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[16 comments]

Just how engaged can store employees be?

March 31, 2014

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from LoyaltyTruth.com, a blog published by Hanifin Loyalty.

According to Paul Hebert, a lead consultant at Symbolist, a common definition of an "engaged employee" is hard to come by.

"It's kind of like 'quality' — you know it when you see it," said Mr. Hebert in an interview with LoyaltyTruth. "That said, I do think we can say that engaged employees know what the overall mission of the organization is and proactively use their skills and talents to help fulfill that mission. For each employee, it will be different. For each company, it will be different.'"

At the end of the day, he believes, the goal for the company is to make sure their employees:

  1. Know what the company mission is;
  2. Know how each group and each employee can help fulfill that mission, and;
  3. Can help each employee identify their specific skills and talents that can be brought to bear to help fulfill that mission

Relatedly, Mr. Hebert said one of the most important ways to build employee engagement is to "train managers to be better managers." Engagement is an issue of human connection, not simply a transactional issue.

"If money was the only factor, we'd be shifting jobs every two weeks," said Mr. Hebert. "Companies spend way too much money on systems and gimmicks for engagement and not enough on training their managers to work with employees, provide opportunities for them to excel, and to recognize them when they do."

Regarding pay, reaching some level of parity for the job within their sector will help make pay less of an issue. When treated fairly, pay becomes less of a motivator and engagement tool.

"The key is to provide the appropriate incentive for the appropriate behaviors, something like the Goldilocks principle," said Mr. Hebert. "Remember that too much incentive can create unintended consequences (think Wall Street) while too little incentive just gets ignored. It's important to hit the right balance."

Discussion Questions:

What level of engagement should or can retailers expect from their store associates? What's your definition of a sufficiently engaged employee?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

How important is manager performance to the level of engagement of employees who work for them?

Comments:

The sufficiently-engaged employee must show PASSION:

P - positive
A - attentive
S - sincere
S - stimulated
I - informed
O - observant
N - noble

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Dave Wendland, Vice President, Hamacher Resource Group

I have found that the environment of the store is equal to the quality of the store manager and or the store management team. If the store manager is at peak levels of engagement, so is the staff. Without the commitment of the store manager, the store itself can be a disaster. The training of the store manager is key to a great customer-engaged store environment.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

Engaged employees are associates that know what they're doing, have a sense of purpose, and are treated with respect by management. Both of my children had great experiences working at Starbucks; my then-16-year-old son was put in charge of selling the new Via instant coffee product because he got great results. My daughter worked on the design team at Gap, creating displays.

With these experiences in mind, I'm certain that any store associate can be a great asset, with the right mentoring and sense of inclusion.

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Cathy Hotka, Principal, Cathy Hotka & Associates

You get what you expect ... so long as you're prepared to do what it takes to make those expectations come true. Engaged employees are up to 40% more productive. Engaged employees say good things about the company, they enjoy coming to work and the want to succeed. Making that happen isn't easy, but it is achievable (look around at other retailers like the Container Store for terrific examples of what to do).

Start by making your employees feel they are important. Define what success looks like. Give them an opportunity to get ahead. Provide them much more feedback. Build a great relationship with them. Make them feel successful. Not an easy list ... but consider the negative impact of employees on your sales floor who aren't saying good things about the company, don't really want to be at work, and don't care about winning.

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Kevin Graff, President, Graff Retail

I totally agree with Paul Hebert that one of the most significant factors for engaged employees is the store managers.

There are numerous programs and training for RSPs (Retail Sales People on the floor). There are almost no training and coaching programs for store managers on how to motivate employees and utilize core performance management principles. It all starts with managers being able to define "engagement" and "what good is."

In our recent studies of retail store pilots in major retail chains, the number one critical success factor was the talent and expertise of the store manager.

Far too many retailers fail to focus on the "forgotten few" that make all the difference in store ... retailers need to start studying and rewarding engaged store managers.

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Chris Petersen, PhD, President, Integrated Marketing Solutions

"Metrics" can kill pretty well anything of true value in our lives. We are desperate to put everything in a definable, controllable box. Let's start with this question: What's a "level?" We'd better know if we want to count them. Of course we need count them only until we reach "sufficient" number of levels. At that point we say, please - no more engagement. We've got all we want from you.

At first I thought the best insight here is that engagement is not a "transaction," it's a "connection." But then again, isn't a connection also a transaction? The difference is caring more about what we "give" than what we "get."

1. We want the employee to know the company "mission." That will be an exciting start. How about the company knowing the employee's "mission" - what they want to do with their life? Do we have a clue?

2. We want the employee to see how they can help the company be successful. How about the company looking at how it can help the employee accomplish their life goals?

3. Then the company should identify the employee's gifts and talents - at least the ones it wants. What about something a little deeper than that - can we move toward encouraging the development of all their talents? Some of those talents may lead to an innovation in your business you'd never thought of. We could write books about employees who, feeling stifled and trapped, took their abilities and started hugely successful companies, often competing ones.

And as a final thought, the missing link here is the concept of "commitment." We'll find it at the far end of "engagement."

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Ian Percy, President, The Ian Percy Corporation

As an old boss once said -- and I agree -- employees, and leaders especially, should be fired with enthusiasm, or otherwise be fired with enthusiasm. It's really up to leadership and the company to be loyal to employees, properly and continually train and develop them, and finally empower them. This takes commitment just as customer loyalty does.

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Phil Rubin, CEO, rDialogue

AS I wrote in this post: What's important to train a retail manager. Your retail manager needs to be a big-picture person watching the game from "up in the blimp." You don't need a coach who runs on the field to grab the ball during a fumble, right? Likewise, your best manager needs to see what causes a logjam at the register on a busy weekend, or what section of the sales floor is leaving customers unattended.

I get how awesome it is to quote the Ritz Carlton employees carrying a card in their pocket stating what the core values are. I get how wonderful it is for everyone to have their "BEHAG" front and center, but for the majority of players in retail, I would rather have clear game plans of how to run a store, than lofty ideals someone can quote.

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Bob Phibbs, President/CEO, The Retail Doctor

Any business, including retail, should expect exactly what they select. If the selection process is tightly defined with core competencies that encourage engagement, then the probability that you will have engaged employees rises.

That said, corporate policies must support and reward engagement. If an employee takes the initiative to solve a problem, and management punishes them for making what they think is a poor decision, that employee will be much less likely to try again.

Everyone talks about wanting engaged employees but when it comes down to it, their organizations just don't support engagement. Organizations should look at their processes and how they communicate before they point the finger at employees for being the problem. Build engaging work environments and watch your employees come alive!

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

Simple answer: Employers should expect the same level of engagement from their employees that the employees can expect from the company. Here is a blog post I wrote back in December about the question you need to be answering, not asking about engagement.

DECEMBER 27, 2013
The original idea for this post came from the book First Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham. I've taken a checklist written for employees and changed it to be a self-test for managers.

Great managers make sure:

  • Their employees know what is expected of them.
  • Their employees have the equipment and materials they need to do their jobs.
  • Their employees have plenty of opportunities to do what they do best.
  • They give recognition or praise to employees who go above and beyond what is expected.
  • Their employees know their manager cares about them.
  • They encourage employees to learn, grow, and develop and give them the chance to do so.
  • Every employee understands the values and mission of the organization and how what they do is important to reaching those goals.
  • They help new employees develop friendships at work.
  • They have a review with all employees at least every six months to let them know how they are doing.
  • They inspire employee commitment to doing quality work.

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Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics

My opinion? While the task of increasing employee engagement and satisfaction is a tall one, retailers should not give up on it.

High turnover, low pay scales, and expense pressure on health care and other costs all impact employers' ability to make good on the promise. If retailers throw in the towel because the goal seems too distant or unachievable, service levels will worsen and ecommerce options will become even more attractive to shoppers.

Embrace the challenge, make as much improvement as possible, and results will come to the business.

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Bill Hanifin, Managing Director, Hanifin Loyalty LLC

Successfully engaged employees are critical to the success of any organization. Look at The Container Store for an example. They train and hire people having the skills to understand and successfully transmit the mission of the organization.

Then there are too many examples of the "other" - those companies who use the "smoky mirror" for hiring. You know what that is - if they hold the mirror under their nose and the breath leaves a fog on the mirror, that proves they are alive, so hire them.

Empower the employee to represent the company with a smile and they will allow you to reap the rewards.

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Ed Rosenbaum, CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions

I disagree wholeheartedly Mr. Herbert. I feel the secret with managers is to "train managers to be better leaders." Most organizations do the job of managing all too well, especially managing the numbers, it's bottom-up leadership by the managers that makes great, engaged front-line employees.

'ToolBoxHero'

If every staff person can truly just say, "Hello" and offer assistance in a timely manner, that would be a major improvement in most stores. Beyond that, just being aware of shoppers whom are obviously in need of help in finding what they are looking for, is also a very good, realistic level of shopper engagement. Keep it simple, for sure, to get execution.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Consumer Products Industry Marketing Executive, IBM

In my experience, there are 2 must-haves for employees:

1. Passion. This is the personal connection to the overall mission and purpose of the retailer. This can't be trained; each employee must have this walking in the door.

2. Engagement. I use this term to mean the innate ability to engage others easily, comfortably and genuinely in conversation. Again, all the training in the world can't train the ability to engage others in this way; each employee must also have this walking in the door.

When these things are present, my experience has been that store associates have the potential to be exceptional performers. Then, the task of management is to positively and constructively channel those skills and attributes into a cohesive team, all pulling in the same direction.

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Ted Hurlbut, Principal, Hurlbut & Associates

It is like Shep Hyken says, treat your employees the way you want them to treat your customers. With that said you can expect what you give to your employees. That sets the example.

A sufficiently engaged employee is one who understands the mission and vision of the company and truly wants to serve others.

Tom Borg, Business Expert, Tom Borg Consulting, LLC

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