Are You A Great Store Manager?

At the most basic level, every successful retailer must know how to display merchandise, schedule staff and take inventory. But those basic retail skills are only part of the picture when it comes to owning or managing a store.

“Champion” store managers also possess an array of personal attributes that transform employees into top performers. “Great store managers first and foremost have people skills,” notes Shep Hyken, a St. Louis-based retail consultant. “Managing on the store level means meeting and motivating the retail staff.”

So how good are you at managing those who work for you? Test yourself with this quiz. Rate yourself from one to 10 (the highest level) on each of these 10 questions. Then calculate your score, the closer to 100 the better you’re doing.

1. Do you challenge employees to set new performance goals?

No matter how you judge performance—sales, productivity, or efficiency—you must inspire employees to do better. “The great store manager encourages employees to set high goals,” says Fred Martels, president of People Solution Strategies, Chesterfield, MO. Each employee should continually establish specific, achievable goals and draw up an action plan for meeting them.

Tip: Ask employees what they need from you in order to meet their goals, and follow up with encouragement.

2. Do you coach employees to overcome performance issues?

Motivated workers are great, but even the most enthusiastic sometimes encounter performance problems. That’s when the great store manager starts coaching. “Coaching encourages employees to generate creative solutions to performance problems,” Hyken says. Because coaching emphasizes collaboration rather than confrontation, these efforts improve workplace effectiveness while avoiding the costly stress generated by disciplinary sessions.

Tip: When coaching, stay focused on identifying solutions to problems and giving employees the tools they need to implement those solutions.

3. Do you encourage employees to contribute new ideas?

Employees who contribute ideas feel invested in your store’s success. “The manager must encourage employees to speak up and then listen to what they have to say,” says Martels.

The best store managers include employees in decision-making by encouraging them to suggest ways to do things better, says Martels. “Rather than be your store’s problem solver, encourage a team effort. Ask stimulating questions such as: ‘Here is our problem. How do we solve it?'”

Tip: Rather than dismissing ideas that have been tried before, ask how the idea can be modified in the face of experience.

4. Do you take a personal interest in your employees?

Employees aren’t just cogs in your profit machine. When managers recognize their employees have a life outside of work, and help employees balance life and work, motivation can skyrocket. “Little things mean a lot to employees,” says Leil Lowndes, a New York City-based author of books on communications skills. “Learn their kids’ names. Remember their birthdays. Say ‘Hello’ in the hallways.”

Tip: Get to know your employees’ outside interests, she adds. “Asking about their hobbies and vacations will help you make better work assignments.” Taking a personal interest in people’s lives encourages them to stay with the store and commit to its goals.

5. Do you delegate well?

“Great store managers let go and delegate,” says Hyken. “Too many times I’ve seen people without that ability attempt to micromanage every process in their stores. Then they get stressed out because they are trying to do everything themselves.” The result is employees who have little responsibility and feel disengaged and demoralized. That will lead to a bad attitude, which will impact your bottom line.

The courage to delegate doesn’t come easily. Hyken suggests using this formula: First visualize the result you want the employee to achieve. Then list the steps required to achieve that result and the skills requisite to each step. Then rate the employee’s skills in those areas on a scale of one to five, five meaning that the employee has all the requisite skills to accomplish the job. Does the employee have the necessary skills to get the job done, or is there a better candidate within the organization?

Tip: Just because an employee doesn’t have the skills to complete a difficult project, doesn’t mean they can’t be trained. Take a look at your skills ratings to determine what skills you need to train for—and start today.

6. Do you communicate your priorities and directions clearly?

You know what you want from your employees. But do they?

Employees can’t perform well when they don’t know what constitutes success. “Usually employees don’t really know what’s critically important to their managers,” says Lowndes. And if there’s been a recent change in management, things can get sticky. “Employees usually assume their current managers share the values of previous [managers]. That might not be the case.”

Great store managers communicate what’s important in clear language. Is it accuracy of work? Arriving on time? Being gracious with customers? Whatever your top priorities, communicate them.

Tip: When an employee has not met your standards, couch your correction in words that inspire as well as challenge. Focus more on what needs to be done differently—and exactly how—more than on what went wrong.

7. Do you resolve conflicts in a productive way?

Effective store managers turn “bad” conflicts into “good” results. “Conflict can be bad when people just scream at each other,” says Hyken. “But it can be good when it leads to new solutions for old problems.” When two employees are in conflict, Hyken says, be sure to counsel each separately. You might start with a statement such as this: “I see this happening in the work place…. Tell me what you are seeing.” Follow up with a statement designed to assess how the conflict affects the employee: “I feel [this way] about what is happening…. Tell me what you are feeling.”

Emphasize the consequence of not resolving the conflict in terms of decreased productivity or even job termination.

Tip: Be a great negotiator: Find out what the parties to the conflict want, and help them achieve it.

8. Do you behave in a professional manner at work?

Do you act like a professional? Are you a role model for your employees? “Personal characteristics and attitudes are important and often-overlooked elements in a competency model,” says Florence M. Stone, a New York City-based author of management books. “We are talking about your ability to be a role model.”

Stone gives these examples of basic professional behavior:

  • Dedication to work and willingness to put in long hours
  • Giving credit to employees rather than to oneself
  • Avoiding rumors and excessive socializing at work
  • Communicating in a thoughtful way
  • Arriving at work and meetings on time

If you’re not setting a good example for your employees in these areas, negative behaviors are likely to trickle down throughout the organization.

Tip: Ask your employees to assess themselves on their workplace behaviors. Meet with employees to iron-out any big differences between how you would score them and how they scored themselves.

9. Do you inspire your employees?

Are you cheerful? Do you project enthusiasm? In other words, do you have a dynamic personality that inspires others?

“A great store manager must be able to inspire and enable employees to perform at their best,” says Ian Jacobsen, a Morgan Hill, CA-based management consultant.

Enthusiasm begins with a genuine interest in the business, plus an interest in the other people who work in that business, which often manifests as simple friendliness. Great store managers never miss a chance to be friendly in behavior and speech. Greet everyone with a “Good morning!” “Employees will almost always set their whole day by how their managers treat them in the morning,” says Jacobsen.

Tip: Communicate your vision for the business clearly, and let your employees know that you consider each of them key to your success.

10. Do you listen well?

“Great store managers are clear communicators,” affirms Mel Kleiman, a Houston-based management consultant. “And communications is a two-way street: We’re talking not only about speaking and writing but also listening.”

Here are some tips from Kleiman on being a good listener:

  • Encourage the employee to open up
  • Summarize and repeat what you hear. This gives the employee an opportunity to correct misapprehension.
  • Ask the employee to express feelings about the issue
  • Keep your focus on the employee. Don’t start telling your own stories.
  • Encourage the employee to generate solutions to problems. Don’t give advice.