Many years ago, one of the roles in my career was that of manager.
The environment that I managed, was a large retail store. In this particular store, which sold a variety of items, there was also a cafe, which served a variety of drinks, including bottled options, and hand prepared beverages. In addition to these drinks, the cafe also offered a variety of food options, most of which were featured in a large glass display case.
As manager, I was responsible for oversight of the entire store, which of course, included the cafe.
As in all positions that I have held in my career, I cared about my job, and took my responsibilities seriously.
As a manager in the retail environs, not only must one oversee the successful operations of the business, but the under the scope of that responsibility, also comes that of managing associates and subordinates.
In this particular retail environment, there was a manager just for the cafe, who reported to me.
On a few occasions, there were instances of disagreement between this manager and myself.
One particular misalignment in perception comes to mind.
During an otherwise normal work day, I visited the cafe during routine rounding, and found several items missing from the display case. This observation gave me pause, and not wanting to be too quick to reach a conclusion, should there be information not yet known to me, I requested an explanation from the barista.
“What is missing? I didn’t notice anything.”
” The requirement is that we offer two scones in the case. There should be two flavors, one next to the other. Our planogram for the case indicates that they should both be displayed, but there is a hole where the one flavor should be. ”
“I’m not really sure, I’m sorry.” The barista shrugged.
“Where is the cafe manager?” I inquired sharply.
“I think she is busy in the back.”
I sought out the cafe manager in the stock room, then, not finding her, crossed the store to the employee break room and manger offices.
Finding the cafe manager in the office area, I proceeded to question her.
“Are you aware that we are missing items out of the display case?
“Yes, I’m aware,” she responded.
“Have we sold out of the cinnamon scones? I only saw the blueberry. Is there a replacement we can add to the case?”
“We have the other flavor. I didn’t put them out.”
“What do you mean you didn’t put them out? We need to have all of the items called for in the case.” The volume of my voice rose, and I was becoming upset.
“Like I said. I didn’t put them out. We have a lot of options for people to pick from, they don’t need two kinds of scones.”
“We are REQUIRED to have these items displayed. Our company standards have to be followed. ” I could feel my agitation further increase as I spoke.
“Look,” she said. “You wouldn’t understand. I’m simply reducing the choices. We won’t have to thaw out and use so much food. People can still pick something and be satisfied, even if it’s just the one flavor of scones. They will still be ok with that choice. ”
“You can’t just do that.” I spat. “We are responsible for the standards our company has put in place. To not display everything is going against policies, and our job duties, by not following these procedures. If someone came in from our corporate office and saw the display looking like that, we could be in trouble.”
I was the manager in charge, and I was, technically, correct. And, in the moment, I also felt that I was doing the right thing by addressing the issue.
However, in looking back at that exchange, and her perspective, she was also correct.
More options do not lead to assuredness and contentment with our choices. In fact, the more options we have, it is often the case that we are less confident once we have made a selection. Think of the wasted time on researching product ratings, customer reviews, and website price comparisons for the “best,” “top ten,” “most recommended,” and “highest recommended,” whatever items.
Think of the unbelievably expansive market of alternatives, in every category that requires a choice. One could second guess just about every decision, for everything. Were the spectrum of options not so broad, when we came to a decision, we would likely not feel like we had sacrificed so much.
When I critiqued the display case in the cafe, more than a decade ago, I fixated on the one item that was missing. There were thirty other items to choose from in that case.
If there were less websites reviewing products, would the value of information be reduced? If there were less channels on the tv to tune into, would we be less entertained? If there were nine thousand cleaning products to choose from instead of ten thousand, would we notice? Would our houses be noticeably less clean? If there were a few less items at a buffet, would we really notice? Would we be less satisfied by the choices? Would we be less full?
Would we care?