Can you take a vacation? – Part II

Several weeks ago, this column challenged small-business owners to take a vacation. The simple message was that unless management trains its employees with this metric in mind, it is unlikely they will be prepared to function while you are away.

One effective training technique is role playing. A role- playing session involves two players and a mentor who is responsible for creating the scenarios and managing the action. Team members assume scripted roles that are designed to demonstrate how to handle certain types of common situations. Typical role-playing situations include a salesman-customer or manager-employee.

A common role-playing scenario is a salesperson trying to close a sale. The “customer” wants to buy but is told to play hard to get. The “salesman” must ask several questions to uncover and overcome the customer’s objections. This requires a persistent salesperson who knows the product and its benefits. Another example is a manager who must give an employee an unsatisfactory review. This situation emphasizes how to maintain an objective review and what to do if the review spins out of control.

Any business that deals with the public should train its employees how to handle an irate customer. Employee who know how to keep the customer rational and what authority and latitude they have to deal with a complaint will develop confidence that enables them to handle greater responsibility.

Sessions are brief, usually less than five minutes. A key task for the mentor is to ensure the lesson is conducted in a nonthreatening environment.

If the dialogue drifts, the mentor must interrupt and inject observations or helpful comments. The objective is to provide tactical assistance so that employees recognize a situation and then know how to respond effectively.

In a sense, they are prepared with talking points to handle or diffuse a difficult situation that in turn builds confidence.

Ralph Hershberger is president of SCORE Southern Arizona, a nonprofit group that offers free small-business counseling and mentoring by appointment at several locations. For more information, go to, send email to or call 505-3636.