Be A Great Manager

Are you a great store manager. Easy to ask; tough to answer. At the most basic level, of course, every successful retailer must know how to display merchandise, schedule staff and take inventory. Such technical skills, though, are only part of the picture. "Champion" store managers also possess an array of personal attributes that transform employees into top performers.

"Great store managers, first and foremost, have people skills," notes Shep Hyken, a St. Louis-based consultant. "Managing on the store level means meeting and motivating the retail staff."

So how good are you at managing those who work for you. Test yourself with the quiz that follows, but first consider these 10 important skills.

1. DO YOU CHALLENGE EMPLOYEES TO SET NEW PERFORMANCE GOALS?

No matter how you judge performance β€” sales, productivity or efficiency β€” you must inspire employees to do better.

"The great store manager encourages employees to set high goals," says Fred Martels, president of People Solution Strategies, Chesterfield, Mo. Each employee should continually establish specific, achievable goals and draw up an action plan for meeting them.

Tip: Ask employees what they need from you and follow up with encouragement.

2. DO YOU COACH EMPLOYEES TO OVERCOME PERFORMANCE ISSUES?

Motivated workers are great. But even the most enthusiastic encounter performance problems. That's when the great store manager starts coaching.

"Coaching encourages employees to generate creative solutions to performance problems," notes Hyken. Because it emphasizes collaboration rather than confrontation, coaching improves workplace effectiveness while avoiding the costly stress generated by disciplinary sessions.

Tip: When coaching, avoid condescension in favor of identifying performance parameters and providing the tools to achieve them.

3. DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO CONTRIBUTE NEW IDEAS?

Employees who contribute ideas feel invested in your store's success. And employees who feel part of the race will run the extra mile. "The manager must encourage employees to speak up and then listen to what they have to say," says Martels.

Include employees in decision making by encouraging them to suggest ways to do things better, says Martels. "Rather than being your store's problem solver, encourage a team effort. Ask stimulating questions such as: "Here is our problem. How do we solve it?"

Tip: Rather than killing ideas that have been tried before, ask how the idea can be modified in the face of experience.

4. DO YOU TAKE A PERSONAL INTEREST IN YOUR EMPLOYEES?

Employees aren't just cogs in your profit machine: They're living human beings. And like you they respond favorably when you recognize that they have a life outside of work. "Little things mean a lot to employees," says Leil Lowndes, a New York City-based author of books on communications skills. "Learn their kids' names. Remember their birthdays. Say 'hello' in the hallways."

Get to know your employees' outside interests, she adds. "Asking about their hobbies and vacations will help you make better work assignments." Taking a personal interest in people's lives encourages them to stay with the store and commit to its goals.

5. DO YOU DELEGATE WELL?

"Great store managers let go and delegate," says Hyken. "Too many times I've seen people without that ability attempt to micromanage every process in their stores. Then they get stressed out because they are trying to do everything themselves." That's bad, because employees who feel disengaged from store events feel helpless and demoralized. And bad attitudes impact the bottom line.

The courage to delegate doesn't come easily. Hyken suggests using this formula: First, visualize the result you want the employee to achieve. Then list the steps required to achieve that result and the skills requisite to each step. Then rate the employee on a "1 to 5" basis on each of these skills. Finally, after training the employee to a "5" level for each skill, delegate the work with confidence.

6. DO YOU COMMUNICATE YOUR PRIORITIES AND DIRECTIONS CLEARLY.

You know what you want from your employees. But do they?

Employees can't perform well when they don't know what constitutes success. "Usually employees don't really know what's critically important to their managers," says Lowndes. "Employees usually assume their current managers share the values of previous ones. That might not be the case."

Great store managers communicate what's important in clear language. Is it accuracy of work? Arriving on time? Being gracious with customers? Whatever your priorities, communicate them.

Tip: When an employee has not met your standards, couch your correction in words that inspire as well as challenge.

7. DO YOU RESOLVE CONFLICTS IN A PRODUCTIVE WAY?

The great store manager turns "bad" con.ict into "good" results. "Con.ict can be bad when people just scream at each other," says Hyken. "But it can be good when it leads to new solutions for old problems."

When two employees are in conflict, Hyken suggests, counsel each separately. You might start with a statement such as this: "I see this happening in the workplace. Tell me what you are seeing."

Follow up with a statement designed to assess how the conflict affects the employee: "I feel this way about what is happening . . ." and "Tell me what you are feeling."

Keep the conversation on an objective basis. Emphasize the consequence of not resolving the con.ict in terms of decreased productivity or even job termination.

Tip: Be a negotiator: Find out what the parties to the conflict want and help them achieve it.

8. DO YOU BEHAVE IN A PROFESSIONAL WAY AT WORK?

Do you act like a professional. Are you a role model for your employees.

"Personal characteristics and attitudes are important and often overlooked elements in a competency model," says Florence M. Stone, a New York City-based author of management books. "Here we are talking about your ability to be a role model."

Stone gives these examples of professional behavior:

β€’ Dedication to work and willingness to put in long hours.

β€’ Giving credit to employees rather than to oneself.

β€’ Avoiding rumors and excessive socializing at work.

β€’ Communicating in a thoughtful way.

β€’ Arriving at work and meetings on time.

Tip: Ask your boss for an assessment on your workplace behavior. If you are the boss, ask a trusted employee.

9. DO YOU INSPIRE YOUR EMPLOYEES?

Are you cheerful? Do you project enthusiasm?

In other words, do you have a dynamic personality that inspires your employees?

"A great store manager must be able to inspire and enable employees to perform at their best," says Ian Jacobsen, a Morgan Hill, Ca.-based management consultant.

Enthusiasm begins with a genuine interest in other people, which often manifests as simple friendliness. The store manager should never miss a

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chance to be friendly in behavior and speech. Greet everyone with a "Good morning!" "

Employees will almost always set their whole day by how their managers treat them in the morning," says Jacobsen.

10. DO YOU LISTEN WELL?

"Great store managers are clear communicators," affirms Mel Kleiman, a Houston-based management consultant. "And communication is a twoway street: We're talking not only about speaking and writing, but also listening."

Here are some tips from Kleiman on being a good listener:

β€’ Encourage the employee to open up.

β€’ Summarize and repeat what you hear. This gives the employee an opportunity to correct misunderstanding.

β€’ Ask the employee to express feelings about the issue.

β€’ Keep your focus on the employee. Don't start telling your own stories.

β€’ Encourage the employee to generate solutions to problems. Don't give advice.

Tip: Keep your eyes on the employee when in conversation.

Now take the quiz!

The "Great Store Manager" Quiz

Are you a great store manager? The answer lies to a great extent with how well you work with your employees. Rate yourself from 1 (never) to 10 (always) on each of these "people skills." Total your answers and see how close to 100 you get.

1) β€œI challenge employees to set new performance goals.” ____ 

2) β€œI coach employees to resolve performance problems.” ____

3) β€œI encourage employees to contribute new ideas.” ____

4) β€œI take an interest in my employees’ personal lives.” ____

5) β€œI delegate well.” ____

6) "I communicate my priorities and directions clearly." ____

7) "I resolve conflicts in a productive way."____

8) "I behave in a professional way at work."____

9) "I inspire my employees with a dynamic personality." ____

10) "I am a good listener."____

TOTAL SCORE ____

Now that you have your score, ask your boss to rate you on the same items. Then have a trusted employee do the same. Comparing the different scores should provide some insight into where your performance needs improvement and how you interact with different people.

All of the critical retail management skills focus on the employee, notes consultant Martels. "Great store managers know the job is not about them, but about how well they can motivate their employees to commit themselves to the success of the store."

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