The Gelato Girl: A Story About Minimum Wage and Attitude

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Here's a story about minimum wage jobs and their impact on business. It presents a few different perspectives. See which matches your own, but I wouldn't be surprised if you tend to see the issue from at least two different points of view.

The story: three friends stop for gelato
This past week two close friends came to visit in Atlantic City. After lunch on the world famous boardwalk, we cut through Caesars casino on our way to outdoor outlet shopping in the center of the city. While walking, we were caught by the allure of homemade gelato at Tazza Coffee in the heart of Caesars. It's pricey but delicious, and very well presented. The merchandising should get an award, but not the service. Why was the service so terrible? Here are a few perspectives to consider when reviewing your own job, the work of your employees, or your own outlook on life.

The consumer perspective: your problem is not mine.
Our gelato barista was sullen, didn't smile, and seemed to be doing us favors in providing tastings and scooping out servings for my two friends. Afterwards, both friends remarked that they felt cheated – one because she felt she overpaid, and the other because the server made her feel that she created an imposition in asking for service. Both felt that if Gelato Gal hated her job so much, she should move on to another position. She was doing no one a service in her current capacity. At the very least, we were now going to leave a bad review on Yelp.A management perspective: positive attitudes create repeat customers
Knowing how Atlantic City casino workers have taken heavy hits in the last few years and months, I started to defend the server and then quickly stopped myself. Here's why:

The one friend usually stays at Tropicana and isn't a huge fan. She returns annually due to comps. It would not take a lot, perhaps even just a happy gelato server, to lure her to a different casino closer to shopping.

The other friend always stays with me or just comes in for day trips. But as we decide what to do each time, she may likely request to repeat a fun activity. Since the gelato experience wasn't fun, we won't be repeating it, and are more likely to try a different gelato place the next time around.

The Fred perspective: never miss an opportunity to brighten someone's day
Recently I wrote a post about the difference between Activity and Accomplishment as defined by Mark Sanborn in The Fred Factor, a business book named after a real-life postal carrier in Denver. The Fred Factor is based on the premise that everyone makes a difference, and you can continually reinvent yourself to provide value to those around you, particularly those you serve. It's hard because so few people seem to be able to do it.

Sanborn writes:

"Using the Fred Factor won't cure the common cold or bring about world peace, but it will warm the lives of many and create peace in your corner of the world. Isn't it great knowing you have the ability to show others how to make the ordinary extraordinary?"

Gelato Girl in Atlantic City had the ability to add joy to our special day of shared memories as friends reuniting after years apart. Sadly, she was no Fred.

A CEO's perspective: investment goes both ways
On the other end of the wage spectrum is Don Thompson, the first African-American CEO of McDonald's. He is CEO of one of the largest employers of minimum wage workers in the U.S. and world. Before you decide to hate him as a fat cat, consider the fact he grew up unable to afford a McDonald's meal himself.

He believes in the value of minimum wage jobs, saying on CBS:

"Today at McDonald's 60 percent of our franchisees -- those that own restaurants in the U.S. -- started as hourly employees."

Thompson has gone on record stating that he'd support an increase in the minimum wage, but only if it were phased in slowly, adding that "McDonald's will continue to invest in its people if THEY invest back in the company." Although he doesn't define what that means, he seems to be an inherent believer in the Fred Factor, adding:

"It doesn't matter what job you do. If you're the greatest maintenance person at McDonald's for 30 years, but you are that person that makes everybody happy, you enjoy what you do, how you do it, everyone loves you and you love them, you're a blessed person, you know?

The critic's perspective: make jobs interesting
Stephen Denning, author of The Leader's Guide to Radical Management seems to believe less in personal responsibility and more in management shouldering accountability for employee happiness. He writes:

"It may be cheaper and easier to distribute the book than to actually make jobs more interesting or give workers a say in how the work is organized."

Denning Calls the Fred Factor "a kind chicken soup for the world-weary worker."

Another perspective: Be your own customer
I've worked for many bosses who say, "Work for the company as if it were your own business." The philosophy never resonated for me because it wasn't my own business. Instead, I like the philosophy of providing the kind of customer service I would want to receive in return. Sometimes, however, I'm also the customer from hell, losing my temper due to poor service. It's times like that I try to remember the person on the other end of the line doesn't deserve me in their day.

What's Your Perspective? I bet you have more than one. Whether you're a CEO, middle manager, customer service supervisor, or minimum wage worker interfacing with the public, at some point you're also a consumer. It's that perspective that matters the most and the one at the top of this post. Always start there, and you can rarely go wrong.
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