This retailer is a perfect example of how a management problem can be easily fixed by establishing some simple expectations and committing to holding employees accountable. Hopefully her story can serve as a learning opportunity for others like her.
Olivia arrived at our scheduled consulting phone call late and harried.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Debbie didn’t stock the department fully last night and it put me behind again.”
“Is this a common occurrence?” I asked
“Yes, about once a week.”
“Have you talked to her about it?”
“Yes, BUT she always takes the conversation somewhere else and we lose track of what I wanted to talk about.”
“Can you give me an example?”
“Yesterday when I asked why the department wasn’t up, she said she had to handle a late delivery. When I started to remind her to not accept late deliveries, she stated that we don’t buy from enough local farmers and that I’m not honoring our store’s commitment to local.”
With a sigh Olivia admitted she always found herself backpedaling with Debbie, leaving her performance issues unresolved. We both sat with that for a moment.
“Hmmm. Does anyone else have trouble getting the department up?”
“Do you have clear written expectations that everyone is accountable to?”
“Are you getting what you want?”
“Are you ready for a different result? Can I give you some homework?”
“Let’s try this. First, create and write down reasonable expectations for the work to be completed each shift. Have your best closer, opener and prep person help with putting these together.
“Then go over these expectations with Debbie.
“If Debbie doesn’t meet the expectations during a shift, prepare for a conversation with her. As my Rising Stars leadership seminar colleague Carolee Colter teaches, ‘Be a witness, not a judge.’ State what you notice and the effect the action has on you and the crew.
“For example: ‘When the department isn’t fully stocked at night it puts us behind in the morning and that has a domino effect on every other shift the rest of the day.’ Then state the behavior you would like and expect, and ask for verbal agreement.
“If she starts to bring up another topic, simply remind her that that’s not what we’re talking about right now and that you would be happy to discuss the other topic at another time.”
A month later we had our check-in call.
“How did you homework go?”
“Expectations and shift description are now in place.”
“Great! What’s the result?”
“I feel more comfortable holding people accountable and my staff has more clarity on their daily jobs.”
“Yes, I’m taking the time to assess the situation before I have a conversation with Debbie, and I’m keeping the conversation to the topic at hand.”
“How’s that working?”
“Fantastic! It was hard at first because I realized she intimidated me. But I stood my ground, kept on topic, and now there has been a shift in how we communicate. I think she was actually just waiting for me to be the leader!”
“Wow, that must feel good.”
“Good work, Olivia. Now are you ready to tackle a new sales program?”