Retail Policies and Practices
Why Your Store Needs Rules
by Lewis H. Weber
How many times have you hired a new employee based on his prior experience in an art supply store? Perhaps you thought, “This is great! I won’t need to train this employee; he’s already trained.” Or maybe you desperately needed another warm body to fill the vacancy in your staff, and thought, “Well, this guy seems okay, so for a few days he will follow Susan; she will train him since she’s worked here the longest.” Perhaps you even forgot to tell your staff about this new employee, and he came to work wondering what he should be doing to fill his day.
In spite of our desire to hire “plug and play” employees, they cannot be properly trained by a competitor’s business model. While an experienced employee may have extensive product knowledge – and this can be valuable – she likely possesses very little knowledge about your store’s policies and procedures, operational methods, sales goals, performance measures and standards, as well as the unique retailing culture that has enabled your store to prosper.
Experienced employees can bring valuable personal qualities to your company, such as an even temper, pleasant personality, satisfactory level of personal grooming, appreciation for completing a task, reliability and honesty. However, these qualities can also be found in inexperienced employees. Given that your new employee has no real knowledge about your store’s specific procedures for success, you must provide such training.
Teach your employees
If there is a best way for your employees to do something, you need to tell them how and when they should do it, as well as how their performance will be measured. If your store does not possess a list of “best practices” – successful techniques and methods – I recommend that you consider the development of this list to be of high priority. After all, if you have not specified to your employees the details of their jobs, how can you expect them to know what to do, how to do it and when it should be done? Although we have been discussing this concept in terms of hiring new employees, this approach should be extended to all of your employees.
Unfortunately, relying on a brief “apprenticeship” program of shadowing a more experienced employee for a few days is often ineffective and unproductive. Not only will the inexperienced employee be overwhelmed by the amount of new information he will have to remember, but the “trainer” generally must continue with her regular job responsibilities, often interrupting the training program. At best, given the amount of time allocated for work shadowing, the new employee will be able to witness only a fraction of the potential job skills he will be responsible to learn in order to contribute usefully to the store’s success. Bottom line: Until you have taken the time to clearly identify your employees’ job responsibilities, you are leaving it largely up to them to decide how they should do their jobs.
Optional versus required jobs
It is important to distinguish between optional and required actions. For example, in some stores, the dress code is rather lax, and employees can wear a wide range of clothing, display an optional number of body piercings, tattoos, hairstyles and hair colors. Other stores require employees to wear designated uniforms as part of stricter standards for appearance and grooming. It is interesting to observe the extent of emotion that surfaces when a store’s dress code is modified, such as requiring that all employees wear aprons with your store’s logo. Suddenly your employees become very interested in their appearance, compared to their lack of interest in their appearance prior to implementing the dress code change.
Nametags are another good example of establishing a requirement rather than an option, and your employees’ cooperation with this policy tends to predict their ability to cooperate with other store requirements. Wearing a nametag at work should be a rather simple skill to accomplish, and yet we find it takes a surprising amount of management to maintain “nametag discipline.” A reason for this difficulty is that the distinction between optional and required actions has not been clarified.
Wearing a nametag may appear optional, and in a sense it is, given that employees can choose whether or not they will wear one. Technically speaking, all actions involve choice, but they also involve consequences. Deciding not to wear a nametag at work is a choice, and the consequence should include written disciplinary action. (In future articles, I will discuss disciplinary action in more detail.) While such action might seem severe by current store standards, choosing to not wear a nametag is a clear violation of established company policy. If you accept variation in cooperation with the nametag policy, how can you expect your employees to follow other policies and procedures vital to your store’s success?
Wearing a nametag has provided a useful example to distinguish between optional and required actions. However, this concept applies to a wide range of employee actions that directly impact store profit. First, you must clearly specify the full range of what “good” employees do and how they should do it. Once these actions have been listed, you must also determine how you will measure the result of these actions. Cash registers conveniently provide a wealth of information about employees, from their accuracy in handling financial transactions to their effectiveness as salespeople. It would be convenient indeed to have “action registers” for important employee actions, such as dress code, maintenance of store cleanliness, efficiency in handling special orders, framing quality, shipping and receiving accuracy, overtime, promptness to work, sick time, customer service, and any other aspect for which certain levels are found to correlate with success defined as increased net profit.
Cash registers measure employee performance
You might be surprised to learn that you already possess automatic measurement for important employee actions. Any interaction between an employee and a customer, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, will either positively or negatively impact customers’ perceptions of service, with a resulting impact on sales. In a very real sense, there are no trivial or unimportant interactions between employees and customers, and the quality of this interaction is measured automatically by your cash registers. While sales can decrease for a variety of reasons, rarely do they increase if employees don’t conduct themselves in the most customer-advantageous way.
Until the next issue of AMR, your assignment is to define your “best practices” and require that your employees perform these actions that have a measurable and direct impact to customer service. Make these actions a requirement for employment. While the cash register is the ultimate measure of your success, you will undoubtedly need to measure lots of other employee actions that occur throughout your store. Remember that you are not asking people to do more work. Rather, you are simply defining what it means to be a productive employee in your store. Once you have created this list, you can begin to evaluate its contribution to your store’s success, a topic that will be discussed in the next issue of Art Materials Retailer.
Lewis H. Weber is a board-certified behavior analyst, former independent retailer and former senior manager with national retailers Wolf Camera and Ritz Camera. He has over 20 years experience applying his positive management technology to retail settings and multi-store environments. For more information, contact him at 941-342-0856 or visit BehaviorManage.com.