For many retail managers, the most baffling part of their job is the people part. The same leaders who can easily manage their inventory, manage their facilities, manage their books, and manage their profit margins, are often the same ones who find themselves at a loss when it comes to managing the behavior and performance of their employees. “Why can’t they just do what I tell them to do?” is the management cry heard around the retail world.
It's Not Complicated
Let’s remove the mystery about employee engagement once and for all. If your employees aren’t performing with excellence in every way, every day, with no exceptions, there are only two reasons why:
1) They can’t.
2) They don’t want to.
There’s no mystery really, no psychological complexities, and no complicated management theories. There are just two simple root causes. Either your employees lack something essential which prevents them from performing with excellence, or they don’t achieve excellence because they simply don’t want to.
Managers need to think of these two root causes as separate disorders which require accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Just as band-aids won’t fix a broken bone, a how-to training class won’t fix a broken spirit. Successful retail leadership requires more doctoring and less managing to keep the people part of the operation healthy.
Employees Don't Because They Can't
No matter how much you request, demand, cajole or beg your employees for a certain level of performance, sometimes they don’t give it to you because they can’t. If you’ve been a manager for more than a week, you know there are some employees who put no creativity into their work except when it comes to excuse-making. These are the masters of “can’t.”
It is a huge mistake, though, to assume that every “can’t” you hear is nothing more than a justification for laziness. There are some (usually many) legitimate barriers in every operation that make it difficult or impossible for employees to complete their tasks, make their deadlines, and meet your expectations.
Identify Barriers to Excellence
You can separate legitimate barriers from unfounded whining by asking your employees one simple question: “What makes it difficult or impossible for you to do your job with excellence every day, in every way, with no exceptions?” The legitimate barriers that your employees identify will fall into four categories:
- Physical Barriers
- Time Barriers
- Wherewithal Barriers
- Know-how Barriers
Identifying these barriers is an extremely easy task. Your employees think about them, get frustrated with them, and talk about them behind your back quite frequently! If given the opportunity to communicate without fear of recrimination, your employees will help you compile an extensive barriers list with ease.
Eliminate Barriers to Excellence
Eliminating “can’t” excuses from your operation is then simply a matter of eliminating the legitimate barriers. This is usually a much easier undertaking than most managers would expect. Why? Because your employees have already formulated solutions in their heads which usually sound something like, “If I were running this place I would…” Ask your employees for their ideas, and empower them to implement the solutions. Give them a second chance if the solution fails, and praise them in public when they succeed.
Some Employees Just Don't Want To
The best thing about supporting excellence by eliminating barriers is that it leaves nothing for the slackers to hide behind. When you remove the "can't," all that's left in your operation are employees who excel and employees who obviously need to be replaced.
Replacing employees is not a pleasant task, but don't procrastinate. High-performing employees have no tolerance for just-get-by co-workers and neither should you. Cutting slackers loose is a necessary part of managing excellence. It raises the bar of performance for everyone, and it's a surprisingly tangible way to reward those who have been picking up the slack for the slackers.
Supporting Success is Managing Excellence
The people part of a retail operation is not as puzzling as it sometimes seems. When you set your employees up for success by listening to their challenges and eliminating their barriers, the work you receive from them in return will take away most of the mystery of human resources management.