Doing Delegation Right in Retail
It's a lesson straight from a beginning management textbook: To succeed as a manager, you must delegate effectively. Yet in retail, few managers receive much, if any, training in people development and virtually no instruction on how to delegate tasks to help employees grow and become comfortable taking on added responsibilities.
Doug Fleener, author of The Profitable Retailer: 56 Surprisingly Simple and Effective Lessons to Boost Your Sales and Profits, says that for obvious reasons, new retail managers tend to delegate less than more experienced peers. "New managers are still trying to learn the role," he says. "But once these new managers become comfortable, they need to delegate to free themselves up to focus on sales and staff development."
My Way or the Highway Isn't the Right Way
Managers are typically reluctant to delegate out of inexperience, fear of losing control, lack of faith in employees' abilities or some combination of these factors, Fleener says. "Managers who can't delegate tend to be too focused on having things done a certain way," he says. "Young managers in particular make this mistake."
By contrast, he says, experienced managers are usually more concerned about outcomes rather than the specifics of how a job gets done. "I find that good managers delegate by agreeing on the outcome with the person they're delegating to," he says. "When managers give up the notion that their way is the only way, it frees them to focus on more important tasks."
Check Your Motives
Fleener emphasizes that effective delegation means more than simply pawning off tasks onto the shoulders of others.
"The difference between delegating and just unloading lies in the manager's motive," he says. "What should be delegated is not necessarily what you want to get rid of or what you don't feel like doing. It's what's right for the employee to be doing and what's right for that person's development."
Each One, Teach One
When done right, delegation represents one of the retail manager's most powerful teaching tools, Fleener says. And that's precisely the attitude managers need to adopt when approaching the delegation process.
"One big mistake managers make is just to say, ‘Go do this,'" he says. "First you need to make sure the employee knows how to do it, and if not, then you need to teach her," he says.
After the employee has finished the work, you need to check it to make sure it was done properly. If not, dedicate additional time to teaching. "It takes more time than doing the task yourself, but by investing more time today to teach employees, you give yourself more time in the future," Fleener says.
Push the Limits
Next, managers must decide who on their staff is ready to accept the added responsibilities. Fleener suggests looking for employees who are already performing well and looking to take on more. He adds that while it's always smart to begin by delegating jobs to employees in areas where they've already demonstrated some aptitude, the process shouldn't end there.
"I've seen situations where employees who have a certain skill always get the same tasks delegated to them," says Fleener, a 25-year veteran of the retail industry who also owned and operated his own specialty stores. "Even though it helps the store, it doesn't help the employees' progress. Early on, you should delegate those things that you know the employee has the skill set for and can do well. After that, you begin to push their comfort levels to spur their personal development."
Beyond these known benefits to delegation, Fleener adds another, less-publicized advantage: Managers who delegate effectively tend to create a more pleasant work environment.
"For many of our employees, working in retail is like the movie Groundhog Day," he says. "Every day you open the store at the same time, and do the same thing all day. By delegating items and letting the staff do more, you help break up the monotony and make the job more interesting. And when people like their jobs and feel challenged, they're more likely to stick around."
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