How to create a drama free store

Apr 14, 2014

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.

Staff drama can have a negative impact on morale, the customer experience, and sales results. Unfortunately, retail is essentially a Petri dish for drama. Lots of downtime and working with a small group of people, many the same age and/or sex, can at times result in too much drama.

For our purposes, we’ll define drama as unresolved conflict among two or more people, over-sharing of personal matters at work, constant sharing of negativity, and/or talking about co-workers who are not present.

That last one — gossip — is the biggest drama-maker of all. It’s like a smoldering fire that if fanned enough can blow up into a huge staff inferno. (How’s that for drama?)

The key to avoiding drama is to create a store environment where it’s simply not acceptable. A drama free store defines and communicates the expected behaviors of all employees. Managers must be quick to point out when someone isn’t in alignment with those expectations.

Here are seven staff guidelines for a drama free store:

  1. We only talk positively about someone if he/she is not present.
  2. We each take responsibility to ask someone to stop talking negatively about another person.
  3. We focus our feedback on someone’s behaviors and actions, not the person.
  4. We speak directly to any person with whom we are having an issue. We ask a manager to facilitate a conversation if we are unable to do so ourselves.
  5. We focus on solutions rather than complaining about problems or issues.
  6. We avoid sharing any personal problems at work.
  7. We treat every colleague and customer better than we would like to be treated ourselves.

Posting these guidelines in a very visible location in the backroom won’t stop all drama, but it does cut down on it since the appropriate behaviors are kept top of mind. Guidelines also makes it easier to address inappropriate behavior once you’ve made it clear that drama is, in fact, inappropriate.

Is drama unavoidable at retail? What suggestions would you add to those in the article around reducing drama within store staffs?

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20 Comments on "How to create a drama free store"

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Nikki Baird
Drama is unavoidable in retail. I recently heard a Hollywood script writer say that teens and 20-somethings don’t like to watch dramas because their lives already have more than enough. And who is the primary retail worker? Their lives already have plenty of drama, and not enough life experience to avoid bringing that drama to work with them. I find that the amount of drama in a store depends heavily on the strength of the store manager and assistant managers. Culture comes from the top, and in a store the top is really the store manager. So if the management staff is holed up, gossiping about each other and employees, then store staff will do it too. What to do about it? I think the most important thing is to eliminate negative behavior, which especially means being willing to eliminate negative people. The Zappos way of paying people to quit would do well. Too often I find that negativity persists because there aren’t any written policies about negative behavior, so no chance to write up an employee for the behavior, and therefore no evidence to support letting that person go. Retailers would do well to think about protecting the culture… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Where there are groups of people there will be drama. Posting a sheet of paper with guidelines will not resolve, reduce, or eliminate drama. In general, the behavior of top management gets mirrored – not what management says, but what management does. Having a set of guidelines is helpful, but if top management does not walk the talk, no one else will either. Managers get the behavior they model and reward. If there are specific issues, they need to be addressed because they do not go away by themselves. Intervention by people trained in conflict resolution may be necessary in some cases. In other cases, just pointing out inappropriate behavior may be enough.

Dick Seesel

Doug’s seven guidelines are all valid, and it would be even more helpful to incorporate these into a training and orientation session for new hires. (Not to mention, a refresher course for existing staff.) Nevertheless, people are people and a certain amount of conflict is inevitable. The issue becomes the manager’s ability to defuse conflict and treat his or her team as adults.

When the store in question is part of a larger chain, the issue is complicated if the store manager works for a boss who is not competent at conflict resolution. We have all worked for companies where “the stuff rolls downhill” (so to speak), so the challenge of treating your team professionally at your own location is even bigger. I agree that some professional development is a great idea.

David Biernbaum

These are very good guidelines for any workplace, be it retail or otherwise. What I like best about this list is developing a culture where the focus is always on solutions. Complaining is a cancer. However, I don’t discourage people from sharing personal problems with co-workers as long as the personal problems are not work-related. Sharing such things can actually be productive for everyone.

Ryan Mathews

Human interaction equals drama, so the only way to have a drama free store is to have a store without employees or customers.

These rules are nice, but they don’t trump human nature.

Roger Saunders

The ancient Greeks knew that “drama” was part of human life. Containing it in the workplace will forever be a challenge.

Kudos Doug Fleener of Dynamic Experiences Group for bringing the topic up. It is part of the first day discussion that every manager should have with a new associate. Even better if it is conducted in a group session, so everyone understands that the company takes the topic seriously.

Fleener’s suggestion of posting the principles in the employee break area are great. Add to it, by making certain the list goes in the Employee Handbook, and it is called to the attention of each associate. We all learned the importance of “playing nicely in the sandbox.” It is only helpful to be reminded of that importance as we march through the workforce between 14 – 84.

Thanks for the refresher.

Mohamed Amer

Drama is part of human nature and with the primary retail hire being younger Millennials, they blur the line between personal and work. Just like they share widely on social media, the retail floor becomes a “third” screen where they are the players.

That means today’s retail drama is not just unavoidable, it is more widespread than ever. But that said, retail drama can be reduced with active measures such as those mentioned by Mr. Fleener. The key is strong, visible and consistent store management that rewards and models accepted associate behavior and is quick to eliminate negative behavior.

Retail store work is a rights-of-passage of sorts for teens and 20-sometings and as such it forms further socialization as to what is accepted in a work setting. It’s just that now the challenges are deeply rooted in a new social norm.

Ralph Jacobson

Interesting topic. When I read the seven tips in the article, I think that they are simply rules to live by…in everyday life, inside and outside of work. Aren’t most of these basic principles of growing up? Having grown up in the grocery biz, my recommendation would first be to give the staff a lot more work to do so they have a lot less time to gossip. Everyone in the grocery store where I worked ran around with their hair on fire just to get the job done on time. What ever happened to that work ethic?

Shep Hyken

I’m not sure drama-free is reality. However, what is reality is the idea of every interaction with the customer be focused on the customer and not be impacted by what is going on behind the scenes (which can be drama). Disney has the concept of being on stage and being backstage.

The customer deserves a consistent positive experience. It should be about him/her, and not be tainted with an employees personal issues or what is going on in the backroom.

Core values and expected behavior are reasons to hire and retain employees. If employees can’t meet the expectation, it is time to let them go. One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch. Or one employee may bring down the morale of the rest of the team. Good leaders recognize this and deal with it appropriately.

Ed Rosenbaum

I do not know how to eliminate drama in a store among the many different personalities involved. I do have one suggestion – go to a Container Store and learn from them. they will be happy to tell you how they do it.

David Livingston
3 years 5 months ago

Drama is unavoidable at retail. There very nature of retail jobs usually attracts people with a lot of drama in their lives, therefore having to settle for a job in retail. The list of suggestions are great, but probably more practical in a professional setting. Half the fun of going to work in retail is the entertainment factor of the drama.

Joan Treistman

Years ago, after moving my company’s offices to a new address, I gathered the staff. We had reached a new plateau with more people working for the company than ever before. It was still a small company, but I realized the interpersonal dynamics would change. I suggested that we buy life size cut outs of people (no familiar faces) that we could position in various offices or hallways. Those would be the people we talked about. It was my way of getting it out there.

The principles Doug lists are aspirational. However, it’s important to state them and bring them to life. Employees can better understand the disadvantages to drama if there is a soft spoken conversation about what can happen. Group discussions can accomplish some buy in. Role playing can be helpful.

Drama is unavoidable, but some effort can limit that behavior and its negative impact.

Tony Orlando

Drama is unavoidable, and no set of rules will change it. However, when you hire someone, it is crucial to get a feel for who that person is. I have no problem hiring someone who knows how to smile, and have a pleasant personality, which is what I always look for. There are plenty of nice people, who may make some mistakes, but how they handle mistakes and do it with a great attitude is what all employers are looking for.

Setting an example on customer service is very important, and working along side the new employees, shows you care. It is not always a stress-free workplace, but it can be reduced to a very manageable level by weeding out the complainers if you can.

Christina Ellwood
Christina Ellwood
3 years 5 months ago

#8. Keep it off the sales floor. Never gossip or discuss people or issues on the sales floor.

While drama will happen wherever people come together, it need not happen in front of customers.

Mel Kleiman

Love the suggestions, love holding people accountable. Love setting expectations. Yes, if you do what is suggested above, you will have a smoother operation. But NO, drama will not go away.

It all starts with hiring people who take responsibility for their actions and come to work with a positive mental attitude.

Doug Fleener

Thanks everybody for your insight. The guidelines by themselves won’t change behaviors, but you can’t can change behaviors without first setting expectations what is and is not acceptable. That to me is the missing piece in my stores, and that’s what I was hoping to provide.

What’s funny is the sign I provided became the number one downloaded item in my 11 years of doing this. It’s clearly an issue for retailers.

Dave Wendland

Although I’m not condoning “drama” per se, I do think that the best retail staffs are performers. And, if I had my druthers, I’d hire only improvisational actors. Adjusting to the twists and turns of retail requires quick-thinking, engaging, and lively staff – in other words, improvisation.

If retail is truly a stage, then some drama cannot be avoided on or off the floor. What should be perhaps considered at retail is surrounding sales clerks with better directors.

Don Uselmann
Don Uselmann
3 years 5 months ago

I love the spirit behind the guidelines, but posting them on a wall or publishing in a handbook is probably not a cure for what is a problem with the culture. That, as others have said, is established by leadership. I just finished a good book related to this subject: “The Manger’s Book of Decencies” by Steve Harrison.

Mark Price

Store associates are people, and people have conflicts and issues with each other. That fact cannot be changed. But values, as outlined above, are a good start to limit the impact of these conflicts and issues and make sure that they are speedily resolved.

I do not agree about not sharing personal problems at work — I think that by sharing what is going on outside of work, we gain perspective on the other person, and perhaps a bit of empathy.

Alan Cooper
Alan Cooper
3 years 5 months ago

We can break this down into two parts – drama from employees and drama from customers. You control who you hire. It is your job to optimize the hiring process and select employees who are a lower risk of drama. Granted, no one’s perfect and personal situations happen. Once the right hires are made, a solid onboarding, development and feedback program make for smoother transitions.

As for customers, a large customer base is usually a normally distributed population and customers “outside of 2 or 3 standard deviations” will appear from time to time. Sometimes, you’re just out-of-stock of something. Sometimes, products don’t perform as expected. Sometimes, customers bump into one another in the store and are belligerent. Sometimes, lines are long and you’re short-staffed. How it affects your business and loyalty long-term is a function of leadership, training and the culture you as a leader, have created.


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