Got the AM/PM Blues?

Do you have the AM/PM blues in your store's produce section?

I recently bought a new computer, and whenever I do something wrong that doesn't jive with the normal usage in certain programs, the computer says, "It's not my fault."

This lack of responsibility the computer feels obligated to tell me about has a familiar ring to it. I often hear this when I work with produce departments and ask department staff why certain jobs aren't being accomplished during a shift.

The reasons range from customers always bothering them with questions, to having to do work in other departments. The most common response is what's known as the AM/PM blues.

The day crew complaints could be that on last night's shift:

  1. The potatoes and onions weren't adequately stocked, so the department wasn't ready for opening;
  2. Too much broccoli was stocked when it was going off ad the next day, which made it harder to set the wet rack;
  3. The boxes weren't broken down and disposed of, so we got a late start.

On the other hand, if you ask the night crew they say it's the day shift's fault because:

  1. They leave a mess in the back room, so when we arrive it needs to be cleaned up before we can get started;
  2. The walk-in cooler is so poorly organized that it takes forever to find what we need to stock;
  3. There was no communication about a customer's special order;
  4. A farmer is coming in with a load of strawberries during the dinner rush.

Does this sound familiar? For many stores, it is part of a frustrating daily routine -- an environment that creates a domino effect and sabotages even the best of departments.

What can you do about it? There are several ways to keep your department from singing the AM/PM blues. Three that are easy to implement and can provide solutions are: shift knowledge, checklists, and better communication systems.

Shift knowledge

"I didn't know that!" This statement is often what I hear when each of the different crews does another shift's job. Crewmembers are amazed at how detail as small as not tagging a special order or leaving a messy workspace can affect the other shift. They are especially amazed when they are the ones who have to deal with the particular problem.

Don't stop at the opening and closing shifts; this can be implemented for every shift -- receiving, prepping, ordering, etc. -- with dramatic results. The whole crew is able to see immediate improvements when they gain a better understanding of each job. This is also a sure fire way to improve morale.

Checklists

Another great tool for chasing away the blues and for building accountability is to have a checklist designed by each shift. By outlining each of the tasks that are needed for the completion of each shift, you give crew members the daily tools to stay on track. This can prove especially helpful for crew members who are easily distracted, or on those days that have more than the usual share of customer service situations.

When you allow the crew to be part of the process of developing these checklists, you are telling them that their knowledge is valuable to the success of the department. This is also an excellent way to encourage ownership of the department. A crew that feels part of the process is more enthusiastic about seeing a project succeed.

Communication: key to understanding

The most important step you can take to chase away the blues is a communication system that is sound. Your store communication system must be easy to use and address all the issues that cause communication breakdown.

First, review your back room and decide the area or spot is where everyone will read the needed information. This is critical to the success of the system, and it is different for different stores. Two common areas are the walk-in cooler door or in the prep area. Everyone has to use these areas on every shift and can't use the excuse that they didn't notice it.

What should you include in this area and how do you set it up? What information is commonly needed?

  1. Incoming order information: this allows the staff to get a clear picture of what they will need to work with in the shifts ahead.
  2. Seasonal and market notes: what are the little nuances that can help staff answer customers questions on price, product quality, availability, etc.
  3. Shift-to-shift notes: if you were working the next shift what information would help make your job easier? This can include prep info, new display thoughts, etc. State the obvious! You'll be amazed at what isn't as obvious to others. Also how much easier it makes your teammates job everyday.
  4. Notes to the buyer: the crew are the buyer's eyes, ears, and many times tastebuds. All of your daily observations are invaluable for accurate buying, margin control, and credits.

This system can be elaborate or as simple as four clipboards next to a dry erase board that's used for anything not covered in your system. I have seen this work with great success.

If you put these ideas into place, and when you realize how well things can work for the entire crew, the only blues you'll be singing is what's on the radio.

See other articles from this issue: #093 March - April - 2001