Build Up Your Retail Team
When she thinks about the biggest mistakes she made as a new store manager for Pier 1 Imports, Julie Boston recalls working "ungodly" hours, micromanaging nearly every detail of the store's operations and rarely soliciting opinions or ideas from assistant managers.
"Even when I wasn't at the store, I was worrying about it," says Boston, who later managed two other Pier 1 Imports stores before becoming the company's senior manager of customer relations and store technology. "I can't tell you how many dreams I had about visual displays, dinnerware or where I was going to put the new glassware."
Eventually, Boston realized that all this hard work and dedication was not only taking a personal toll, but it was also undermining her efforts to improve the store's performance.
"When I first became a store manager I tried to do everything," she says. "My attitude was that I already knew what I was doing and I was better and could do it faster, so it made sense for me to try to do it all."
But she says such an approach is a mistake, because it undermines morale and causes associates to think you lack confidence in them.
Empowering the People
While she thought she was benefiting the store by doing everything herself, it wasn't good for her staff. "I learned that people want responsibility, and they want to be challenged," she says. "They don't want to come in every day and think, ‘All I'm going to do today is unload carts.'"
Boston eventually gave up some of that precious control to allow associates greater room to express their creativity. "An associate may not make the same decision you, as the store manager, would have made, but that doesn't mean it's a wrong decision," she says. "You have to be OK with the fact that things are never going to be perfect."
Learning to delegate in this manner helped Boston grow as a manager and win promotion into the company's executive ranks.
Keep Up the Chatter
Ultimately, creating a positive working team atmosphere in a retail store begins at the top with a manager who sets the proper tone using effective and ongoing communication, Boston says.
"Retail managers, particularly new managers, need to explain clearly their vision and their expectations for the store," she says. "Initially, you need to tell the associates about yourself, about your customer-service values and what kind of customer service you expect."
She adds that managers need to be on the floor daily, training their people and talking about sales goals.
"People need to know what they're striving for," she says. "On my staff, even part-time sales associates would come in and ask, ‘What were the sales yesterday? Were we up last week?' It was important to them, because they knew it was important to me."
While extolling the virtues of delegating and strong communication, Boston also identifies a couple of managerial red flags that can undermine the cohesion of a retail team. One is failing to deal with negative behaviors as soon as they crop up.
"If people don't know they're doing anything wrong, they're not going to change," she says. "I've seen managers who have let situations with certain associates go on for such a long time without addressing them that it's really impossible to correct the problem once a new manager comes in to try to work with that person or fix the issue."
The other mistake is playing favorites.
"When you let one person go on coffee breaks while everyone else is working or when some people get ‘golden scheduled,' it tends to cause a lot of tension among associates and resentment toward the manager," Boston says. While the associates may not say anything for fear of being labeled whiners, they aren't going to be productive. "They're going to come to work grudgingly," she says. "They won't want to be there and won't stay long."
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