Under the counter - Don’t fall foul of Tall Poppy Syndrome!

A sideways look at the world of independent retailing

Things haven’t been going too well with my assistant Norman lately because he’s been taking too much interest in the business. Perhaps I should explain.

In my day, assistants were exactly that, putting goods into brown-paper bags, making sure we’d got enough milk for the tea, and coming in for an hour on half closing day to mop out the toilet.

Just because Norman has been with us since before the beginning of time, he seems to think that gives him carte blanche to come up with all sorts of cleverdick suggestions to improve the business, from vertical and viral marketing to customer communication solutions, whatever they may be.

When I suggested that if he really wanted to improve the business he could clean the front window so that people could actually see what we were selling, he got quite huffy and yesterday he didn’t come in.

When I rang to see whether he had died or been eaten by giant centipedes, his wife Enid said he wouldn’t be in for the rest of the week and that there was a doctor’s certificate in the post.

“He’s got Tall Poppy Syndrome,” Enid said. “And is that surprising, working for you?”

I hadn’t the remotest idea what she was talking about, but when I Googled Tall Poppy Syndrome I found it was nothing to do with gardening or drugs, but was all about knocking down to size people who are bright and ambitious in the hope that they’ll get discouraged.

Apparently some Australian bloke invented TPS when he wasn’t watching the cricket. If you have a field of poppies and one gets taller than the rest, cut its head off. I thought that was how we had always dealt with success in business. We just didn’t give it a name.

According to Wikipedia, symptoms in really severe cases of TPS can include exhaustion, headaches, mood swings, unsociability and an inability to relate to other people.

By now, I was beginning to wonder if I’d got it, too.

It seemed that really bad TPS treatment could actually warrant a formal grievance leading to official disciplinary action under industrial legislation.

Not that I thought Norman would go that far (although Enid might - I’ve never liked that woman), but to be on the safe side I thought I’d better check that we would be covered by the shop insurance. The trouble is, only Norman knows where we keep the policy.

It was a bit odd at first being alone in the shop with no-one to blame when we ran out of tea-bags or to put a new light-bulb in the stockroom, but by lunchtime I was beginning to quite enjoy it and it was a relief not to have to argue over the anagrams in the Daily Express junior crossword.

I had just sold a packet of golf-tees and was feeling quite optimistic about the future as a lone trader when these guys came in from our biggest supplier.

We have to keep them sweet because they give us good credit and I normally leave this to Norman because he knows all the jargon and I need all my faculties to work out if we can afford to give them a cheque. This time there was no escape.

First salesman: “Where’s Norman, squire? He said you would give us a decision about our online self-service touch-screen transactional kiosks. There are some really sensational discounts.” Second salesman: “As regards our proactive visual merchandising strategy, Norman is a real fan of VM as you know and I’d like to run something past him, motivational wise.”

Third salesman: “Can you tell Norman that the data-mining symposium comes with a free weekend for two in Stow-on-the- Wold with Morris dancing and optional paint-balling? Should be a real gas.”

Me: “Sorry lads, I think I’m getting a migraine. Norman will be in tomorrow. Can you call back? Cheers.”

I’ve just been doing some pretty abject grovelling on the phone and Norman has graciously agreed to come back to work tomorrow so long as we can have a serious talk about his future and he can have the Saturday off to go to Stow-on the Wold.

  

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