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16 Ways to Win Your Employees' Love Without Losing Their Respect

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It’s funny how, when you ask people what makes a good boss, they’ll probably tell you about their worst one. It’s human nature to remember every insult and injury from the insufferable jerk who made going to work a miserable experience and forget the kind, mentoring soul who quietly boosted your confidence.

Another way to look at it (especially around Valentine’s Day): Enduring a horrible boss is the workplace equivalent of having to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince or princess. When we asked the INSTORE Brain Squad to tell us about your best bosses, many of you shared tales of your worst. One person wrote:

“The boss who taught me the most was the worst boss I ever had! Actually, two of them. The first taught me how not to treat people, customers and fellow employees. He was a real snake, gloated over cheating people. The second taught me how not to run a jewelry business. I learned by their mistakes and feel that I am more successful now having worked for them.”

It’s true that toxic bosses from the past can offer useful lessons to small-business owners. As Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss says, “It is a lot easier to learn from that guy than to be that guy.” (He also quotes Eleanor Roosevelt, who said “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”) But many ineffective bosses are good people who haven’t had positive examples of how to lead and manage people. This is especially true in small retail businesses, where the owner becomes a boss by default.

The first step to being a great boss is realizing there’s always room to improve.  One great way to do it? Learn from other retailers’ experiences—check out our accompanying profiles of some especially memorable bosses—and learn from writers and thinkers who’ve studied how smart bosses inspire their teams to produce great results. Here are some of their top tips.

1. Make Time for Every Employee

As the boss, you are kind of a big deal. “That’s why an employee who wants to talk about something that seems inconsequential may just want to spend a few moments with you,” says Jeff Haden, who writes about how great bosses got that way. “When that happens, you can blow the employee off, or you can take the chance to inspire, reassure and motivate.”

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2. Let people be themselves

Bosses often get their rudest awakening when they realize employees have their own ways of doing things, says Marcus Buckingham, author of First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers To Differently. If you force people to follow your playbook, then two things happen: “They become resentful — they don’t want to do it. And they become dependent — they can’t do it. Neither of these is terribly productive.”

3. Rescue Mission

Your greatest success may come from mentoring your least promising employee, Haden adds. “Your remarkable employees don’t need a lot of your time; they’re remarkable because they already have these qualities,” he notes. “If you’re lucky, you can get a few percentage points of extra performance from them. But a struggling employee has tons of upside; rescue him and you make a tremendous difference.”

4. Steady On

A Google-commissioned study of more than 10,000 employee observations showed human interaction, not technical skills, was the best indicator of success for bosses. As Adam Bryant explained in his New York Times article, “Google’s Quest to Build a Better Boss,” the highest-rated managers “were even-keeled bosses who made time for one-on-one meetings, who helped people puzzle through problems by asking questions, and who took an interest in employees’ lives and careers.”

5. Build Trust

Counterintelligence expert Robin Dreeke has co-written a book called The Code Of Trust with five rules for leadership: suspend your ego, be nonjudgmental, honor reason, validate others and be generous. Dreeke adds that it’s important for bosses to identify goals and priorities, but then let go of them and work to understand what other people value, because doing so builds trust. As Dreeke says on a Knowledge@Wharton podcast, “This is my manual on how not to be the person I was born to be. This is my manual on how to overcome that Type-A hard charger that just barrels forward and ruins relationships because they think it’s all about them.”

6. Be Memorable

In her book Work Happy: What Great Bosses Know, Jill Geisler shares three things employees never forget: a boss who apologizes when he or she is wrong (preferably in public, if that’s where the earlier criticism took place); a boss who reacts to a worker’s boneheaded errors with wisdom, knowing just how long to let people stew over their own mistakes; and bosses who respond to personal achievements and losses (big and small) with encouragement or empathy. On the flip side, she lists three things employees never forgive: a lying boss, a boss who takes credit for the staff’s work or ideas, or a boss who behaves differently around superiors than around the troops.

7. See Yourself Through Their Eyes

Stanford University professor Robert Sutton has made a career writing about how to survive difficult people in the workplace and in life. After he published his book The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace And Surviving One That Isn’t, he received tons of stories about difficult bosses, enough to fill a sequel (which eventually came out last year in The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt). But he heard about effective bosses, too, people who took “diverse and intertwined steps to create effective and humane workplaces.” He suggests that the best bosses pay close attention to how their employees see and hear them, from facial expressions to tone of voice.

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8. Encourage Feedback

You need to know what your employees are thinking, but they may not be willing to tell you in their employee review or even in the more casual one-to-one meetings that you’re hopefully having with them at regular intervals. Whether it’s a suggestion box in the break room or a confidential survey or focus group facilitated by a third party, give your people opportunities to suggest ways you can improve as their boss. Then let down your defenses, and take their feedback seriously.

9. Chill Out

It’s true that passion can inspire performance, but if you’re always yelling at your employees, it’s worth asking whether your emotions are helping or hurting business. “Personally, I’m going to assume that successful screamers make it in spite of the screaming, not because of it,” writes Jay Goltz on The New York Times’ “You’re the Boss” blog.

10. Put People Before Goals  

It’s good to have sales targets, but that shouldn’t be your primary focus. Without great employees, no amount of focus on goals and targets will ever pay off, says Jeff Haden. “It’s your job to provide the training, mentoring and opportunities your employees need and deserve,” he adds. “When you do, you transform the relatively boring process of reviewing results and tracking performance into something a lot more meaningful for your employees: Progress, improvement and personal achievement.”

11. Demythologize Crisis

We’re living at a time when “our institutions seem to be in serial meltdown,” says Elizabeth Samet, a professor of English at the United States Military Academy, in her introduction to Leadership: Essential Writings By Our Greatest Thinkers. “If we live in a world of crisis, we also live in a world that romanticizes crisis—that finds in it fodder for addiction to the 24-hour new cycle, multiple information streams and constant stimulation.” Sound familiar?

But humans cannot thrive in a state of constant turmoil, so do what you can to cultivate a low-drama life and workplace. Listen to music instead of the news or talk radio on your way to work. Eat well, get adequate sleep, exercise and take time to play—and help your employees do the same things. Researchers at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic found that a workplace-based stress management program boosted employee morale and vitality, with positive changes still evident a year later.

12. Unpack Your Power Trip 

In a conversation with psychologist Ron Friedman at the Peak Work Performance Summit, author Dan Pink cited research showing that when we feel powerful, we’re less likely to see other people’s perspectives. That’s why it’s helpful to “dial down your feelings of power just a little bit” to see the world how your employees do.

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13. Admit You Don’t Know It All

You had the vision and talent to launch your small business, but that doesn’t mean you naturally have the skills to be a great boss. It’s smart to look for mentors and seek opportunities for leadership growth. Writing on Bloomberg.com, Rebecca Greenfield profiles executive coach Ben Olds, who helps bosses learn to have difficult conversations, harness their emotions and just plain listen. Few people are beyond help. For Travis Kalanick, founder of Uber, “Olds would want to understand what provokes him. To find that out, he would talk through some regrettable incidents, in the hope of improving his emotional intelligence and avoiding bad behavior.”

14. Deal with the Small Stuff 

“Nothing kills team morale more quickly than problems that don’t get addressed,” says Haden. Even petty issues—squabbling employees, tardiness and negativity — are distractions that merit your action. “Small problems always fester and grow into bigger problems. Plus, when you ignore a problem, your employees immediately lose respect for you, and without respect, you can’t lead,” he says. “Never hope a problem will magically go away, or that someone else will deal with it. Deal with every issue head-on, no matter how small.”

15. No Harassment

The #MeToo movement of the past few months has made it clear there are no longer any gray areas when it comes to recognizing and dealing with workplace sexual harassment. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website has information on how to deal with this new reality. Go to eeoc.gov and look for “Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment.” Hire and promote all kinds of people who can give your company a wider lens on the world (and attract a broader range of customers, too).

16. Inspire Their Brilliance 

Buckingham suggests that managers identify and encourage their employees’ best traits and talents. In fact, he says that’s the one defining characteristic of the best managers. “Great managers know they don’t have 10 salespeople working for them,” he says. “They know they have 10 individuals working for them.” Rather than be obsessed with your employees’ weaknesses, encourage them to do things they love to do, whether that’s window displays, social media or greeting customers.

 

Few people are as influential in our lives as our bosses. We asked the INSTORE Brain Squad to tell us about their most memorable and effective mentors at work. Here are a few of your stories.

Cathy Calhoun and John Strasbaugh worked together for 15 years at his store, where she quickly had to learn the ropes after he’d had a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day. Calhoun eventually opened her own shop. He retired a year ago, and the two remain friends.

Cathy Calhoun

Calhoun Jewelers | Royersford, PA

Best boss: John Strasbaugh  
Lesson: Trust 

My answer would be my ex-boyfriend/boss. I was a banker dating a jeweler when he had a heart attack on Thanksgiving. In the emergency room, John said, “You’re going to have to go run my store.” At first, I thought, it can’t be that hard, but I had no clue.

I had a couple looking at engagement rings, and they asked why two rings of the same size were different prices. I said, “I don’t know, he must have it mismarked, so take whichever one you want for the cheaper price.” I thought since I’m a banker, I’ll go through and make them all the right prices—half carats the same price, three-quarter carats the same price, and so on.

I told John that night and of course he grabbed his chest and I’m thinking he’s going to have another heart attack. But even with that, I quickly got an education, and I was thrown in a good time at Christmas when everyone lines up to buy. So it gave me confidence, and then I became passionate about it — and through all of that, he trusted me completely.

Russell Criswell

Russell Criswell

Vulcan’s Forge | Kansas City, MO

Best boss: Bogey Nash  
Lesson: Everyone is a potential customer  

My very first boss was Bogey Nash, who owned an antique furniture refinishing store called Bogey’s Barn and Strip Joint. I started out working for him one summer for a dollar an hour when I was 13 years old. I was sanding away on some furniture, listening in on the conversation. I heard him say, “No, no, that’s not who you’re calling. Yes, this is Bogey’s Barn and Strip Joint. We do refinishing and in fact, I bet you have a piece of furniture that needs refinished.” I listened as he sold $3,000 of refinishing services to someone who dialed a wrong number!

So that was my big takeaway. I know that everybody has a piece of broken jewelry that they want fixed, and we just have to get to that. So when somebody says, “No, I don’t think I need anything today,” I say, “I’ll bet you have something sitting at home in the jewelry box that you’d love to be able to get out and wear—and we can make that happen.” When someone comes in to replace a watch battery, they’re kind of a captive audience. Not all our customers know everything we can do, so those are good conversation fillers.

Linda McEathron

Design House Jewelry | Waco, TX

Best boss: Billie Moses  
Lesson: Express appreciation  

My best-ever boss would definitely be Miss Billie Moses. I worked for her at Mastercraft Jewelry in Waco for 10 years. I started as a bench jeweler, and over time was given the freedom to learn purchasing, marketing, leadership, and last but not least, how to cook. I have recipe cards to this day that are handwritten by her.

She wanted us to treat each and every customer like family. There were times when we’d have lunches and dinners right in the store, and if a customer came in at that time, they were welcome to sit and eat with us. It was mostly to make customers feel like they were part of the store and very much appreciated.

One of my most treasured gifts was a letter she wrote me for Christmas. As they were handing out Christmas bonuses, she took me aside and said, “I’ve always wanted to tell you these things but I thought it was time to write them down.” She said how proud she was to have me and how many hats I wore in the store. I have that letter still, and I am so grateful for her confidence and encouragement.

Tom Duma joined his father, Thom, in business partly because he wanted to spend more time with him. They wound up having decades together before Thom Duma died in 2016 at age 96.

Tom Duma

Thom Duma Fine Jewelers | Warren, OH

Best boss: Thom Duma
Lesson: Let people fail  

My dad went to watchmakers’ school on the GI Bill after World War II and later owned both a jewelry store and motorcycle dealership. (I was racing professionally at the time.) After my racing career finished, he asked me if I wanted to work in the motorcycle industry or come to work with him in the jewelry business. I chose the jewelry business and he taught me everything. Getting to work with my father was such a huge blessing in my life.

I guess the biggest thing he did was allow me to fail and still support me. Fail by buying the wrong inventory or too much inventory or run a sale that didn’t work, and that taught me how to be better. But when I failed, it wasn’t “I told you so.” It was more “Let’s not do that again. Let’s keep moving forward.” He would challenge me, but he would let me do it my way. I have an employee who now works with me and is slowly getting involved in every aspect of the business, so I’m doing that with her.

Patty Hansen started working in her mom’s store as a girl, and at 98, Dorothy still spends time every day in the store she founded. Here they are at a trade show together. Patty says her mom taught her not to sweat the small stuff and to always treat customers with grace and dignity.

Patty Gallun Hansen

Dorothy Gallun Fine Jewelry | Cedarburg, WI

Best boss: Dorothy Gallun 
Lesson: It pays to be kind  

The best boss I’ve ever had was my mom. She founded Dorothy Gallun Jewelry in the 1950s, when it was pretty gutsy for a woman to own her own business. She taught me that kindness does matter, and, “treat people the way you want to be treated.”

There have been times when customers have taken advantage of that, but Mom handled it with grace and dignity. People would come in years after they bought something and it’d look like it’d been run over by a truck. My mother would always accept it back with a smile and say something humorous so they’d know that she knew it wasn’t sitting in a box all those years.

We would ask her, “Why are you doing that? No one else would do that. They obviously damaged it.” But she said all that would do is make the customer very unhappy. You swallow it and you move on. If she couldn’t help a customer, she’d refer them to another jeweler. People would come back because of it. They’d say they knew they could trust her.

Jerry and Teddie Gause are partners in business and in life. Jerry bought the business from his dad, who founded Gause & Son Jewelers in 1950.

Teddie Gause 

Gause & Son Jewelers | Ocala, FL

Best boss: Jerry F. Gause  
Lesson: Treat vendors with respect  

Jerry Gause and I had been next-door neighbors and were in the same class in high school. When my husband passed away, he sent me a note expressing his condolences and said if I needed a job to come see him at his jewelry store. Having two teenage daughters to raise, I went in for an interview and he hired me. I am proud to say he is my boss, mentor, and best friend—and now I am married to that fine gentleman.

One thing he taught me years ago was to always treat our jewelry salesmen and vendors with respect. One day a young man walked into our store around 4 p.m., looking tired. He said he’d called on six stores that day and they’d treated him rudely. I invited him to sit down in our Diamond Room, gave him water and said I would look at his line and just might buy one thing from him. He opened his case and pulled out a two-and-a-half-carat engagement ring and said he’d sell me the ring for just enough to cover his travel expenses. That ring was a bargain, so being kind and courteous paid off.

Cliff Yankovich

Chimera Design | Lowell, MI

Cliff Yankovich

Best boss: Harold Hampton 
Lesson: Under-promise and over-deliver  

Harold Hampton went through employees like socks. After four years, I was the old-timer on his staff. I was able to work for him because I worked for my own father as a kid. My dad was a tough customer and expected you to work your butt off, just like Harold.

Jewelers often tell people what they want to hear, but Harold really drilled “under-promise and over-deliver” into our heads, and that’s the most valuable lesson I took away from him—other than the fact he paid for my GIA diamond graduate training. He was a hard taskmaster, but I never would have had the confidence and the knowledge to open our store if I hadn’t worked for him.

Julie Fanselow is a writer, editor, coach, and dot-connector. She was the founding editor of SmartWork Media's magazine for eyecare professionals, INVISION.

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Cover Stories

12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail

Buy jewelry you hate? Talk people out of repairs? Jewelers insist these crazy business practices work.

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While it’s often wise to follow best practices in business, there are times to throw caution to the wind and break new ground in search of greater profits, more productivity or even less stress on the job. For 27 Contrarian Rules of Business, click here. But for contrarian rules that may apply exclusively to jewelry retail, check out the examples below, submitted by your peers.

1. Don’t hire jewelry experience

Stop worrying about “jewelry experience” when hiring. After working as a manager in the industry for a decade, I have realized that not only is industry experience often not important, a lot of the time it is detrimental because you have to un-train someone. — Emily and Matthew Clark, Spath Jewelers, Bartow, FL

2. Be open about your political beliefs

We are unapologetic about using our business and our platform to stand up for our beliefs, specifically in support of human rights, diversity and inclusion. We believe this is an investment in our community and the future. Some people may feel like a business should stay out of politics; we don’t. We won’t compromise our beliefs and don’t put a price tag on standing up for what is right. There is not a metric for doing business this way. — Bob Goodman, Robert Goodman Jewelers, Zionsville, IN

3. Stop producing bags or boxes

We don’t print our bags or boxes. They’re distinctive as we keep them the same and we encourage people to recycle them for gift giving. It makes us all feel good. — Sandra Locken, Sarini Fine Jewellery, Vulcan, AB

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4. Be closed more often

Two and a half years ago, we were drowning in work, always behind the 8-ball and under pressure. After studying daily sales records, I proved that the studio could be closed on Tuesdays to give us a day to just work. The shop catches up. I have a day to do business paperwork and running errands. We are available by appointment only, which gives us a great day to do design work. I promised my partner that if my assessment was not correct, and sales fell, I would change the plan. People are funny. The harder something it is to get, the more they want it. Sales held steady. No one freaked out. The shop no longer operates under stress. We are open 10 to 6 Wednesday through Friday and 9:30 to 3 on Saturdays. — Jo Goralski, The Jewelry Mechanic, Oconomowoc, WI

5. Don’t collect full payment up front

For custom design orders we do NOT collect full payment up front. We feel it is an added benefit for the client to have a little breathing room to not have to come up with a large payment all at once. The clients tell us they really appreciate it. — Joseph Villarreal, Villarreal Fine Jewelers, Austin, TX

6. Don’t buy the hot sellers

If a salesman tells me something is “hot,” I don’t buy it. Following the crowd is very bad for this store. Our customers are different. — Donald Killelea, Killelea Jewelers, Midlothian, IL

7. Talk people out of repairs

We talk people out of repairs every day, from suggestions on how to make their rings work in their present form to postponing expensive repairs until they are absolutely needed. We have gained restyling business and referrals from these customers as we are seen, and known, for doing what is needed, when it is needed, not over-selling repairs, but servicing our clients in what we feel is the best method. — Jonathan McCoy, McCoy Jewelers, Dubuque, IA

8. Let your employees make the rules

My employees make the rules, I am transparent about the numbers, we have a beer fridge … there’s a lot of non-traditional practices we have! — Jennifer Farnes, Revolution Jewelry Works, Colorado Springs, CO

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9. Buy jewelry you hate

We have three of us often in the buying decisions, and we always buy something that all three of us “hate.” Inevitably, it’s one of the first items to sell. We happened on this by accident and have run with it for years now! — Nicole Shannon, Keir Fine Jewelry, Whistler, BC

10. Hold onto old jewelry

I have an 80 year-old business. Some of the “treasures” I have held on to for one reason or another are now on display and selling rather well. It seems people are regularly checking to see what’s new in the old and estate jewelry. — Karen Schmitt, Straith’s Jewelers, Centralia, IL

11. Get behind on custom orders

I think by default, I have created a business advantage by being behind. I am so far out on custom order deliveries that it must be giving the impression that my services are really in demand. It’s like Groucho Marx once declared, “The only club I want to join is the one that won’t let me in.” The further in the hole my custom orders become, the more clients seek me out, mostly all by referral. — Murphy McMahon, Murphy McMahon & Co., Kalispell, MT

12. Show up late to work

I come in late every damn day. It works because I make my staff pick up the slack and I can hit the ground running when I get here. Seriously though, my staff is awesome and they know they have to be on the ball first thing in the morning because I am not. Don’t feel like changing that up at all. — Erika Godfrey, Hawthorne Jewelry, Kearney, NE

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Cover Stories

The 19 Contrarian Rules of Business

Don’t promise excellent service? Run annoying ads? Business leaders insist these counterintuitive principles work.

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TO MAKE A POINT about how our brains operate, the American neuroscientist Gregory Berns likes to encourage people to close their eyes and imagine the sun setting on a beach. If you just tried it, odds are the image that arose was the clichéd one — a warm tropical island scene, most likely framed by the frond of a coconut tree, awash in orange, as opposed to, say, a dark, wind-whipped pebble beach off the coast of northern Scotland.

The brain “is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat,” Berns writes in his book Iconoclast. It needs energy to operate and has evolved to use it as efficiently as possible. As a result, it defaults to shortcuts as it can — past experience, other people’s opinions, common practice — to avoid the taxing effort of perceiving or imagining afresh.

There are, of course, people who make it a habit to buck convention, who have a knack of seeing something no one else does. Berns refers to these disruptive original thinkers as “iconoclasts.” Generally, they are probably better known as contrarians. These are the brave and often odd souls whose questioning of the conventions of society or their professional field have repeatedly caused history to change course or leap forward.

In business, entrepreneurs are often contrarian by definition — they see value and opportunity where others do not. The contrarian investor Bill Gurley notes that “you can only make money by being right about something that most people think is wrong.”

The idea of being an independent spirit appeals to many. In a recent Brain Squad survey, 58 percent of our readers identified themselves as contrarians compared to 30 percent who said they were conformists and 12 percent who said they were neither. Of course, by definition, it’s not possible for the majority to be contrarian, even more so in a tradition-bound industry like jewelry. We suspect the result reflects most jewelers’ thoughts of themselves as independent operators charting their own destinies in a world where most of their fellow citizens opt for the security of more regular employment.

It is not easy being a true contrarian. There is the risk of ridicule, having to live with constant uncertainty. Being contrarian for the sake of contrarianism is pointless.

There is, unromantically, much to be said for doing things the timeworn “best practice” way. We thus begin our exploration of contrarianism with a caveat — doing something differently is exciting, possibly liberating, often far more lucrative than the conventional way … and often dangerous. Go charging away from the herd with care. Ultimately, you want to choose the ideas — new or old, intuitive or rational, bizarre or conventional — that serve you best.

The customer is not always right

1It’s actually irrelevant if a customer is right or wrong. This is, after all, a commercial transaction, not a debate. Just because a customer wants, needs, or expects something does not mean that delivering it is the best thing for your business. Indeed, “keeping certain customers happy can be a horribly inefficient and downright distracting way to run a business,” note Brent Adamson, Matthew Dixon, and Nicholas Toman in an article in the Harvard Business Review. It’s also not much fun.

As a business owner, you need to make decisions that best apply your company’s capital, intellectual energy, and product capabilities. Rather than customer satisfaction, the ultimate goal should be running a sustainable business. Have a written, legally defensible terms of service statement, warranties, guarantees, and a simple process to determine which clients or customers deliver the strongest ROI and which are actually costing you money. In some cases, it’s better for long-term growth (not to mention store morale) to jettison a high-maintenance client and focus on improving the quality of your customer base.

Ignore terrific opportunities

2One of the dangers of business success is that it leads to more opportunities. Pursue them at your peril. In business, there is always a trade-off. Doing one thing well invariably means you can’t do another at a high level as you spread yourself too thin. The result is a damaging mediocrity.

In his book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit Of Less, Greg McKeown cites studies that show the loss of focus is a key reason companies fail. The antidote? Spurning good opportunities. “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well,” he says. “Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

Don’t give your staff the resources they need to fix a problem

3Constraints breed resourcefulness. This is an idea that has been gaining influence in business circles for the last few years. “Is there something in the nature of constraints that brings out the best creativity?” writes Scott Berkun, the author of Mindfire: Big Ideas For Curious Minds. Consider a good haiku or sonnet, and the answer is obviously yes: it’s precisely the limits of the form that inspire new ways of working inside them. In the workplace, that means no more “blue sky” brainstorming: if you want the best answers to a question, focus it narrowly; consider a time limit, too. Google sometimes puts fewer engineers on a problem than it needs; it inspires ingenuity. Behind all this is the counterintuitive insight that discipline and structure are often the path to freedom, not its enemy. See constraints as a game. Not only are games about fun, but they are distinguished by the rules that govern them.

Forget trying to fix your weaknesses

4In a series of bestselling books, the Gallup consultant Marcus Buckingham has made a persuasive case for a strengths-based approach to life and business: it’s both more effective and more enjoyable, he argues, than struggling to fix your weak spots. According to Buckingham, most people try to “plug” their weaknesses, while the really successful focus on exploiting strengths. You’ll rarely improve a weakness beyond mediocrity, argues Buckingham, not least because it’s hard to invest sustained energy in something you don’t enjoy. If you truly know what you’re bad at, you’re already ahead of the pack. Don’t throw that away by wasting your time getting slightly less bad.

Don’t believe in long work

5Few things are as American as the belief in the merit of hard work. The problem is too many small business people confuse work and progress. A day when lots of things get done, when you arrive home exhausted after holding six meetings with staff and vendors, clearing 300 emails from your inbox, and finally straightening those old files in the backroom, sort of feels like a productive day, but it’s unlikely to have helped your business take the next step forward. Marketer Seth Godin calls this bias for efficiency over effectiveness “the trap of long work.”
“Long work is what the lawyer who bills 14 hours a day filling in forms does.
Hard work is what the insightful litigator does when she synthesizes four disparate ideas and comes up with an argument that wins the case—in less than five minutes.

“Hard work is frightening because you might fail. You can’t fail at long work, you merely show up.”

The management guru Peter Drucker suggested the best way to address this issue was by constantly asking yourself the question, “What’s the most important thing for me to be doing right now?”

Think small

6In his 1994 book Built To Last, Jim Collins introduced the world to Big Hairy Audacious Goals, or BHAGs, his term for the ambitious long-term goals that he argued galvanized successful companies. And it seems the term is rolled out in every discussion of good business practice. But the problem is that the excitement, energy, and envelope-pushing boldness stirred up by such endeavors often dissipates quickly in the face of the day-to-day running of business. Worse, such big-picture thinking, telling yourself something is epic and of crucial importance, often leads to fear, resistance and ultimately inertia and disappointment. As the psychologist John Eliot writes in his book Overachievement, “Nothing discourages the concentration necessary to perform well … more than worrying about the outcome.” The marathon runner who’s reached a state of “flow” isn’t visualizing the finish line, but looking through a narrower lens, focusing on one stride, then another, then another. Like the formula for contentment (happiness = reality – expectations), it’s often better to forget the end goal, aim low and just focus on the process if you really want to get things done. This can apply to everything from setting low targets for salespeople (spurred on by achieving the goal, they will often break through and hit a higher number) to big projects. The young Jerry Seinfeld’s scriptwriting technique involved marking an X on a calendar for every day he sat and typed. His goal was an unbroken chain of Xs. If he’d aimed instead to write masterful jokes, he’d have been distracted and intimidated.

Forget audacious. Just go do it.

Get rid of the rules

7Too often, managers assume the key to improvement must be clearer procedures, more exactingly enforced. But the result is organizational structures that permit zero autonomy — and extremely annoying customer service (“Sorry, sir, our policy doesn’t allow you to …”). Perhaps even worse is that such management fails to capitalize on the talents of those lower down the hierarchy. Zappos’ contrarian founder Tony Hsieh made headlines a few years back when he said he was rolling out “Management by Holacracy,” which eliminates the traditional oversight role of the manager and instead relies on the employees themselves to decide how to get their day-to-day responsibilities completed on the basis that they probably know best. That may be too much for most business owners, but according to Harvard Business School research, “loose monitoring” of employees makes for higher profits as well as happier workplaces. Striking the right balance between autonomy and control is very likely the essence of being a good manager.

Give away your time

8Overwhelmed by work? Feel you are in a constant race against the clock to get things done? Try making some time for others. “While it might seem counterintuitive to sacrifice some of the very thing you think you don’t have enough of, our research shows that giving a bit of time away may, in fact, make people feel less pressed for time,” Cassie Mogilner Holmes, an associate professor at UCLA and Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard told the Wall Street Journal. Another hack to deal with time scarcity — erase a day from your schedule. Busy? Don’t schedule anything for Fridays. The work you didn’t get done will flow over, and you’ll finally knock off those to-do list items.

Hire more introverts

9On the surface, introverts don’t seem to have the makings of great salespeople or even managers. Social interaction tires them, they have trouble with insincere flattery, they don’t like to push people, and they don’t tend to contribute vocally to meetings or brainstorming sessions. But there are positive flipsides to all this: introverts tend to demonstrate a higher degree of sensitivity in emotional interactions, they are more likely to be experts in their field, they are less likely to be yes-men or women, and as for managing people, they do better than extroverts when the staff itself is full of self-directed go-getters. “Although extroverted leadership enhances group performance when employees are passive, this effect reverses when employees are proactive, because extroverted leaders are less receptive to proactivity,” says Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Be last to market

10Among business gurus, few things are as unquestioned as the notion that innovation is the path to success. “Innovate or die!” goes one mantra. Yet if innovation were a surefire way for companies to achieve dominance, the world might look very different. White Castle, RC Cola, and Diners Club were all innovators, but think of fast-food, soft drinks and credit cards, and those are unlikely to be the first names that come to mind. The upsides of unoriginality are clear: imitators let others make the costly mistakes, and then incorporate the lessons learned into a far better product. (Exhibit A: the iPhone.) In his book Copycats, the management theorist Oded Shenkar argues we need “to change the mindset that imitation is an embarrassing nuisance.” Rather, it’s a “rare and complex” capability, one we could all do with cultivating, he says. In his book Zero To One, Peter Thiel argues that “it’s much better to make the last great development in a specific market and enjoy years or even decades of monopoly profits.”

Run annoying ads … often

11There’s a reason that grating TV ads work: the more they grate, the more you’ll notice them, and noticing — thanks to what psychologists call the “mere exposure effect” — leads to liking.

Depressingly, whatever we’re repeatedly exposed to, and regardless of any other reason to like or dislike it, we’ll end up growing fond of. According to Roy H. Williams, author of The Wizard Of Ads, there’s actually no way for successful advertising to avoid being irritating to some degree. “Ads that twist our attention away from what we’d been doing are always a bit annoying,” he says. But if you fail to get your audience’s attention, your ad has failed at the first hurdle. “Consequently, most ads aren’t written to persuade; they’re written not to offend. But the kinds of ads that produce results make us answer yes to these three questions: Did it get my attention? Was it relevant? Did I believe it?” Williams claims 98.9 percent of all the customers who hate your ads will still come to your store and buy from you when they need what you sell. “These customers don’t cost you money; they just complain to the cashier as they’re handing over their cash.”

Stop holding meetings

12Jim Buckmaster, chief executive of Craigslist, has a simple policy: “No meetings, ever.” There are several reasons why meetings don’t work. They move, in the words of the career coach Dale Dauten, “at the pace of the slowest mind in the room,” so that “all but one participant will be bored, all but one mind underused.” A key purpose of meetings is information transfer, but they’re based on the assumption that people absorb information best by hearing it, when only a minority of us are “auditory learners.” The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one is this: is it a “status-report” meeting, designed for employees to tell each other things? If so, it’s probably better handled on email or paper. That leaves a minority of “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds itself — for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

Drop some F-bombs

13The jewelry world is one of refinement, education and professionalism, not the place for profanity. Yet swearing, when done judiciously, according to various psychologists, boosts endorphins, promotes social bonding and makes people more persuasive. Periodically, let your staff and customers know you’re human.

Stop asking, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”

14Hiring employees who will challenge management is another staple of business advice, but everyone has probably worked with “yes, but” employees who basically oppose every new idea and approach. To find true contrarians, Thiel in his book Zero To One recommends asking the following question when interviewing employees: “Tell me something that’s true that nobody believes in.” (God, global warming and aliens don’t cut it.)

Don’t ask for the sale

15The traditional approach to selling says tout the benefits, close throughout, close with an assumption and then push for the add-on followed by another. You’re just efficiently taking the customer in a direction she wanted to go anyway. In contrast, the “slow sales” movement, which has been gaining ground for a few years, argues that there are intelligent, deliberate customers who prefer an almost “do-it-your self” zero-pressure environment. Granted, getting them to the cash register may take longer. But according to INC magazine, this technique alleviates the extra costs of post-purchase dissonance from returns, customer service time, negative feedback, and customer churn.

Look for mentors and staff who do it the “wrong way”

16Tim Ferriss has an interesting approach to considering contrarians: Be on the lookout for the anomalies, like the wispy girl who can deadlift 405 pounds. They’re performing with techniques rather than genes. “These iconoclasts show the differences in techniques and attributes,” he says. “If someone has become really good at doing something in a very nonstandard way, you can infer that the standard path isn’t necessarily the best methodology for learning a skill.”

Don’t promise excellent customer service

17Ask independent jewelers what is their point of competitive advantage and they’ll overwhelmingly say excellent customer service. But, something big corporations know (but never publicly say) is that delivering excellent customer service ultimately results in unhappy customers. Thus the field of “expectations management.” “If you want satisfied customers, it’s certainly wise to act in ways that will satisfy them. But it’s also wise to pay attention to (and, if possible, influence) their criteria for feeling satisfied,” writes Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian. Training customers, employees, and partners not to expect a “yes” in response to every single request might be crucial for preserving sanity. Far better to have a reputation as a jeweler who, for example, turns around a repair within three days than one who does it overnight — because in the latter case, as soon as you fail to deliver on that tight deadline, you’ll be seen as underperforming.

Ask customers for favors

18The “Ben Franklin effect” states that if you want to get someone to like you, you should ask him or her to do you a favor. The strategy, named for the founding father’s habit of borrowing books from opposing politicians to win them over, works because humans hate cognitive dissonance: we can’t stand a mismatch between our actions and thoughts. So if we find ourselves helping someone out, we’ll unconsciously adjust our feelings for them. The implications are striking. Don’t suck up to your customers — ask for favors or even just their opinions (“Where do you think the economy is headed?”).

Don’t be so professional

19We live in an era with more opportunity than ever to burnish the image we’re projecting, and more pressure than ever to do so. But in her new book, Cringeworthy: A Theory Of Awkwardness, Melissa Dahl makes a persuasive case for celebrating those times when “someone’s presentation of themselves … is shown to be incompatible with reality in a way that can’t be smoothed over.” Awkwardness pierces that facade, exposing the imperfect life behind it. Quoting the words of the philosopher Adam Kotsko, she says it creates “a weird kind of social bond” — a solidarity arising from seeing that behind the fakery, we’re all just trying our best to seem competent. The awkward you, then, is the real you, the one without the defensive performance. And people will like you for it.

Click here for 8 more Contrarian Rules, as well as the exclusive online article, “12 Contrarian Rules of Jewelry Retail.”

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Cover Stories

Holiday True Tales

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on

Any random day in the life of a jeweler provides plenty of stories to tell – whether those tales are heartwarming, infuriating, funny or odd. But once the holidays are on the horizon, those stories become more and more, shall we say, interesting. Here is a compilation of some of our favorites, culled from reports from the front lines of fine-jewelry retail. Go forth bravely this season, and bring your sense of humor!

THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

1 During the 2016 holiday season, we were down two employees (one on maternity leave, one on medical leave). It was chaos and those of us who were working don’t remember much about it … except for meltdown lady. A client came in the week before Christmas to have us refurbish a chemically damaged ring (cracked and missing metal). We told her because of our schedule we couldn’t guarantee a Christmas delivery, and she yelled at me that she thought we were professionals. I said we would try, but again reiterated there were no guarantees. She came in two days later to pick it up (Christmas was still five days away) and we told her we hadn’t even had a chance to look at it yet. She crossed her arms, stomped her feet, and proceeded to have a toddler-style meltdown in the middle of our packed showroom. My lead jeweler volunteered to stay late to do the work if she would just pay and leave. I offered to ship it to her so I wouldn’t have to see her again. Of course, the day after Christmas she was in with the daughter because the ring was four sizes too small (we were only repairing the breaks). It was clearly our fault the ring was the wrong size and she demanded we size it up for free while she waited. I promptly told her our only guarantee was on the ring repair and not on the size — and she could pay for the sizing, pay the rush fee if she wanted it while she waited, or find the door. She left the ring, we sized it, and when she came to pick it up, she got in a few jabs about how we should have known it needed to be sized (we had never met her daughter). I told her after her behavior in our studio three times that she was no longer welcome to return. It was my first client “firing” and it felt good!!! jennifer farnes, revolution jewelry works, colorado springs, co

SOMETHING BORROWED

2 We had a customer who wanted to purchase three or four high-end rings, let his wife wear them through New Year’s and then let her keep one and bring back the others. I told him we would not take back anything that was worn. He said fine, he would shop elsewhere. I thanked him. rosanne kroen, rosanne’s diamonds & gold, south bend, in

CHARMED, I’M SURE

3 We had a client tell us they needed eight ugly-sweater charms for Christmas, and it was the 21st of December. All custom made. It was an unusual request since we never saw an ugly-sweater charm before and only had three days to make up the charms. The client offered to pay more than the usual asking price because of the short notice. We made the charms, the customer came back in and was ecstatic. He ended up sending us a gift card to our local Brazilian steakhouse and a picture of everyone wearing their ugly sweater with their matching ugly-sweater charm. lyla ismael, lyla jewelers, oak lawn, il

THAT TAKES THE CAKE

4 A customer in her 80s is downsizing and found a gold-plated cake knife in our box, in mint condition, engraved with her in-laws’ names and 50th anniversary date. She wants to return it! cathy graves, ellis jewelers, frankfort, in

WRAPPER’S DELIGHT

5 One Christmas season, I was wrapping an item that a female customer had just purchased. She said, “Wow, I can’t believe you still wrap!” I replied, “Yes, we will always offer to wrap for you, no problem.” She returned later that afternoon with the presents she had purchased at the mall the same day for us to also wrap! nancy carbonetti, stephen’s jewelers, wilmington, de

THE MOONSHOT

6 The Christmas hot seller a few years back was the Bulova Accutron watch. A man comes in looking for the “Astronaut.” I show it to him, but he just can’t pull the trigger and leaves. Next day he comes in, looks again but can’t decide. I introduce him to the assistant manager. He leaves to think about it. The man comes in several more times and finally says he will be back on Christmas Eve to purchase the watch. Fast forward to Christmas Eve, and we are closed and pulling the merchandise for the night, nearly ready to have a toast and call it a season. The man comes to the entrance and rattles the door, trying desperately to get in. The manager says, “Who the #!*# is that?” I tell him the man has come back to purchase the Accutron Astronaut. Manager lets him in and after trying it on he says … “I’ll be back after Christmas!” don delano, jl jewelers, tampa, fl

THE TICKING CLOCK

7 I was working with a customer last Christmas on an engagement ring. He wanted it for New Year’s Eve, but because we close the week after Christmas, it had to be completed Christmas Eve. It was Dec. 21 and he needed to decide on which diamond he wanted. He was running late and I told him I did not mind staying late. We closed at 7 and he arrived at 7:30. He kept going back and forth between diamonds for four hours. Finally, at 11:45, I told him he had 15 minutes to make up his mind because I was going home at midnight. Plus, I still had to make a custom setting for the ring! I will go the extra mile for a customer, but he almost went too far. It was a $24,000 sale, so I guess it was worth it. rick sanders, sanders jewelers, gainesville, fl

CELEBRITY APPEARANCE

8

We kept the store open after closing on Christmas Eve for a huge, internationally known celebrity thinking he was going to make a very large purchase. After the long season, everyone was looking forward to getting to their families and a little R&R, but we stayed (the whole crew) more than an hour in hopes that this guy was going to make it all worthwhile. In the end, he purchased a $64 pair of pearl studs. Well, at least we can say he shops with us at Christmas. Maybe next time!!? jon walp, long jewelers, virginia beach, va

PREGNANT WITH ANTICIPATION

9

09 When I lived and had my workshop on a small farm, there was a loud knock on the front door on a wild and windy night. I open the door to find a bedraggled elderly lady holding a very fat Chihuahua. She said that her dog was about to give birth and she immediately thought of me as I had a few sheep and was used to working with small things. gordon laurie, eidos, santa fe, nm

TIME FLIES

10
One fellow came in late afternoon on Christmas Eve with a complicated custom ring design. I priced it out, he agreed, then he said, “I can pick this up tomorrow, right?” When I regained my composure to answer, no, it would take us two weeks to make, he responded, “But it’s all she wants for Christmas! She gave me the design in October!” russell criswell, vulcan’s forge, kansas city, mo

THE CONNOISSEUR

11I once had a customer whom I would consider a Mr. Know It All. He was shopping for an engagement ring, and after showing him multiple diamonds, I decided to have a little fun and test his knowledge of diamonds. I showed him a larger cubic zirconia, and after examining the stone, he gave me his thoughts and pointed out what he liked and didn’t like about the stone. I then told him it was in fact a cubic zirconia. We had a good laugh and I gained his trust. He is actually now one of my best customers and a good friend. james stinson, diamond classics, mcminnville, tn

THE MARATHON LOSER

12 It’s Christmas 2011. A young man comes into the store looking at jewelry. He asks to see an $1,800 gold chain. The sales associate shows him and he decides to run out the front door with the chain without paying for it. The sales associate screams, “He has our chain!” Dress shoes and all, I go running after the bandit. Little does he know that I have been training for the past two years for a major ski trip and an upcoming 10K race. Our mailman sees what is going on as I am screaming at the chain bandit and begins to run with me. The UPS guy sees what’s going on and parks his truck in the middle of the road and helps us. After a few hundred yards or so, two young men on their bikes see what’s happening, ride in front of the chain burglar, drop their bikes and tackle the idiot. Cops show up and the rest is history. We get the chain back, he goes to jail and no one is hurt. Just another day in retail! greg raskin, raskin’s jewelers, prescott, az

RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH

13 One Christmas season, I snuck out of the shop just to run down a few doors for a soda. When I left, my associate was helping a college student pick out a gift. In the meantime, an older gentleman came in to find something, too. (Yes, I know that I left her alone while already tied up with one client … argh… I should be embarrassed, but whatever!) Anyway, the old guy that came in was upset he had to wait, yelled at her and started walking out the door. The college kid says to him as sweetly as possible, “Merry Christmas, ya A$$hole!” Sometimes those things that would feel so good to say in retail actually get said (thankfully, by someone else)! erika godfrey, hawthorne jewelry, kearney, ne

HIS FINAL MISTAKE

14 A customer bought his wife a Christmas gift and then bought one for his girlfriend as well. After he mixed up the packages, his wife came in, stating that he must have switched the package and given his girlfriend her gift because she would never wear the present he gave her. She ended up exchanging the gift for another piece on a slight up-charge of about $12,000. I don’t know if these people are still married, but instincts would tell me no. marc majors, sam l. majors, midland, tx

TURNS OUT, SANTA JUST ISN’T FUNNY

15 One Christmas Eve, a gentleman came in the front door dressed as Santa Claus. Within seconds of entering the store, he announced, “This is a stick up.” We had already called 911 before we realized that it was our local hardware store owner who had been enjoying too much holiday cheer wanting to spread a little of his cheer and trying to making a joke. No one else found his joke amusing. james sickinger, sickinger’s jewelry, lowell, in

CHRISTMAS EVE ON ICE

16 The goofiest Christmas customer request I got came a few years ago when cellphones were the size of large lunch boxes. This customer called me from the center of Mille Lacs Lake while ice fishing at about 4 p.m. and said he forgot that this was Christmas Eve and would I wait for him to get to town in about an hour and a half. Needless to say, I agreed and showed no mercy when he came in. I sold him the second-highest priced item in the store (I couldn’t quite get him to buy the highest priced item). I always felt that this was fair because he published most of the phone directories in Minnesota and we all know how pushy they used to be. ed menk, e.l. menk jewelers, brainerd, mn

DECIMALS MATTER

17 We had a customer come in at the last minute on Christmas Eve wanting to look at the prettiest pair of diamond earrings we had in the store. My staff showed him a gorgeous pair of earrings with a cost of $4,295. The customer was thrilled, had us wrap them up and proceeded to write us a check for $42.95! andrew russakoff, russakoff jewelers, skowhegen, me

GOD KNOWS HE TRIED

18 I had a gentleman buy a ring and then marry himself to God in front of one of our mirrors. He came back the following week requesting a refund of the ring. Oh my. jill keith, enchanted jewelry, danielson, ct

A TALE OF TWO RINGS

19 Our favorite story from any holiday happened probably 25 years ago. Dad and I were discussing the sales of a busy December day. After a crazy discussion, we realized he and I had sold an engagement ring to two different guys within an hour apart. Each was asking the same girl to marry them. The girl was the daughter of one of my dad’s friends. She had been dating one of the young men for six years, the other for six months. She told them both no. She is still a customer, and married to a different guy. hugh harby, harby jewelers, jacksonville, fl

DESIGNATED DRIVER

20 An extremely nervous groom-to-be “celebrated” his purchase with so many celebratory shots that I had to drive him home! I made a customer for life! dennis petimezas, watchmakers diamonds & jewelry, johnstown, pa

LIGHTS, CAMERAS, ACTION!

21 We had a customer who wanted to create an amazing Christmas experience for his wife here in our store. He purchased an amazing piece of jewelry then gave us directions on the special day. We have a large showroom with a staircase at the south end that leads to offices and the staff break room. He explained he wanted Santa at the top of the stairs with a bell. On his cue, Santa was to appear on the stairs ringing his Christmas bell and carrying the wrapped gift. He took his wife to lunch and let us know they would be in around 1:30. We rented a Santa costume and our jeweler became Santa. Two female associates stood at the bottom of the stairs to give Santa the cue to come down. Our customer was to let us know when Santa was to make his entrance. At the last minute he decided he wanted the girls at the bottom of the stairs to sing Jingle Bells. They were a bit panicked but agreed. The customer gave the word, the singing began and Santa came down the stairs ringing his bell. The customer’s wife was surprised and delighted. The store was very busy with Christmas shoppers. We still have customers that remind of us this amazing memory. georgena kincaid, gold casters fine jewelry, bloomington, in

JUST LOOKING FOR TROUBLE

22 At 4:55 p.m. on Christmas Eve, a gentleman strode in and did a power look. My friend D walked up to him at the counter with a freshly applied smile. He said, “I’m just looking.” To my surprise, D said: “No you’re not. You’re in deep trouble. Now what can I help you with?” He walked out with a box! steven wardle, forest beach design, chatham, ma

AT LAST, SOMETHING SWEET

23 I was waiting on a family. The grandma really loved a pair of earrings, but they just didn’t have the $99 to buy them. We continued talking, and a few minutes later, one of our sales associates came over. She had a wrapped Christmas gift for the grandma. She unwrapped the gift and it was the earrings she wanted! Seems another client decided to be our “Christmas Angel!” She created a joyous time that touched all of us. debbie fox, fox fine jewelry, ventura, ca

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