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On Walking the Talk

Recently I was talking with a retailer in his store, and as we were walking around the floor, we came to a rack housing sportswear. Some of the sweaters on the rack were dangling from the hangers. He called over to ask a sales associate to straighten the rack, and we moved on through the store.

I somehow remembered this incident as I was with another manager, this time the general manager of an upscale hotel. We were talking at one end of the hotel lobby, and as his eyes spotted a table with parts of a newspaper and a candy wrapper on it, obviously left by a guest, he excused himself. He walked across the lobby, picked up the newspapers and candy wrapper, disposed of them, and came back to resume our conversation.

I was struck by the difference in management styles of these two executives. The store owner must have felt that as long as the sales associate was just standing there, she should take care of this little job. Something she is paid to do, right? The hotel manager, though responsible on a much larger scale for revenue, staff, and square footage than the store owner, saw it as his job to pick up the trash in the lobby.

The message each manager sent out by his actions could not have been more different. The store owner is comfortable operating on a rather hierachial basis. The hotel manager sees little distinction in his job and that of his staff. But this message should be clear: if you want your staff to instinctively do things without being told, you need to let them see that you yourself instinctively do these things. Your employees are more likely to learn from what you do; not from what you say. Leadership By Example. That’s the way to ensure there is no “my job vs. your job” mentality in your company. Just “our job.”

Today there is a lot of talk about employee performance; how people don’t want to work, are absent a lot, won’t do their job, have no loyalty; always want more money. It’s true, these problems definitely exist. But many of these job performance problems could be headed off by more attention from management.

So in these two articles, let’s talk about some of the things we can do to ensure our associates are the best they can be; perform at the highest level; have the company’s interest at heart; are satisfied in their jobs.

Start here: HIRE FOR ATTITUDE, ATTITUDE, ATTITUDE. This is where everything begins. You can teach your staff new skills; you can’t teach attitude. In the hiring interview, spend enough time in subjective conversation with people to discern their attitude, their manner, their philosophy. To find out more about this aspect, you may want to pose hypothetical situations and ask candidates to describe how they would handle them.

Southwest Airlines hired for Attitude in employing their current Area Marketing Manager in New Orleans. It did not matter to Southwest that this person had absolutely zero previous airline experience (she was in the jewelry business), and had never even set foot in New Orleans before moving here from Dallas to take this position. She has successfully performed this job now for seven years, helping increase Southwest’s business and visibility in this area.

Let’s talk about a very important word: RESPECT. How your employees feel they are valued. The Ritz Carlton hotel group has as its motto: “We are ladies and gentlemen, serving ladies and gentlemen.” The philosophy in this simple sentence implies a relationship of equals; that the company will treat the employees with the same respect that it treats the guests. The Ritz Carlton understands this simple truth: your employees will treat your customers the same way they are treated.

MAKE YOUR EXPECTATIONS CLEAR.

Be clear about what an employee’s duties are; make sure they understand their job description.

Be clear about your standards for appearance (if you have a dress code, etc.). It is entirely reasonable to expect employees to show up for work dressed professionally and appropriately groomed. Of course, that may differ, depending on whether you operate an outdoor plant nursery or a designer apparel store.

Be clear about corporate culture. Part of the Nordstrom company’s training for employees is instilling the corporate culture in all employees, letting them know what is expected of them. Their employees learn to do whatever it takes to make a customer happy. They are trained that Nordstrom believes people in their store are guests and therefore deserve the best service. When employees are trained in to this culture, they can produce the sales results they must achieve for success. The company will trust them with a lot of operational freedom in performing their job. However, if the employee has trouble buying in to this culture, it is safe to say he will not be happy or successful at Nordstrom.

Be clear about the level of customer service the company expects everyone to provide. Is this level a high degree of service (such as Nordstrom) or is service not emphasized in your company in favor of something you are better known for, like the lowest price, etc.

GIVE EMPLOYEES PROPER TOOLS TO WORK WITH. It is your job to provide training to help your people in their performance, to help them constantly improve their skills. Make sure this training reinforces your own specific expectations. This is not just computer register training (which, unfortunately, is what passes today as the only training). Encourage them to attend appropriate seminars at company expense, such as those on customer service, communications skills, sales techniques, time management. Keep a company library of magazines, training books, tapes, & videos. Let them know that you are aware of whatever they do to increase their knowledge. Develop some sort of reward system for employees who take advantage of resources you offer.

Set up a regular schedule for discussing market trends or showing new merchandise. Make sure they understand technical terms (would they know how to correctly answer a customer’s question, such as “why is there sure a huge price difference between this cashmere sweater and this wool sweater?”).

SHARE SOME DECISION-MAKING. As management, you have to make many decisions every day. Share some of this decision-making with your associates. Involve them in this process, and certainly involve them in those decisions that affect them. Ask employees if there are any company policies or procedures that hinder their job performance or their ability to deliver good customer service. If so, study these policies and do whatever you can to change or eliminate them. Then let your employees know what action you are taking (before you take it) in response to their concerns.

There is another very important reason to involve your associates in the decision-making process. Because those who have had a voice in making policy will see that the policy gets implemented. It’s a surefire way to make sure the procedure is followed and there are no complaints about it!

You can tell employees all day long about how important they are to the company…but having them share in policy-making is a way to prove it, to show they are valued. Of course, the responsibility of policy making is management’s, but decisions have a better chance of being right after first getting feedback from those on the front line. The key word here is share.

We all can become bored in our jobs if we feel there is nothing new to learn, no new challenges to conquer, no way to expand our minds, no new contributions to make. Yes, your employees may have to perform the same duties day in, day out, but an enlightened management, one that “walks the talk “(like you) can find ways to help employees become better at these same duties each day and therefore keep them interested and growing.

Copyright 2006, Liz Tahir


About the Author: Liz Tahir is an international retail consultant, trainer, and speaker who helps small and large store retailers to be more effective and profitable. Based in New Orleans, LA, USA, she can be contacted at (504) 569-1670; liz@liztahir.com; http://www.liztahir.com.




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