Work transformed.™

Love and the Retail Environment

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Work is love made visible. And if you can’t work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of the people who work with joy.

Khalil Gibran

What does it really take to motivate people to bring joy, along with their best effort, to work in a retail environment? Keep the following core principles in mind to remove the barriers that keep workers in every industry hovering on the distaste side of the equation.  This is especially useful in the busiest time for retail shopping – the holiday season.

1) Care. Take the time to care about your team as people. This builds a sense of belonging and creates trust – filling two of the most basic human needs. No, you don’t need to greet them with a hug at the beginning of every shift. Simply take the time to find out about their lives. Asking how their weekend went, how that project at school turned out, or if their daughter is feeling better will go a long way to convince them that they represent more to you than just a means to get your next bonus check or to boost company profits. Several of our clients are training their managers in how to be better coaches for this very reason. With a few strategic coaching skills, and the right framework for understanding how to develop employees, these “caring conversations” often turn into coaching conversations that end up positively impacting performance and engagement.

2) Support. Front line staff with many of my clients feel that while expectations are high, respect for what they do is in short supply. Rather than assuming that there is something flawed in your staff when they fall short, ask yourself if, placed in the same circumstances they deal with day after day, you would be able to meet your own standards. Do your people really have adequate tools, training, resources and ongoing support to be able to perform to your expectations? You can’t expect people to fly to the moon with a paper airplane. High expectations together with limited resources and support is the fastest way to create a “work to rule” staff culture where people bring their bodies to work but not much else.

Another area where front-liners may feel a lack of support links to pay. While most staff realize the practical limits of wages in the retail industry, they resent that the front line is the first line of attack for trimming costs. Freezing or rolling back wages or reducing staffing can be a huge demotivator – even more so if the front line discovers that management got bonuses for stock prices going up while they got shafted in terms of having to do more for less pay. Again, consider who really makes the difference to your business – maybe you want to think about distributing the budget for executive suite perks around a little more evenly.

3) Challenge. How do you challenge people when much of the work that needs to be done is basic and repetitive? Sales contests are a common technique retailers use to challenge and motivate their staff, but knowing the goals, interests and passions of your team is more likely to provide growth opportunities that are meaningful to each individual – and therefore more likely to impact performance. If your employee is a student who loves research, get them involved in researching a new product line. If they love to socialize, then put them in charge of planning a staff party. On a simpler level, create daily mini-contests to make the repetitive work more fun. Who can restock the shelves the fastest? How many shoe numbers can you remember and retrieve from the stock room at the same time? With a little creativity, the hard costs of implementing growth initiatives for front line retail staff can prove miniscule compared to the benefits in terms of increased customer service.

5) Purpose. One of the greatest challenges with retail is that employees and employers alike see it’s core purpose as making money – and research shows that making money is not the prime motivator for most employees to perform and stay in a job. The retail clients we work with provide amazing products to the world, yet many staff still feel torn because, at the end of the day, they are still just selling stuff. The most engaged retail organizations cultivate a sense of purpose in their people beyond just making money for the company.

Employees who have stayed in retail long-term and are passionate about it always have a sense of purpose that is meaningful to them. They don’t sell clothes, they help people feel beautiful. They don’t sell bikes they are helping people stay healthy or doing their part to reduce global warming. They make people’s lives more vibrant through matching them to the perfect music, furniture, or artwork. While your business may have an official purpose statement that is noble and inspirational, the bottom line on attracting and retaining great retail staff is to help them connect with their individual sense of purpose.

6) Movement. What if, instead of trying to reduce turnover, your company were to embrace a philosophy of making sure your staff are here for a good time, not a long time? Consider an employee onboarding program that helped each person create a career plan for when they were going to leave their job, along with specific objectives for how they wanted to grow personally and professionally while they were there. Topsy-turvy thinking for traditionalists, but how much easier might it be to attract and keep great front-line people if you started to view the purpose of your business as developing people vs. selling product? What if you could create an environment where people saw working for your company as a life-changing experience, one where they learned as much of value about self, business, and the world as they did at university – and they got paid to do it? Shifting your focus to providing employees with the best possible experience and helping them to move on would, ironically, be more likely to increase the amount of time that they stick with and, more importantly, stay engaged in their job.

At the end of the day, the secret to creating a high-performing retail environment is to take your focus off how you can get more from your people, and ask first if you are willing to invest in giving what they need to live up to your expectations – an environment the supports them to work with joy.

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