Retail Management: How To Get Your Employees To Do What You Want

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Updated for relevance Sept. 1, 2023

One of my first clients was a coffee roaster, and I remember the owner recounting a story about retail management...

At the end of a shift, one of his best employees approached him and asked, “Since I didn’t get the reward of my free pound of coffee each month this past year, can I get all 12 pounds now to give away as gifts?”

The owner was shocked because he had no such policy and asked, “Where did you hear that?” She answered, “I heard about it from another employee when I started a year ago.”

At that moment, the owner suddenly realized his employees had been taking a pound of coffee every month for at least a year, and he hadn’t noticed.

He relayed the story to me - and no, he didn’t give her the coffee even though he felt bad - as an example of how employees make up their own policies, but I had to tell him that this happened because of his hands-off management style.

It’s easy to say employees have changed, but more often than not, it’s likely that managers haven’t changed.

Your employee management skills are integral to your retail sales strategy if you want to grow your sales.

And let’s face it, many of us have been doing our jobs for a while, but how many have actively looked to do them better?

That’s the key, isn’t it?

Here are five elements of how to get your retail employees to do what you want them to do:

  1. Make crystal clear they know what they are supposed to do. When you frame your instructions clearly, you remove the #1 reason associates don’t perform well – they didn’t get all the information in a way that made sense to them. Too often, we tell employees what to do while we are distracted or while they are distracted, or worse, we assume they’ll do it. Management doesn’t work that way. But here’s the thing, if your managers have never received training on how to set clear expectations, they are just as likely to fail you as the rest of your team. For that reason, always apply the stranger test. Could you tell a stranger who knew nothing about your store clearly what you wanted them to do? If you can’t, learn to.

  2. Give them both positive and negative feedback. Most of us know how to give negative feedback because we are conditioned to notice failures. But proper managing of your employees means you need to reward the successes. It doesn’t mean a trophy because they could take out the trash or a bonus for helping someone out to their car, but it does mean being grateful they are doing many things well. Remember, being grateful opens the door to hope, and that’s as true for you looking at your crew with hope as they hope they have a place they can take pride in.

  3. Cut cynicism short. This is a big one because there is always someone who rises to the top in your team, but at the same time, there are many others given the same opportunities and coaching who will not. Those members will turn on the one who rises – it’s just human nature. When the cries of teacher’s pet, brown-noser, or worse are heard, it is important to nip it in the bud. Otherwise, your bright spot will become demotivated and, at best, do less to fit in; at worst, they’ll quit.

  4. Remove or reframe spiffs. A lot of vendors spiff employees for selling their merchandise. Many retailers have used this system to not pay bonuses from their own payroll. This can lead to your employees only selling one line at the expense of others because they get a reward. That can mean your shoppers get limited options. You want all your merchandise to be considered, so either remove specific spiffs or change your program for a better shopping experience.

  5. Inspect what you expect. A lot of your own authority rests on how well you follow up. A weak manager’s oversight is often hit-or-miss; only when they have major initiatives that could make them look bad do they check all the steps. If you’re easily distracted, put reminders in your smartphone to check on progress towards a goal, speak to an employee, or even walk the floor at random times. The worst feedback is no feedback at all. Your own self-management is critical to managing your associates.

And don’t forget, if after you’ve studied these five steps, you have an employee who won’t follow what you want, let them go. Nothing is quicker for tuning up a team than having someone not pulling their weight depart.

See also, 9 Sure Signs Of A Rotten Retail Manager

In Sum

It’s easy to say you can’t get good help, but it is often your retail management system of how you manage your retail employees that is to blame.

Scan these five tips before you start work tomorrow to be sure you are clear on your role, your employee expectations are clear, you know how you’ll provide both good and bad feedback, and you know how you’ll minimize cynicism towards those who rally to your new style.

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