The Most Challenging Job in Retail

The Most Challenging Job in Retail

Having spent a dozen years in various retail leadership positions, I can confidently say that front line leadership (overseeing one store or multiple stores) is the most complex job. Today’s managers face a myriad of challenges: improving customer experience while overseeing a growing number of employees, effectively managing labor costs and turnover, implementing new technologies across a multi-generational workforce, seamlessly integrating omni-channel offerings, and finding ways to keep their teams engaged to serve customers and promote growth. Without the right focus, front line managers can put your business at risk.

For years, retailers have scrutinized payroll expenses to protect operating profits. Typically, they attempt to reduce payroll costs at the associate level through process standardization/improvement, adopting activity-based labor models using engineered standards, staffing and scheduling strategies, and investing in new technologies designed to drive efficiency. But what has been done to set front line leaders up for success in managing associates against these processes and technologies?

Equipping store managers with the tools and resources to drive optimal performance

Front line managers are given a very specific directive: hit your numbers! But, they are often asked to do so without the right training, tools, and resources to succeed. Executive leadership pressures managers to meet sales targets, profit margins, and payroll budgets. Associates complain that their performance targets are unreasonable.

Task management systems alone do not solve this challenge. They are simply another way of telling front line managers to hit their numbers. Managers need to understand what they are looking at to gauge performance, and determine what below / average / excellent performance is. What are the critical activities they should focus on to drive performance?

An effective manager drives both hard and soft improvements, both of which tie back to financial gains. Associates that have clear expectations and are equipped to meet those expectations feel accomplished when they meet them. Accomplished associates become brand advocates, drive the customer experience and top line sales, and remain committed to the team (thereby reducing turnover).

Shifting from reactive management to proactive management

Are your managers spending time “putting out fires,” or are they proactively managing their teams? Do you know how much time your mangers are spending driving sales, customer experience, and associate performance? Do you understand the key challenges they face both qualitatively and quantitatively? Are they equipped with the tools needed to achieve optimal performance?

Frequently, I see managers spending as much or even more time in meetings and doing administrative work as they do on the sales floor with their teams and customers. They are inundated with corporate communications, emails, meetings, and reporting, taking them away from managing associates and improving store performance. In some cases, front line managers haven’t been trained to lead a team, so they revert to the task work where they feel more comfortable.

Even when managers are on the floor, they are often distracted from focusing on activities that drive the desired impact. For example, on a recent store visit during an engagement with a large retailer, I observed the manager in charge of the store on a register checking out customers. While her desire to help reduce customer wait times is admirable, retailers need to consider whether they want the person responsible for a large box with hundreds of associates and customers engaged in various activities operating a single register or focused on improving performance across all registers.

Retailers can adopt a more engineered approach to tackling the performance management challenges from the sales floor to above store. West Monroe Partners offers a Manager Effectiveness Blueprint that, when implemented, leads to a more productive, satisfied, and successful operation. We have worked with clients to reduce operating expenses by up to 15%, drive top line sales by up to 2%, and improve customer experience by 5%.

For more information on how to improve the effectiveness of your retail management teams, please contact Mike Orehowsky

Phone: 312-602-4000
222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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