but it will become a lot harder to fire him after those first 90 days.
It's simple enough. This was a 90 day probationary period. It's not mentioned but I would hope she had made it very clear to him that at the end of those 90 days, they would determine if he was a good fit or not. And if not, he wouldn't be hired permanently. This also should've been mentioned each time she had to meet with him, which according to the story, was several times. We have to separate business from personal. Easy to say, hard to do but necessary for the good of her business.
Your store's health is the main concern here. Unfortunately, this man is related to a friend, but if this is a good friend, she will understand that not all employees fit the job. Sales cannot grow if being stifled by a non-productive employee and you are not a charity. If after 90 days he cannot learn the POS system and cannot remember the basic information about your store and products, in my opinion you let him go and find an upgrade, not a down grade in help. Harsh perhaps, but better for all concerned because it will be much harder later to let him loose.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 edition of INSTORE.
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