Sunday, January 23, 2011

Grocery Store offers Food for Thought for the Airline Industry

Regular readers of Flying Lessons may have discerned a theme: what aviation knows about how to improve human performance can and should be applied to a host of other endeavors. My trip to the Fairway supermarket in Stamford, Connecticut yesterday made me realize that this remarkable grocery store can teach something to the airline industry.

What does a typical produce manager, butcher, customer service clerk, check-out cashier earn? Beats me. I'm guessing though that it is an hourly wage and very often probably does not seem to be adequate compensation for dealing with the dangers inherent in the meat slicer, or the discomfort of the industrial freezer or the wrath of customers, hungry, harried and often distracted and disgruntled. In short, grocery store workers have a number of things in common with airline employees without the benefits of working in an field considered glamorous and sexy.

Nevertheless, on every visit to the Stamford Fairway, the employees have adopted an attitude that there's no place they'd rather be and no one other than me they'd rather assist. Last night in fact, one worker cheerfully relieved my husband of a garbage-sized bag of recyclable bottles, offering to tally up the refunds and have the credit waiting for us at check-out. "Don't worry about this," he said, "just do your shopping and come back when you're ready."

Photo by Bill Hilson and courtesy of Fairway
Fairway, for those of you unfamiliar with this New York area grocery store chain, is not a high-end, gourmet food emporium. Though the selection is great, prices are in line with the regular run-of-the-mill supermarkets. It's the employees who are first-class and I have found them to be so on every visit.
It's so remarkable, that I've started asking them, "What gives? Were you trained to be helpful and friendly to the customers?" Nope, they've said, they just like their jobs and like each other.

As far as I'm concerned this is a ringing endorsement of the hiring practices at the Stamford store. Making sure happy employees stay that way is attributable to management, so far so good. Kudos to that person, too.

American, Delta, USAirways, United, and the rest of you, may I suggest a field trip? Bundle up your HR folks and put them on a plane to New York where, after squeezing the produce and eyeballing the fish, they can lunch in Stamford's Fairway cafe and consider how to bottle up, bring back home and sell to the bosses whatever it is that's working so gosh-darn well at Fairway. Food for thought anyway.


Grumpy said...

Southwest Airlines' founder Herb Kelleher used to say that he hired people with "the right attitude", because he could always "teach aptitude." Note Southwest's current TV promotion featuring a jury composed of its total employee base, from 4-striper to "ramp rat," making fun of the "management rep" who tries to justify extra charges. Years ago, Delta A/L used to consider itself a big family. Unfortunately that's not the case there any more, in ATL anyway. If you can manage to use some of the "lesser" airports, you can still find those attitudes. And of course, there's always Southwest.

Anonymous said...

That store no doubt isn't unionised...

And indeed, they probably appreciate their staff, rather than viewing them as little cogs in a machine, each identical, each instantly replacable by another, not human beings but mindless machines (which of course is the way most every company treats its employees, especially as it grows and the distance between management and staff increases to the point where management isn't just situated in another room, but on another floor or even another building that may be in another city or country).