What happens when managers unintentionally demotivate employees?

Discussion
Sep 22, 2016

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

“When people are highly motivated, it’s easy to accomplish the impossible. And when they’re not, it’s impossible to accomplish the easy.” – Bob Collings

I love today’s quote. While we often think about how to motivate employees, sometimes leaders demotivate the staff and don’t even know it.

Here are four ways frontline leaders might unintentionally demotivate their employees, and what they can do to avoid doing so.

  1. Take charge after not being on the floor. A leader walks onto a busy sales floor and immediately takes charge without knowing what customers have been helped. Even worse, he or she asks customers if they’ve been helped. Both actions inadvertently communicate to the staff that their manager has no confidence that they are doing their jobs.
  1. Undermine the company or the boss. Many leaders do this without even realizing it. A while back I heard a manager tell her staff that the company wants them to do something new. She immediately followed up by explaining why it won’t work. You could see her staff’s negative reaction. Your staff should never know if you don’t personally support something.
  1. Cherry pick customers. I once had an assistant manager who did this all of the time. The minute he learned a customer was going to take a long time or be somewhat challenging, he’d hand him or her over to a colleague because he had “some important operational things to do.” Funny, he never handed over that customer who walked in to make a purchase.
  1. Hold yourself to a different set of standards. Not many managers do this on purpose, but it happens from time to time. Managers take personal calls when the staff is told they can’t. I’ve also seen managers who don’t always stick to their scheduled working hours. True, the managers might be exempt and have had to work from home, but does the staff know that?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which of the demotivating tendencies by store managers mentioned in the article is most common? Which is the most damaging to morale? Can you add any other examples to those mentioned in the article?

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17 Comments on "What happens when managers unintentionally demotivate employees?"


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Max Goldberg
Guest

Good list. I’d add: Take away an employee’s ability to solve a customer’s problem. Solving a problem makes both the customer and the employee feel satisfied. It allows loyalty to grow. Too few employees are empowered to take ownership of issues and solve them.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
5 years 7 months ago

Today, management by customer surveys is incredibly demotivating to store employees. In many retail operations these so-called 10-point scales are really three point scales — 10, nine and failure.

I know that these surveys are used heavily in retail management. But I’ve come to consider them mismanagement techniques. Because of the way the surveys are given, they lack scientific validity yet are used for bonus determination and firings.

At the same time, surveys irritate customers as store employees are forced to plead with customers to fill them out — merely to make quotas in numbers of surveys. (I no longer fill out any surveys.)

This is my most recent post which summarizes store employee comments from prior posts. Those posts are based on very specific store experiences I had.

For me, it’s sobering reading. And it reveals a practice that violates what Deming taught us as well as Campbell’s Law (read Campbell’s Law for insight into the current Wells Fargo debacle.)

Ian Percy
BrainTrust

SO glad someone else is pointing this out Doug. Same goes for performance appraisals!

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
5 years 7 months ago

I really have enjoyed reading Deming’s comments on appraisals … So fresh to have someone of his intelligence and experience tell us to get rid of them.

Cheers.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust
Jasmine Glasheen
Principal Writer & Content Strategist, Jasmine Glasheen & Associates
5 years 7 months ago

Although managers holding themselves to a different set of standards may be the most common in retail, undermining the company may be the most detrimental. In both cases, the manager is failing to set a precedent for positive behavior through example.

It is a tempting mentality, of course, for a retail manager who has put in years with a company to feel as though “they’ve earned” a few perks their employees haven’t, but the responsibility to set a precedent is the weight of the crown.

In working retail cosmetics in department stores I often saw overqualified associates working under incompetent or ambivalent managers who had been hired while the company was under duress. The managers would under-perform and cause qualified employees to become resentful, which led to poor employee retention and deplorable performance.

Don’t hire management when in a bind. It is far better to hold out for the right person.

Ian Percy
BrainTrust
We need to have a new understanding of the “motivational” thing. First, EVERYONE is motivated to do precisely what they are doing. They do that because in their mind it’s better than not doing it. Doesn’t matter if we agree with the logic of it all or not. Anyone who has raised a teenager understands this point. Managers/leaders are to create an environment that gives room for people to be who and what they desire to be; their “reason to be,” if you will. Their destiny to be grand about it. That environment is often called “culture.” Sometimes that reason is aligned with a retail experience and sometimes not. The problem is we may think we know what retail can offer, but we haven’t a clue what our employees are looking for out of their life. The end result is it’s just a job and many managers do the dumb selfish things mentioned in the article because they don’t know what they want out of their lives either. Second, “motivation” is primarily a matter of… Read more »
Doug Garnett
BrainTrust
Doug Garnett
President, Protonik
5 years 7 months ago

Continuing to ponder Deming’s observations. He thought employees all were motivated to do good things. That the problem was when managers don’t lead but micro-manage. Really appreciate your comment.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest

Max made a strong suggested addition to the list. Letting the floor sales staff have the ability to make a decision and satisfy a customer’s problem is one of the best and most stimulating ways to motivate a team. It is setting them up for future success within the organization. The future is predicated on the small things you as a manager do today.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust
Every retailer knows that great store performance starts and ends with a great store manager. They are the unsung heroes of retailing who are often overburdened and under-trained. While it’s hard to say which of the demotivating tendencies is most common, undermining the company or boss is the most damaging to the business. Getting alignment from the executive suite to the store floor is a profound challenge. When store managers undermine corporate initiatives they demoralize store personnel who have a sincere interest in making a positive contribution and also prevent the store from performing better by not fully implementing the initiative. Store managers are entitled to opinions — frankly, some of the best ideas come from store managers — but these opinions should be expressed to their district/regional managers and not to store personnel. No organization can or should tolerate this behavior and managers like these need to be firmly coached or terminated if it persists. Another very demoralizing tendency I see is related to target setting. Many retailers today are measuring traffic and conversion… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
5 years 7 months ago

We can list examples all day long. It doesn’t really matter which of the examples are given. Once an employee knows he is smarter than his boss, work becomes demoralizing. The cure for this is to figure out a way to take the boss’s job or figure out a way to make more money than them. I loved having bosses like this. It was like owning and training a dog. The dog thinks he is the one that runs the household when in fact you do. Sometimes the only motivation I had going to work was to see if my boss was going to wise off or do something demoralizing. I could teach him a lesson with him not even knowing I’m the puppet master.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust

The number one thing that managers do to demotivate their best employees is not on the list. Note I said their best employees. Our research has shown that managers who not handle problem employees and put up with sub-par performance from fellow employees is the most damaging factor affecting the STAR employees, the ones who truly make a difference.

Patricia Vekich Waldron
Staff
Patricia Vekich Waldron
Contributing Editor, RetailWire; Founder and CEO, Vision First
5 years 7 months ago

Store managers have the toughest job — balancing the execution of corporate strategy. All these behaviors set a bad example for employees and leave a bad taste in the mouth of shoppers.

Kai Clarke
BrainTrust

This article has some thought-provoking insights, but it misses the biggest obstacle … getting managers to interact with their employees more frequently. Most managers rarely interact with their employees. This means that they don’t understand their employees or their responsibilities to have any impact on their employees’ job.

Ralph Jacobson
Guest

As a supermarket store manager in the ’80s, I can say these are actually spot-on and super applicable yesterday and today. The issue is that these challenges continue to exist. Only individual store managers who take their “Shadow of the Leader” management style seriously will eliminate these issues … one store manager at a time. Senior leadership can only enable via training, however, practical application is completely up to the individual.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Managers who aren’t role models can erode a customer experience. Consider this. You can’t treat an employee one way and expect them to treat the customer differently. Practice what I call the Employee Golden Rule. Model the behavior by treating people you work with the way you want your customers treated — if not even better. Set the tone and be a role model. You can’t pull someone into an office, yell at them and then expect them to treat others much differently. The culture drives the customer experience.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Is it really appropriate to describe such people as “leaders”? As for the questions asked, it seems like #4 might be amended to add #4b: “Poorly communicates information.”

Brian Numainville
BrainTrust

I have often seen management hold themselves to a different set of standards than everyone else. Whether by virtue of rank and title or time with the company, some managers seem to feel they are “at a different level” than the other employees. And believe me, the employees notice and lose respect very quickly!

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