museums&MORE Spring 2012
Retail Responsibility

Managing employees through conflict, emotions and more

Employee conflicts, scheduling challenges, store communication. The list of why and what managers have to deal with is endless when it comes to managing their store. To make matters worse, most of the troubles are inevitable, therefore creating a constant rotation of disruptions that could affect productivity, employee morale and the overall work environment.

Fortunately, there are solutions to help resolve many of these issues for good while keeping others in check that might pop up.

Setting the Tone
As a manager, it’s your job to ensure there are no hard feelings among associates when it comes to delivering bad news, resolving a disagreement or simply stating the facts of how things are going to be. A poor move on your behalf could spiral into resentment among employees, decreased productivity and a weakened morale of your store team.

One key step in avoiding this is separating your emotion from work when dealing with employees. This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate sensitivity from your personal character; however, you should simply avoid letting your emotions get in the way of your management responsibilities.

An example of an emotionally driven manager would be if a manager spends less time talking to a certain employee and more time talking to another employee simply out of personal preference. In a management role, this is viewed as playing favorites, which is exactly what should be avoided.

On a more escalated scale, some managers find certain employees create conflict out of nothing, therefore leading to an ongoing battle between the two. It’s tempting to deal with this in many ways, but the most responsible way is to try and comfortably create a place of harmony. This may mean having a private, scheduled meeting to discuss concerns that you are having, as well as inviting the employee to share their concerns. When possible, having a superior join you in the meeting can help as a way to bring neutral perspectives to the conversation.

What you should not do is turn your back on this employee and just ignore it. While this may seem like an easy yet effective approach, it actually can translate to more problems. Associates who feel isolated are often the same associates who introduce legal threats since they feel they are being treated unfairly.

The term “office politics” is not a good one and is exactly what managers should try to avoid. Instead of feeding this drama into your store, feed the stereotypes of what a “team” represents – collaborative efforts, mutual respect and united goals. Not only will this help your store succeed, it will help your role as manager be a success.

Projects and Results
The personality of employees can sometimes be too clear, and this can often get in the way of your opinion of them. Then again, some personalities are hard to read and likewise, this can leave you wondering too much about what they are really like. The real concentration of a manager’s thoughts, however, should be on the tasks, sales, projects and results of each respective employee. Personalities aside, this is what truly matters.

By delivering the expectations of your store, you are also delivering how your employees will work. Setting clear goals and how they should be reached is essential in creating balance among your team and yourself. One example of this would be if you have weekly sales goals. Stating a number is one thing, but delivering that goal with suggestions on how they can reach it is another. You could offer product knowledge details, suggested add-on sales or information on how to assist a customer in their purchase.

Beyond sales, it’s important to show leadership in other tasks, also. If projects are a central part of an employee’s responsibilities, take the time to review their projects, offer suggestions on improvement and provide positive reinforcement along the way. Research tells us that employees work harder and show better results in their overall performance when they feel valued, so taking the time to show appreciation is important, as well.

While dismissing their personality to instead concentrate on employee results, managers gain a better understanding of who is actually doing what. Soon you will find out who is delivering the most timely projects, who is performing the most sales per hour, who is going above and beyond store expectations and who is not doing what they should be. This newfound approach of management should naturally guide you to how you should be reacting as well. With your emotions set aside and projects in the forefront, you have much clearer decisions in front of you.

Managing Volunteers
Some managers in museums and specialty focused shops, such as hospital gift stores, struggle with managing workers who don’t have to be working. While there are many perks to having dedicated individuals working as volunteers in your store, with these perks often come challenges.

For starters, identifying expectations that volunteers must meet – such as sales goals, working hours and project expectations – can be tricky. As a manager, you know what deadlines, goals and store achievements need to be made. As a volunteer, they are dedicated to helping but not always dedicated to helping according to guidelines in place. It’s your job to ensure volunteers feel welcomed, appreciated and part of the team.

Offering them standardized training helps kickstart a fulfilling relationship that not only makes your job easier, but delivers stronger results to your overall store success.

In addition to providing standardized training, sharing your vision for the store can help volunteers support your unique needs. Vocalizing your expectations routinely is a great way to keep volunteers from feeling isolated from your store goals. The tone and delivery in which you speak to your volunteers matters, as well, since they will likely not be there as often as other employees. Keeping the mood upbeat and positive can help their performance, even if you are feeling the weight of traditional store struggles.

Finally, finding out what motivates each individual volunteer to work in your store is a great way to uniquely support their goals. Combined with your store expectations, you are likely to form a lasting partnership when blending these priorities to help volunteers succeed.

Management is a role that varies day to day and introduces new challenges when you least expect it. Likewise, management offers rewards and accomplishments through surprising avenues. Knowing that conflicts, surprises, challenges and more are bound to interrupt your management path, it’s best to welcome them all with open arms.

Fortunately, solutions that can easily blend into your existing management style can dramatically improve the environment and morale of your business. In addition to the solutions already discussed, consistency should be your best friend. Once employees, volunteers and all other work partners see your management pattern take shape, your business is sure to follow, as well.

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.

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