Making Stellar Employees Out of So-So Associates
By Nicole Leinbach Reyhle
With the good comes the bad, and in the case of retail employees, this is often the situation. From late arrivers to gossipy co-workers to lazy performances, many associates come with attitudes and habits that aren't ideal for your business.
We can't overlook our achievers, however. Amidst the bad are hard workers with flexible schedules who are dedicated to your store profit. Then of course, there are those in between - the gray group. Neither black or white in their performances - or lack of them - but instead a blend of both good and bad attributes.
So-so associates are common in retail, bringing to the table just enough to stay on the schedule but not enough to really shine. Simply stated, this is a problem. The real problem, however, is that this does nothing to help your store shine.
Accepting you have a problem with your associates doesn't have to be as bold as thinking you need to fire anyone. It could simply mean you need to help strengthen their performances to ultimately strengthen your store's performance.
The first step in doing this is to analyze each employee's skill set, task list and their overall execution of responsibilities. From customer service to operations, evaluate all the responsibilities your associates have. It's important to keep your evaluation checklist consistent per each employee, as well, only adding additional tasks for review if they are unique to that specific employee.
Once your evaluations are completed, deliver your findings to each employee, offering both a review of their strengths and weaknesses. The best way to do this is through a formal review. If you don't already have these on your annual schedule, add this to your immediate to-do list. Better yet, add bi-annual reviews to your to-do list since two times are better than one.
By communicating your store goals, expectations, employee responsibilities and more during these reviews, your employees will be reminded and motivated to deliver results. This also gives you an outlet to provide feedback in a constructive format that ultimately can strengthen each respective employee's performance.
Reviews are important in keeping employees on track with your store's expectations, but they are just a piece of the puzzle to keep associates delivering results. Everyday routines should be center stage since they are in fact taking place everyday.
Anybody's routine can become stale, boring and monotonous if left to be repeated day in and day out without any flair to mix things up. So rather than let your associates get bored, give them something to get wired up over. Introduce daily and weekly goals, incentives, team challenges and contests to help keep things moving in a positive direction for associates and your store alike.
Daily goals give a push for employees to meet expectations with specific details identified. Beyond actual sales numbers, a goal can be to re-merchandise a display, enter customer contact information into your tracking system or organize the stock area. It's a good idea to balance daily goals with both customer-oriented results as well as operational results. Combined, it makes for a productive day if everything is accomplished.
Weekly goals should offer a broader range of responsibilities to be completed. Since many tasks can't take place in one day or need multiple hands tending to them, it makes sense to have some goals identified with a seven-day stretch to complete.
Of course, the reality is some goals may not be met. But having them identified, written out and available for daily review allows you to easily hold employees responsible for what was not completed. Routine failure to finish goals also gives you grounds for termination, which is likely not the goal of any employee. This extra reminder is typically all you need to kick start employees from running in neutral to driving in the fast lane of employee satisfaction.
While sales goals are great, incentives add a bigger notch to performance belts. Attach incentives to sales goals and you have a home run! Whether it's first dibs on next month's schedule or a pair of movie tickets, anything extra adds brighter flames to an employee's fire.
Similar to incentives, contests can help motivate employees to really rev up their engines. A little competition among co-workers can often do a store good, encouraging them to work harder to gain not just a prize, but bragging rights if they win. If your store has a staff that allows you to create teams among your associates, creating challenges among employees can accelerate motivation, team spirit and overall adrenaline. Of course, games among employees are only effective when moods are kept fun and friendly, so make sure to include this in your challenge rules.
Goals and incentives are great, but sometimes it takes more than an extra perk to help associates become valuable store players.
If this sounds like the case for your team, then consider a complete overhaul in your associates' day-to-day execution of tasks. One way to do this is by planning a team meeting that sets the tone for new store standards, including everything from customer service to operations to scheduling. While your standards may not seem "new" to you, the simple presentation of what they are will be perceived as "new" to them. Additionally, it's up to you as to what standards you want to discuss, but covering all the responsibilities in your staff's schedule is encouraged.
Prior to the meeting, use plain poster board to create target lists with "how to's" identified for each set of responsibilities in your store. The impact of these large posters will help stress the importance of delivering the standards you have outlined for your business. Plus, these posters will serve as reminders to employees about what your store expectations are if hung in a common area that is not accessible to customers.
If this space does not exist, simply create a binder with these details neatly organized for easy, frequent review by all associates. Trusting your associates have read everything isn't enough, though. Have each employee sign their name under your store standards, identifying that they have read, understand and will execute your said goals.
One meeting may not be enough, so introducing monthly or bi-monthly team meetings can help stores work together to deliver exceptional performances. This also gives management the chance to share store news, product updates and operational training to keep everyone performing at their best while also enhancing your overall store environment.
From the Top Down
Even though associates are often the faces of the business, it's ultimately store owners and management that set the mood of stores. Consider what mood, attitude and performance you deliver and how this may be perceived by your employees. Good, bad or room for improvement, a few changes from your own execution can often help your associates, as well.
Remember that change is good. Your employees will likely appreciate your encouragement to help them perform better.
Nicole Leinbach Reyhle is an experienced retail and wholesale consultant, speaker and writer. She writes a weekly retail column with Crain's Business and her professional retail blog, Retail Minded. Reyhle resides in Chicago with her family and is dedicated to supporting local, independent businesses.