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How to Respond to Specific Jewelry Requests from Clients, And More of Your Questions Answered

This includes a new approach to handing out criticism that works better than the “sandwich” method.

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We’ll start our 2023 planning soon. As a progressive leader, I have in the past sought input from staff, but honestly, they so rarely come up with useful ideas. And it’s time-consuming ensuring everyone feels heard. Is it really such a downer to simply impose our ideas top down?

It’s true that brilliant individuals will come up with more creative ideas than any “design by committee” approach, but individuals also come up with the worst ideas. The real wisdom of crowds is that they will weed out the terrible ideas (see Putin and “Let’s invade Ukraine”). It helps too to keep in mind some of the dynamics of group situations when planning: One is that groups tend to be only smart as their most confident member. When someone, usually the boss, argues forcefully for something, the rest of the crowd will fall into line (Putin again). The best-selling organizational psychologist Adam Grant thus suggests creating a schedule of intermittent collaboration, where you balance time working separately and together with your teams, with initial ideas proposed in writing to be winnowed down to a short list. As the strong leader you no doubt are, you will benefit from exposure to the best of out-of-the-box thinking of the individual mind as well as thoughts about the things that could go wrong without too much of the rambling brainstorming that can happen when you open the floor and call for ideas. In crowds you should probably trust.

When someone is very specific about the diamond they want — say, a 1-carat, G color, SI2 clarity they saw online — what’s the best way to respond? Get it for them? Try to upsell them?

Yes, you want to give the customer what he or she wants, but keep in mind, you’re a jeweler, not a fulfillment center. Your overall goal should be to provide value. If the client took the time to get in their car and come see you, they are looking for someone to educate them and build a relationship with, notes jewelry store consultant Megan Crabtree. Work that to your advantage. “Get to know them, ask who the diamond is for, and ask why they chose this diamond,” she says. Then pull the diamond up online and share with them why the price is what it is. It could have BGM hues — brown, green, and milky tints — that devalue the diamond and cause it to lose brilliance, she notes. It could be that it measures smaller or has strong fluorescence. “Whatever it is, be the expert and educate your client. Once you do educate them, they will then trust you to handpick a diamond you believe would meet their needs and budget.” It should also be the start of a wonderful, enduring relationship.

The “sandwich” approach to handing out criticism (open with some praise, then offer the criticism, then close with some more praise to leave the person feeling good) seems to have gone out of fashion. Is there a better way?

The sandwich model is based on the idea that it’s easier for people to accept negative feedback when they also hear about what’s going well. And while it’s true that it’s better to end on an encouraging note, there is a real danger of diluting your message when there’s too much of a mix of good and bad commentary. This is especially the case if the issue at hand is a serious breach of your store standards. In such situations, there should be no sugar-coating of the core message: “This can’t happen again.” Another problem with the sandwich is that if your employees start to recognize what you’re doing, they may begin bracing for criticism every time you open a conversation with praise. It can also make any compliment (which should be a powerful motivating tool) seem insincere.

A better approach? Offer the bad news first. Be clear about what went wrong and why it matters. Then give the positive news. Most important, make this latter portion of the feedback specific and actionable. Ideally, you want this incident to be something your employee learns from. You also want your employees to get used to the idea that feedback is a normal part of the work experience. The best bosses offer feedback incessantly. And when staff believe you are fully invested in their growth, even the most plain-spoken criticism will come across as supportive. No need for mayo.

As we’ve grown, I feel we’ve become more rule-bound and lost some of our indie spirit. How do we stop sliding into the sort of entity that makes chain jewelers such a sterile experience?

It’s a tough balance. Growth requires structure and policies to guide employee behavior, but obviously you don’t want to stifle the personality and creativity of your most important asset: your staff. It sounds like you need to give more power to employees, such as the permission to solve issues how they feel best below a certain price point. It will also help to regularly ask them, “What one thing can I do to make it easier for you to do your jobs?” In their book Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them, authors Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini recommend starting with a Bureaucracy Personal Inventory. The idea is that at the end of every week you test whether you’ve acted like a bureaucrat or a human being by asking yourself questions such as:

  • Did I hold onto power when I should have shared it?
  • Did I fail to challenge a counterproductive policy because “it’s the way we’ve always done it”?
  • Did I play it safe when I should have been bold?

Hamel and Zanini claim that bureaucracies will start to crumble when more of us just stop acting like bureaucrats.

Over the years, INSTORE has won 80 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INSTORE's editors at [email protected].

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