How managers can supercharge retail workforce efficiency

Retail environments are some of the most highly operational businesses. There’s an unspoken expectation of immediate results and outcomes – from ensuring that inventory is in the right place at the right time, to checking that day-to-day processes are running smoothly, delivering a positive customer experience in stores and ultimately driving sales. Particularly where margins are tight, focus on the bottom line propels the need for fast-paced decision making, which often leads to a very command-and-control workforce culture.

Managers are doing all the heavy lifting for their teams, having to give employees solutions to every question they come to them with, as managers go in believing it is their responsibility to solve those problems. Add to all this the reality that a large number managers in retail are also ‘accidental managers’ – employees who have been promoted into management roles because they’re good at the operational side of their job, but without the vital skills or time to handle the ‘people’ side of management – and the result is a very transactional workforce. Employees come in and do what they are told to do and leave work at the door on the way out. This cultivates a highly disengaged workforce, with retail managers struggling to get the best out of their people on a human level or able to create an efficient and enjoyable workplace environment where employees succeed and thrive.

Supercharge efficiency

Workforce efficiency is a global issue. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 report found that 79 percent of employees are disengaged globally, with low engagement levels costing the global economy $7.8 trillion and driving a depreciation in employee engagement and efficiency worldwide. Teaching managers how to be a coach, once seen as a panacea for helping managers increase workforce engagement, has singularly failed to transform organizational efficiency. The truth is, busy and time-starved retail managers don’t have the capacity to become coaches on top of their day-to-day responsibilities. But they do have the ability to integrate coaching-style behaviors into their daily interactions with employees, and develop an enquiry-led approach to every form of staff communication. This Operational Coaching™ style of management ditches the command-and-control style, helping managers to stop firefighting and quickly ‘change state’ to have ‘in the moment’ coaching conversations every day with their employees, in order to improve workforce productivity and efficiency on an organizational level.

So, how can retail managers supercharge their workforce’s efficiency? It starts with one small change – learning to ask more powerful questions. Managers must adapt their style of behavior and develop the skill to ask meaningful questions, in order to stimulate employees’ thinking to work through issues and find solutions themselves. As a manager, you are still responsible for the outcome, but by growing your team’s confidence to become independent problem-solvers rather than just ‘telling’ them what to do, you are creating a shared ownership of that outcome. This provides the opportunity of continual personal and professional development that benefits the employee, in turn making them more efficient and driven in their role.

The STAR® model

There is a simple but effective method all managers in the retail industry can follow to achieve this – the STAR® model:

STOP – when an employee comes to you with a problem, as their manager you must learn to stop and take a step back to recognize your habitual responses, in order to change your state when responding to different situations. This places the control over the situation back in your hands.

THINK – once you have been able to STOP, this gives managers the ability to THINK about whether the situation an employee has presented to them is a coachable moment.

ASK – being able to master the art of asking powerful, thought-provoking questions and actively listening to your employees allows you to ditch the ‘fix and solve’ response, and instead presents the other person with a learning opportunity to become independent, solution-driven problem solvers.

RESULT – as a manager, it is your responsibility to achieve a positive result from such an interaction. For continuous performance development, you must approach the conversation openly and empathetically, allowing the employee to imagine themselves taking the action in order to agree a next step that you can then follow up on.

A recent large-scale academic study evaluated by the London School of Economics found that giving managers access to STAR® Manager to create an Operational Coaching™ style of management saw direct commercial benefits, delivered an ROI of 74 times the investment, improved productivity and retention and increased management capability by over 30 per cent in just six months. Retail managers in particular report benefits ranging from improved sales performance, annual labor savings, better waste management, more in-store innovations and overall improvements in workforce engagement. It is by far not an overnight process, but retail managers must work to develop their powerful communication skills and ability to handle challenging conversations, in order to achieve increased workforce efficiency, engagement, productivity, performance and organizational growth. Once managers master this skill they report getting about 20 percent of their time back as well. What could you do with an extra day a week?

For a list of the sources used in this article, please contact the editor.