3 Lessons to Learn From Retail’s People Problem

Date posted: December 6, 2017

retail

By Courtney Branson

Challenges in the retail space make headlines almost every day, from discussions of Amazon’s continued dominance to speculation about the future of the industry. At Square Root, we took an in-depth look at the state of brick and mortar retail in our State of the Store Report. What did we uncover? Beyond the more commonly discussed challenges, retail has a major people problem. Leadership across the industry is largely unhappy, with an abysmal eNPS of -20.

The challenges plaguing retail are common across almost every industry. From from low morale to high turnover, and, ultimately, poor performance, overlooking employee unhappiness can have detrimental outcomes.

So, what lessons can managers learn from retail’s example?

Lack of alignment

Feeling out of sync and unhappy go hand-in-hand. Among retail leadership, unhappy managers (those considered Detractors based on NPS) were 4X more likely to feel misaligned to corporate objectives and to struggle to understand key priorities in the business.

Misalignment among teams is a sneaky problem with widespread impact. It can leave teams feeling disconnected from the bigger picture, and make it difficult for individuals to understand their impact in the company. When the “we’re all in this together” mentality is absent, it ultimately drives teams to work toward different goals — limiting the success of the brand.

How can you keep teams marching towards the same goals? It starts with getting alignment around your vision, mission and values — and finding opportunities to share them among your team time and time again. Keeping your larger vision front and center helps ensure individual goals and priorities map back to the bigger picture. Then, build in regular checkpoints —  from peer-to-peer and management one-on-ones, to quarterly team all-hands meetings — to share progress towards company goals.

Beyond those basics, alignment lives or dies based on how you hire. When looking for your next teammate, focus on attributes befitting of your brand’s values and vision. And then look for ways to bring those values to life and reinforce them across the business everyday. For example, tie employee recognition to your values. At Square Root, one of our core values is “Partner.” When a teammate finds a solution to a customer challenge, we recognize them (with the help of Bonusly) not for saving the bottom line, but for serving as an example of truly partnering to find success.

Poor communications

Not surprisingly, communications play a key role in contributing to alignment and overall happiness. Our report showed unhappy employees were 2X more likely to say their company lacked efficient systems of communication, and 2X more likely to say better communications would improve performance. Beyond personal unhappiness, poor communication contributes to loss of trust and motivation, with Detractors being 3X more likely to say their boss does not value their opinions, with 2X as many believing their superior does not have their best interest in mind.

The best communications strategies enable information sharing and encourage feedback and transparency across all levels of the business. They also take into consideration the varying communications styles of your team. Quarterly all-hands meetings are a great way to build a sense of community while also keeping the team up to speed on company progress and changes. Want to provide power in numbers? Consider hosting live, “Ask Me Anything” sessions with your CEO, where no question is off limits. Want to understand what’s working and what’s not? Anonymous culture surveys can be a great way to get unfiltered feedback and keep a pulse on employee happiness.

When it comes to communication, just don’t forget sharing and collecting information is only half of the equation. It’s how you act on it that builds trust and drives improvements.

Tools and training gaps

The third major hurdle when it comes to happiness, our report uncovered, is a lack of both tools and training. Unhappy employees were more likely to say they still rely on outdated tools and technology like word processors, spreadsheets, and even pen and paper to do their most important tasks. Need more convincing of the importance? One in four cited better tools and training as the number one thing that would positively impact performance.

Filling the tools and training gap can be one of the best ways to not only reduce wasted time, money and resources, but also unlock the full potential of your team. For tools, look for options that can be used across the company, but customized to each team’s specific needs. We use Trello, for example, to guide projects across our teams. Projects can be shared with groups or the entire company. This transparency helps us move quickly, encourages collaborative feedback, and inspires knowledge sharing.

When it comes to training, there really is no one size fits all approach. Instead, give team members ongoing training opportunities in a variety of formats, so they can learn when and how they want. See what resonates most, from encouraging attendance at conferences and workshops, to hosting onsite sessions to cover key topics, or tapping internal experts to share their knowledge with their teammates.

It’s clear that with 2017 quickly coming to a close, managers should be putting people at the top of their 2018 priorities list. By focusing on alignment, communications, tools and training, employers in retail and beyond can keep their teams informed and engaged in the new year.

About Courtney: If you ask her, Courtney is the cheerleader of the company; but really, she’s the glue that keeps Square Root together. She handles a little bit of everything but is especially good at HR and employee relations. Prior to joining Square Root, Courtney spent several years in HR operations at really large companies, so she brings welcome structure to our rapidly expanding team. No matter what she’s working on, Courtney adds a creative touch – keeping employee morale high and company events interesting. She knows just what it takes to pull the best out of people and isn’t above the occasional need for coffee/whiskey/cookie bribery. Courtney has a degree in English with minors in philosophy and history from Texas A&M University.

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