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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Make staff meetings business builders, not time wasters

Selling Smart

Staff meetings are no less important than the quality of your interview process, orientation or training. Your staff should be continuously making contributions to your store's business operations and customer service, and regular meetings give staff members a way to participate.

Make sure every staff meeting counts. They are an expensive piece of time out of everyone's day, not a staff day at the beach or a Christmas party. An effective and efficient staff meeting is critical to the success of your business, serving as an opportunity to motivate employees as a group.

Regardless of your store's location or size, employee costs are your biggest expense item—and your biggest headache. That one-hour-a-week meeting may be your best opportunity to manage those costs more efficiently and minimize headaches.

Here are my rules for an effective staff meeting:

  • Have a clearly defined goal for each meeting, beyond regular weekly business. Give your staff opportunities to suggest goals and plenty of time to prepare to discuss them. Post the goal, or include it in each employee's pay envelope. Make sure everyone knows it in advance.

  • Be prepared with some ideas to kick off the discussion. Begin the meeting with provocative questions. Asking the right questions will generate good answers. One purpose for this meeting is to generate strategies to reach your goals.

  • Start and end your meetings on time. Don't let staff wander in and out. Designate a timekeeper and be ruthless about ending after an hour. Facilitate discussion by keeping the meeting on task and finding a balance between too much and too little staff input. If you feel you're not a good facilitator, designate a senior staff person to do it.

  • Establish a tone in your meeting. It should be consistent with your personality and the relationship you have with your staff, but it also needs to be businesslike. You're paying for this hour of their time and, as the owner of the store, the buck starts and stops with you.

  • Have meetings as often as needed. If your business is in crisis but your meetings are efficient, they can become an effective tool for change. If your meetings are unproductive, that may be one reason why your business is in crisis. Your staff meeting gives you the opportunity to make an impact on the dynamics of the whole group.

  • Create incentives for participation. Junior staff and part-timers often have refreshing new perspectives, but are too intimidated to talk about them. Your job is to create an environment that encourages and rewards speaking up. Don't be afraid to use exercises to provoke thinking.

There is a famous business story about the Springfield Remanufacturing Co., a maker of automobile parts that saw sales decline when its competitors moved their factories overseas. Its workers were machinists—many of them second- and third-generation employees; most of them high school graduates. Management taught employees how to read a financial statement and started reviewing the company's financials at monthly staff meetings. With new understanding of what was happening to the company, the employees of Springfield Remanufacturing turned the business around. Productivity increased to the point where the company could compete with overseas manufacturers.

Sharing your numbers with your employees, particularly your part-timers, may not be an option for your store, but I tell this story to remind you that the time you have with your staff, together and with their full attention, is a critical opportunity to impact your business. Use it well and it becomes a tool to move your business forward.

Former NNFA-East Executive Director Peter Farber is principal of Loyal Customer, a marketing and merchandising program for retailers. Reach him at [email protected].

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIV/number 11/p. 23

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