What does it take to improve staff productivity?

Mar 08, 2016

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from Retail Contrarian, the blog of the Sixth Star Consulting.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to manage today’s business while at the same time creating tomorrow’s opportunities.

The more efficient and effective you are, the more productive you are. The more productive you are, the more productive your staff is.

Here are some tips for improving productivity in your business.

1. Focus on expected and immediate behaviors and actions. Most leaders talk about desired results but never drill down to what it takes to achieve them. If a goal is to increase the average sale by $3.50 this week, each associate should know what he/she needs to do that day to achieve that $3.50 higher average sale.

2. Partner up your employees. Many employees work better together and take more responsibility when others are dependent on them. Partnering can be helpful for training and development initiatives, shared tasks or contests.

3. Build accountability into the day. Accountability can be accomplished with a mechanism like a tracking sheet, an end-of-day debrief with a manager, or an action by the leader, such as staff observation and/or practice/role play. You rarely see breakthrough performance in an entire team without well-defined accountability.

4. Attack the gap. For stores that track individual staff results, it’s important to find gaps in associate performance, essentially identifying what the top performers are doing that the bottom aren’t. Managers can use metrics such as ADS (average dollar sales) or transactions per hour, etc. to guide the development of the underperformers and narrow the gap.

5. No more excuses. Store performance suffers when the leader makes excuses for accepting substandard performance. It’s okay if you choose to keep an employee that will almost always perform lower than others. Just don’t pretend you’re holding them to the same expectations as the others. You can explain why you have this person, but an excuse is just acceptance of substandard performance.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What advice do you have for store managers to improve associate productivity at the store level? Which tips in the article do you find most valuable?

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"Berating employees for "not doing their job" usually stems from the frustration many managers feel from not having clearly defined how to accomplish what they expect and then inspecting what they expect."

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9 Comments on "What does it take to improve staff productivity?"

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Chris Petersen, PhD
6 years 11 months ago

Outstanding summary by Doug Fleener. After 30 years of working with stores and associates I find that the most important part is Doug’s first point.

Most associates simply don’t know what “good” is in terms of their behaviors that impact results. While managers can set benchmarks in terms of what they expect in terms of sales results, this does not translate into specific behaviors that staff need to change.

Old habits die very hard. It takes practice and repetitions to overcome ingrained responses! To change an associate’s greeting, questions or how they offer assistance requires managers take an active role in modeling and reinforcing on the floor “what GOOD is.”

Bob Phibbs
6 years 11 months ago

I think it all comes down to training. Whether you use an in-house trainer or an online portal like SalesRX, you have to have a consistent program with a clear path of what it takes to create an exceptional experience.

Berating employees for “not doing their job” usually stems from the frustration many managers feel from not having clearly defined how to accomplish what they expect and then inspecting what they expect.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
6 years 11 months ago

All of the tips have merit. However, I find tips one (Focus on expected and immediate behaviors and actions) and three (Build accountability into the day) to be the most valuable.

My advice for store managers is to follow my customer delight rule to FIRE them up.

  • Finding (F) good associates involves active recruiting and selection processes that answer the following questions: What has s/he done? What has s/he learned? Will s/he fit?
  • Involving (I) associates includes: creating the culture, preparing the players and making a real commitment to development.
  • Rewarding (R) associates has the following components: recognition, respect,
  • reward and celebration.
  • Finally, empower (E) associates, namely, give them the responsibility to solve customer problems without checking every time. Responsibility means being given the ability to respond. Let employees tell you how they would “fix customer problems.”

Associates can make a real difference if you FIRE them up!

Nikki Baird
Nikki Baird
6 years 11 months ago
I like number five the best — it is definitely the one that I saw have the most impact on employee morale and subsequently on productivity in my days in store ops. That’s why the whole Zappos take-it-or-leave-it approach of paying new employees $500 or whatever amount to leave after a couple of weeks on the job is brilliant. Any store manager worth their salt can get rid of a bad seed — someone who steals, who never shows up on time, who actively antagonizes customers. But those “not as good” employees, the ones that haven’t done anything to actually merit being fired — it’s a lot harder to gin up the resolve to get rid of them. And thus, the excuses come. What most companies don’t seem to see, though, is the damage that kind of person does to his or her peers. And when a manager makes excuses for why that kind of person is still around, then everyone else starts to wonder why the heck they bother working so hard. It’s poisonous. That kind of… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
6 years 11 months ago

These are some good tips to address staff productivity. “Shadow of the leader” is a way to set the example of what you want your staff to do, and how you want them to perform. Be the example for your people. Get out on the sales floor and interact with shoppers. Offer help to them, even if they don’t ask for it.

Also, be certain to monitor, measure and offer feedback on performance regularly. If you have too many people to do that effectively, then ensure your department managers take this responsibility seriously.

Shep Hyken
6 years 11 months ago

First and foremost, hire the right people. Then train them properly. Be sure they understand the culture and goal of your store. Then empower them to do the work you hired and trained them to do. Recognize their effort with feedback (both good and “learning opportunity” feedback). Finally, demonstrate how you want the employee to act. There is no room for the old “Do as I say, not as I do” saying. Be the leader that others respect, admire and want to emulate.

My favorite strategies in the article? I like “Accountability” (number three) and “No more excuses (number five). When you put the right people in the job, train them and let them do what they are supposed to do, they should be held accountable for their work.

Carlos Arámbula
6 years 11 months ago

Training and commitment from the management that if the employee follows the training, he/she will be visibly rewarded. Give associates “skin” in the game, reward hard workers and avoid and eliminate associates who fail to contribute — they will adversely affect other associates and overall productivity.

Lead by example. Positive and negative results ultimately begin with management.

Gordon Arnold
6 years 10 months ago

1) Spend time on the floor engaging a task that is a recognized bottleneck

2) Validate random subordinate reports and remove subjectivity and/or speculation.

3) Make automation improvements that increase productivity and safety.

4) Observe how customers are reacting to the products and services offered.

5) Spend 2-3 hours per week working checkout at peak time.

6) Go to 1…

Doug Fleener
6 years 10 months ago

Thanks everyone. I appreciate your insight and feedback.

"Berating employees for "not doing their job" usually stems from the frustration many managers feel from not having clearly defined how to accomplish what they expect and then inspecting what they expect."

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