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There is No Such Thing as a Dead End Job in Retail


Coaching front-line retail employees can be challenging.  Take Suzy Q. for example.

Suzy used to be one of your best employees.  A full-time college student intent on maintaining honor level grades, she demonstrated this same level of ambition and initiative every time she walked through the door of your store.  Whenever she was on the floor you breathed a heavy sigh of relief because you knew you could expect she’d exceed her goals – which meant you were going to meet yours as well. 

Suzy’s performance also influenced her co-workers.  Her enthusiasm and energy on floor seemed to stimulate other employees, resulting in a tendency for even the most mediocre performers to meet their mark when sharing a shift with her. 

However, lately Suzy’s numbers have gone down, which is understandable in light of this “new economy” we find ourselves in.  But you’ve crunched her numbers and they don’t jive.  Yes, overall sales have declined somewhat, but Suzy’s numbers trend towards a continuous downward spiral.  She’s definitely going to crash and burn if you don’t do something about it.         

It Isn’t About Managing

Motivating employee performance is a tough gig no matter what industry sector you find yourself – but those of us in the retail industry know we’ve got some pretty special challenges keeping our employees motivated in this equally challenging economy.

Retailers who do best are those who understand developing successful and productive retail employees is not about managing, it is about motivating.  Retailers who succeed in motivating their employees don’t manage, they coach.    

The reason for this is simple:  motivated employees are productive employees.  But what is this magic pill called motivation?  Psychologists don’t have just one definition for motivation, but essentially it can be defined as the underlying cause (such as a belief) strong enough to get us to do what we must be done in order to achieve a goal.

We Need to Talk

In Suzy Q.’s case it is evident that, whatever her motivation to perform at such high level was in the past, something has changed and that change has resulted in a loss of motivation. As her coach you need to get her back on her game and the first thing you need to identify is what has changed for Suzy. 

Fortunately, you two have a good relationship based on mutual respect and regular, open communication.  You know she’s fully aware her numbers are down and ask her what she thinks might be behind this trend. 

It turns out that Suzy is going to graduate in a few months and knows the chances for getting a position in her chosen field are minimal at best.  It seems that all her hard work is going to come to nothing.  What motivated her exceptional job performance in the past was her belief that her job supported her efforts to achieve her goal to graduate from college and get a “good” job.  Now that it looks like she’s going to be stuck at a “dead end” retail job after graduating the job has lost its meaning – and she’s lost her motivation to excel on the job.

Front-Line Retail Experience = Future Competitive Advantage

While Suzy’s situation has its own particulars, the notion that a position in front- line retail is a “dead-end” job is quite common and represents perhaps the biggest challenge when it comes to coaching that leads to best performance.

While there may be instances where you could dangle future promotions in front of an employee to motivate them, most often this isn’t going to be the case.  Therefore the emphasis when coaching employees disenchanted with the prospect of working retail with little or no hope for advancement must be placed on continuous on-the-job learning opportunities. 

Coaches in retail and service management positions need to coach their employees as to the opportunities front-line retail provides to gain and grow important work place skills.  People with positive, strong retail experience have skills held in high esteem by future employers. 

Reliability, strong work ethic, the ability to follow instructions as well as carry out job duties with little supervision, sales - these are all skills future employers are interested in.  However, and perhaps most important, is that the retail sector offers a unique opportunity to gain experience within a skill set in high demand due to low supply by employers –  applicants who can demonstrate experience with “people” or “soft” skills.

Yes, it can be challenging to motivate retail front-line employees – but coaches who successfully communicate there is no such thing as a “dead-end” retail job have a heavy hitter for creating winning retail teams. 

TAGS: retail, management,
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