The TOP 10%


After a series of posts on coaching including one titled, “The Bottom 10%”, my husband suggested that I write about the “top” 10% of performers. Good point! As Andrew reminded me, before I opened the business, a lot of people said that the #1 issue I would have would be “keeping people” so I do have some thoughts on how to go about that.

I will start by saying that I have been…shocked? startled?…by the differences – and the similarities – between managing people in a big company and managing people in a small retail business.


I think the biggest difference is that in corporate office jobs, people make more money. Full stop. Big companies can pay bigger salaries than most small businesses and they offer an array of benefits like sick days, health benefits and pension plans. I know that there are many “white-collar” professionals who work extremely long hours for what they earn, have no personal life, worry incessantly about their files and are on their smartphones with work emails 24/7. But overall I would say that my top 10% –  my core team whom I rely on every day to make my business successful – earn far less than people in corporate jobs with a similar level of responsibility.


So with that depressing conclusion – that a small retail business can’t stay solvent and compete salary/benefits-wise with the big companies  – what can a small business owner do? I have been pleasantly surprised since opening PGB that regardless of salary levels, many people are highly motivated by being asked for their opinion, involved in the implementation of decisions, engaged in the discussions and recognized for their contribution. People want to matter at their work place, they want to make a difference – and they want the owner to smile and say hello to them right from their very first trial shift.

When I worked at the bank, I remember being told that there was a very close correlation between an employee’s overall job satisfaction (measured mostly by their response to the question, “do you plan to leave soon?”) and how much he or she liked/respected his immediate manager. This makes sense to me – the company doesn’t look at the photos of your cat, admire your new purse, or tell you that you just handled an angry customer well. The company doesn’t let you know that you need to say “please” after saying the amount owed by the customers….and then remember the next week to comment that you seem to have the please-and-thank-you thing down perfect. It is the immediate manager or business owner that can coach/care/remember/ask –  and making these kinds of efforts costs the business nothing.


I recently read  (sorry, I can’t track down the article!)  that the most successful companies provide employees with a ratio of positive to negative feedback that is waaaay more skewed to the positive. I couldn’t agree more!! Although my recent  posts have focused on coaching and difficult conversations, my normal routine at the bakery is to let people know when they are doing things well and to pass on positive comments I have heard (from customers or the store managers) to the team members involved.


When we are working on something new (a new pick-up location at Mcewan; plans for our anniversary celebrations; tactical discussions about the mascot; changes to the website) I involve as many people on the team as possible in what is often email discussions.  People are free to not wade into the discussion of course but they like to know what is going on and to feel that their opinion matters.

I am not sure why some managers or business owners prefer not to involve people  – maybe it feels like a zero-sum game: if I give up some of my decision making power then there won’t be much left for me…or I will look weak or indecisive. I think the opposite is true – a leader who asks for input and can say, “yeah, your idea is better than mine, let’s do that” paradoxically looks stronger.


About the author

Jean Blacklock

Jean opened the popular Prairie Girl Bakery in the financial district of Toronto in 2011. She owned and operated the business until it closed in 2021 as a result of the pandemic’s impact on downtown Toronto. Read more about her background in commerce, law, and entrepreneurship here.

By Jean Blacklock


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