Posting Our Rules

Unless you’ve been flush with cash your entire life, you’ve probably shopped at a non-union grocery store.

I spent much of my early childhood in rural Californa, bouncing between “The Grocery Outlet” and “The Alpha-Beta.”

For those of you who’ve only shopped national chains like Kroger, Albertsons, or Safeway, non-union grocers are able to sell “quality products for less” because they do not offer certain services to their customers or employees.

You pay for what you get, and you get only what you’re willing to pay for.

Finding a non-union store isn’t hard. Just look for a grocery store that is being picketed by a lone protester who:

1.) Isn’t holding his sign right side up.
B.) Is listening to a bright yellow DiscMan.
3.) Never worked there… because he’s being paid to protest, by a union.

A non-union store doesn’t spend the same amount of money training, insuring, or paying their employees.

You also won’t find a Starbucks or a bank in their store. Often the lighting is spotty, the refrigerators loud, and the background music non-existent.

Non-union grocers provide great product value at the expense of employee and customer service.

This mean’s that you’ll regularly save a gang of money, while finding yourself having some pretty… interesting… experiences.

In Oregon we have WinCo foods. For the most part they do their darndest to provide shoppers with great value, but I’ve noticed that what is happening on WinCo’s property is significantly different that everything happening just 6 inches off their property.

A strange transformation overcomes human beings once they drive into the parking lot.

Immediately upon crossing the boundary of a WinCo, cars begin driving about 70 MPH while people become incapable of walking more than 1 MPH. It’s like a demolition derby has suddenly become infiltrated by a cadre of mall-walkers, each party desperate to park, or reach, their respective car.

I know that WinCo is successful because there are at least 3,000 spaces in their parking lot, and none of them are ever available.

This is probably what causes a typical customer to become as inconsiderate as a jaguar shark, impatient as a brahma bull, and as territorial as a Bengal… wait for it…cheerleader, long before they ever get inside the market.

Once inside, it becomes apparent that human society has fallen into a state that makes “Beyond Thunderdome” look like Rufio’s dinner table.

Inside of a WinCo, people begin operating shopping carts at the same speed as the people outside the WinCo are walking, while the walkers begin operating at speeds faster than the cars outside are driving.

I regularly see moms with 4 or 5 kids launching them on sorties throughout the store while they silently roll carts double-wide down the canned food aisle, mercilessly crushing any oncoming resistance. Her children orbit the carts, returning with goods from other ailses, then dispatched to other departments for more.

Some mothers, fearing for their undersized brood, fill their cart with children and have them grabbing at items as they cruise through section after section.

Do not attempt to pass this cart in an aisle.

Getting caught between the flailing arms and the items on the shelves only results in a predicament similar to being accosted by a wire basket full of tiny octopi.

Unattended childrend spend hours plunging their filthy hands into barrels of bulk candy and dried beans, while teenagers wander the store consuming opened boxes of Hostess products and energy drinks.

Men drift listlessly through the congestion, hopelessly lost, staring at cell phones devoid of any reception.

People would never behave this way at Fred Meyer.

I casually strolled into this scenario with my wife last Friday. I felt like a gunfighter who had wandered into the streets of a frontier city devoid of sensible lawmen, unaware that I was about to meet the town Marshall.

Rounding a corner I was confronted by the largest bag of Juanita’s brand chips I have ever seen. If you’ve never experienced them, Juanitas are quite possibly Oregon’s finest export since the Marionberry… or the beard.

I immediately took out my cell phone to document this bonanza.

Before I could put my phone away I was confronted by an employee who, quite sternly, forced me to delete the photograph. I was completely unaware that I had broken the store’s rules.

I apologized and explained my ignorance.

This didn’t make much difference to the employee. As far as she was knew, “I could have been a corporate spy.” She re-iterated that photography was “not allowed in the store.” When I asked her if this was posted anywhere, she responded that she didn’t know but , “It’s pretty well-known that you don’t take pictures in a store.”

I asked her how someone who didn’t work at the store would know this?

She reiterated that it wasn’t allowed, and then asked why I would be “taking pictures of a bag of chips anyway?” My reply was simply that “I don’t see a massive bag of chips everyday.”

I realized then that she knew the unwritten rules of her industry for the same reason she failed to be impressed by a gigantic bag of chips, familiarity.

Conversely, I was ignorant of their standards for the same reason I was impressed by a giant bag of chips, I was new on the scene.

It wasn’t important to her that I know her rules, only that I didn’t break them.

By not posting the rules, and expecting me to learn them as I broke them, the store was demonstrating that their leadership style is “corrective” as opposed to “instructive.”

While correction is truly something that leaders must do, it’s important to remember that, without instruction, corrective measures can only bring awkwardness, embarrassment and shame to the people that we lead.

I didn’t get angry at the employee, it was obvious that she was also a victim of poor training (instruction) who had been tasked with enforcing an unpublished security policy.

After checking out, and bagging my own bulk candy, I stopped by the service desk to find out if a no photography rule is posted at the store.

It isn’t, but I was told that it’s “just wrong on so many levels”.

When I told the service clerk that I understood, and agreed with, but had no way of knowing the rule, she encouraged me not to do it anymore and began helping the next customer.

I can understand that my input on this issue is not a service that my local non-union grocer is interested in… even for free.

Which is why I’m encouraging the rest of us to understand that leadership and service are really only done well when they are performed instructively, then correctively.

Getting angry with people for breaking unwritten rules damages our relationships because it wrongly blames others for our failure.

Good leaders always tell people where they are headed, and what they’re going to experience along the way.

This instruction not only proves that the leader knows what they are doing, but that they’ve also been successful in this endeavor before.

Good instruction creates trust, and allows for the acceptance of correction.

Leaders, what are the unwritten rules of our organizations, families, churches, or jobs?

How are people supposed to learn them?

How are we attempting to communicate them?

Is this taken into consideration when we have to take corrective measures?

Answering these kinds of of questions is an essential step in determining how successful we are at passing our values on to the people that we lead.

Because we’re asking others to pay for it if we don’t.

Note: I continue to shop and enjoy WinCo. This isn’t a post about WinCo, it’s a post about humanity.

2 Responses to “Posting Our Rules”

  1. Andy Pullen April 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    T-shirt idea:

    Oregon… putting the ‘O’ in WinCo since 1999.

  2. Jon April 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm #


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