Leading from the back(room)

Discussion
Oct 05, 2015
Doug Fleener

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of the Dynamic Experiences Group.

Most of the time I write about leading from the floor, but there are times you need to be in the back. Here are some tips and reminders for how to be a better leader from the backroom.

1. Avoid the backroom! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Of course, sometimes we just have to work in the office, but that should be the exception and not the rule. Be sure you choose the right times when you’re in the back instead of on the floor leading and coaching.

2. Let your staff know what you’ll be doing in the back. This simple action lets your staff know that you’re not just hanging out in the back playing solitaire while they work the floor. It really makes a big difference in how your staff perceives your absence from the floor.

3. Let the staff know if and when they can interrupt you. One day I was working in the back, and when I came out I was told I had missed a huge rush. They may have been so busy that they missed some sales. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why nobody came to get me. I eventually realized that it wasn’t the staff’s fault. It was mine, for not telling them they could and should.

L.L.Bean associates

Photo: RetailWire

4. Ease your way back in to the floor. Leaders need to avoid "throwing on the cape" before walking out on the floor. It’s annoying when a manager walks out from the back and asks if people have been helped. You know the staff wants to reply, "Duh. If you were on the floor you would know." Even worse is when the manager walks out and starts asking customers if they’ve been helped.

Yes, we’re wired to immediately start running the floor when we come out from the back. The problem is, when you do this it sends the wrong message to your team.

Trust your team. They can run the floor without you — and if they can’t, then what are you doing in the backroom? When you walk out, just ask your employees, "What customer can I help?" It’s as easy as that.

What tips would you have for managing floor leadership and backroom chores? Which are the most critical mentioned in the article?

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"I like how this article addresses the challenge and I think leaders can truly set the example in whatever type of retailer by showing consistent patterns of walking the sales floor and coaching effectively."

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6 Comments on "Leading from the back(room)"


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Chris Petersen, PhD.
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Managing a retail store is far more difficult than most can imagine!

Headquarters increasingly puts requirements on managers and leaders that require time in the back room. Yet they expect the floor to be covered and stores to improve both conversion and customer satisfaction.

Doug Fleener has the highlighted an appropriate customer question the manager should ask when returning to the floor: “What customer can I help?”

The manager is also the “store coach.” So I would also suggest another variation on Doug’s question: “What can I do to help you?”

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

This culture of leadership varies not only from retailer type (apparel, food, etc.) but also from company to company, and even store-to-store within the same company. Having started in the supermarket business in the ’70s and then moved into consulting in this century (now I DO feel old), I can say that there are definitely retailers that rarely have their management visible on the sales floor by staff, let alone customers. This is a perennial problem. I like how this article addresses the challenge and I think leaders can truly set the example in whatever type of retailer by showing consistent patterns of walking the sales floor and coaching effectively.

Shep Hyken
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Some leaders spend most of their time in the back room. And sometimes when they come out they are doing so because something is wrong. This causes a “fear factor” when the leader is seen walking around. Who is going to be yelled at next? OK, maybe not yelled at but perhaps reprimanded.

Many years ago Tom Peters came up with MBWA (management by walking around). Casual conversations with positive feedback made it comfortable for employees when they saw managers and leaders cruising the floor.

Another concept that ties into this is to catch employees doing the right thing and then acknowledging them for their good work.

As for the “most critical” idea mentioned in the article. I’ll go with number three, which is letting the staff know when they can and can’t interrupt. My thought is that managers and leaders must be accessible. This can all be solved with communication: letting employees know what they should do, when they should do it, etc.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Backroom walls and doors should be made of thick safety glass along with break rooms and offices, if they exist. Human Resources and meeting rooms should be off site if and only if need be. This would allow consumers to see for themselves just how important housekeeping and floor staffing really is to the company and the store. It would allow for clear demonstration of management at work to make things better. The age of consumer service and open access is right here, right now. We must all act on it to our advantage for the consumer’s sake.

Doug Fleener
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Thanks for your comments, and I especially appreciate Chris’s addition.

J. Kent Smith
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

All good points. But I always strove to eliminate or at least minimize the back room anyways. If you build it, they’ll fill it. Given you have to have one, keeping it organized is vital to productivity.

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"I like how this article addresses the challenge and I think leaders can truly set the example in whatever type of retailer by showing consistent patterns of walking the sales floor and coaching effectively."

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