Aligning Employees with Your Store’s Vision

It’s alright to have a vision for your store, but you won’t get very far if employees don’t share, and believe in that vision. Richard Carter gives some tips on how to make sure employees understand where the company is headed.

Every year, we spend thousands of dollars trying to get employee’s motivated to improve customer service, follow the new training program and maximise sales opportunities, all with a view to increasing our store’s profit. Yet we often fail to achieve the desired uplift in sales and profits. Why? Employees have heard it all before, they’re jaded and don’t feel any genuine commitment to the business and its objectives.

So how do we break the cycle?

First of all, quick fixes usually don’t work. Employees see them for what they are. The key is to capture the discretionary effort of our employees and gain their commitment to our business. To do that, we need to build genuine communications with our employees, share information and make them feel as though they’re the most important part of the business (which of course they are).

A good start to getting employees to share your vision is to get the right organisation chart. At Nordstrom, they turned the organisation pyramid upside down and put the customer at the top and the senior management at the bottom. That sends a signal that the employee is the most important person in the company, right up there just beneath the customer.

Walmart makes a big deal about its success always being attributed to its culture. All employees at Walmart are taught the three basic beliefs during induction.

1. Respect the individual.

2. Service to our customers.

3. Strive for excellence.

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Not only does Walmart teach the beliefs, employees actually see them in action in the stores. ‘walking the talk’ is essential if one is to get the employee to buy in to the vision.

One of the best ways to gain employee commitment is to give them the opportunity to help develop the vision and regularly contribute to its evolution. One technique that I’ve found particularly helpful is Open Space Technology (see www.retailresults.com.au for more information on Open Space). Essentially, Open Space is a large group meeting unlike any other you’ve ever been to because there’s no agenda and everyone sits in circle. The idea is to create a level playing field and give everyone a chance to become involved in a meaningful way. For example, Open Space can be used to create a company’s vision or provide a forum for employees to re-engage with a company that’s gone off the rails.

Open Space creates a lot of energy and goodwill. However, processes need to be put into place to turn the energy into something more sustainable. Typically, both formal and informal teams can be formed to take the outputs from the Open Space event and create a more positive environment for people to work. Issues are often identified that mean a company’s vision is out of synch with the reality in the workplace (that is inappropriate sales commission structures, poor customer service, inadequate training etc).

So to avoid employees becoming jaded:

* Be genuine.

* Get people involved.

* Treat employees with respect.

Remember, your job isn’t to serve every customer but to support those who do. Only when employees feel they are genuinely part of your business will they treat it as their own and ensure your vision is the same as theirs.

* Richard Carter is an associate at RetailResults.

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