How To Motivate A Retail Employee

By Bob Phibbs

how to motivate an employee I was doing a keynote speech when a retailer asked, “How can I motivate an employee?”

I replied, “The short answer is you don’t.”

I know that might sound funny coming from a motivational speaker. Let me explain…

Sure, you can motivate a retail employee with do this or else you’ll be fired, but you only get to do that once – maybe twice – in their employment.

Fear only goes so far…

Yes, you can try to build up their motivation by increasing their self-image by constantly complimenting them. But trying to pour good feelings into a bucket with a hole in it just becomes more and more frustrating until you give up.

Outward validation of someone only goes so far…

Most people associate motivation with achieving goals. And if you yourself are a goals driven retailer, you’re probably a Driver personality like I am. When someone holds a carrot in front of you, say an award, a trip or a bonus, you want to get it like a hungry bunny. You just want to know what and how many you need to sell so you can get going. Winning is important to you – and to me.

A contest would be a great way to motivate retail employees if they were all Drivers...

But they aren’t.

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The exact opposite personality style, the Amiable, doesn’t care a whit about winning a contest. They want everyone to win.

Then there is the Analytical personality who is more interested in tracking results, rather than competing in the competition itself. And then there’s the Expressive personality who will play creatively with contest rules to win.

Contests are not a sure-fire way to motivate retail employees.

Let’s go deeper then...

Why do you want to motivate this employee? Because you want to hit a sales goal? Because you feel you can fix them or help them do better? You see potential where they do not? You only want them to succeed so your retail business can succeed? Ouch!

That’s all great, but the truth is it’s up to the employees to motivate themselves to want to do what you want them to do. Everyone is motivated 100 % of the time, but sometimes they are motivated more to fail than to succeed.

And that statement is true of everyone, not just our employees but also ourselves.

I have come to the place in my life where I see that all my of trying to motivate someone else and fix their self-esteem didn’t work because I can’t fix someone else, especially when they don’t realize they need fixing.

The more time I spent trying to improve others, was just time I took avoiding my own self-esteem issues. That’s probably because I had a pretty rotten self-image for awhile.

What has to change

It wasn’t until I made the switch to work on my own mindset, on how I talked to myself each day, on how I stopped framing situations into how I lost, on how I caught myself dredging up the past – that I began to change my self-image, and with that, my motivations.

Some people say you can motivate employees by giving them a bigger purpose, a big vision of what you’re trying to do with your business. And for some brands like Lululemon, that is great.

But for most businesses, you aren’t saving children from a lifetime of loneliness, defending the environment, connecting people across continents or the like.

You’re a small business looking to make a profit.

Yes, working for you should give your employees life skills they can take anywhere. Using retail sales training, your job should give them a safe place to acquire new skills and a fair reward for the job they do. That can help their own internal motivation.

The Answer

But before you look at motivating someone else, make sure you are happy with your own motivations. Your own self-esteem is formed from your habitual thinking, from how you have dealt with all of the influences of your past. Your motivation comes from your desire to continue to work on your self, your present and your future, and is based on whether you see the universe as kind or unkind.

The more comfortable you get in your own skin and the more you know what motivates you, the more you’ll know what builds up your self-esteem and what you need to do to stay motivated. Then you can truly help those you are hoping to motivate.

In Sum

As I think about it now, it all comes down to this: First you have to motivate yourself to be energized to do the best job for your store. Then you have to work to energize your employees. You will continually try to find ways to bump up each and every one of them to be more motivated - you can’t help it.

If they can’t be motivated when working on your sales floor, don’t close your eyes and work around them. Have that difficult conversation and if necessary, fire them.

How do you motivate an employee?

The hard answer again is, you can’t due to your employees' different personality styles and how they see the world. But if you keep your eyes on #1, you’ll find positive ways to deal with it and keep your store an energized, motivational place at the same time.

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