Industry Insights on Managing Your Managers

The Convenience Store Decisions case study series examines how experts in and around the industry identify and overcome challenging operating scenarios.

By John Lofstock, Editor.

Sometime late last year I sat down with several members of the Convenience Store Decisions Editorial Board looking for new ideas that could help our readers think outside the box a little more when it comes to finding fresh solutions to the numerous operating challenges they face every day.

One of the ideas that was brought up was to create a case study series that would offer expert analysis to a fictitious, but potentially very real, operating issue. The idea was an instant hit and the Convenience Store Decisions Case Study Series was born.

These case studies are intended to offer energetic accounts of management challenges with expert commentary from retailers, consultants and other industry authorities. The topics for this ongoing series will be engaging, provocative and dynamic. The goal for each operating scenario is to provide industry leaders with alternative solutions for real-world problems.

In this month’s issue, we asked convenience store operators, human resources managers, consultants and other chain executives how they would handle the following scenario:
“For years, you have operated a store in a great location that has not been able to turn a respectable profit. But by a stroke of luck, your new store manager has emerged as a rock star. His decision-making at the store has been impeccable. Sales have exceeded record highs and repeat business is strong.

Under this manager, employees are happy and retention has also improved dramatically. Last quarter, the store’s sales were the highest in the company for the first time ever.
However, the manager is known as a hard partier, and has been seen drinking with employees on numerous occasions. Despite numerous warnings, the manager continues to fraternize with employees outside of the store. To make matters worse, another employee stepped forward and said she is uncomfortable around the manager because she feels pressured by other employees to go out partying after work. There is no one waiting in the wings to replace the manager’s productivity. What do you do?”

The responses were wide and varied. Please review the expert commentary and share your thoughts with me at jlofstock@csdecisions.com, or feel free to suggest a topic for an upcoming case study.

Beth Harn, Human Resources Manager, Parker’s Convenience Stores, Savannah, Ga.
The first thing that comes to mind is, “Does this company have a policy stating that employees cannot fraternize.” If they don’t then it might be a good sign that they need to clarify their policy on this matter.

In our case at Parker’s, we had this situation happen just recently. The first step was to pull the manager in and coach him on the Parker’s expectation of a store manager. We transferred out some of the employees that were close to the manager (those that were hanging out with the manager outside of work) to other locations and transferred in more seasoned team members. We then monitored the manager’s actions after documenting his performance. When the situation happened again and we had employees complaining about the manager, we made the decision to separate the manager from the company.

We take the time to coach each manager as to the expectations we have of them as a company, but if the coaching does not work and the manager is not following the company standards, we will not hesitate to separate him from the company. Parker’s has an open door policy, which allows any employee to come in and talk to any of the office staff at anytime, but we will not compromise our standards.   

Jim Schutz, Vice President and Director of People Assets, Open Pantry Food Marts of Wisconsin, Pleasant Prairie, Wis.

For this conversation I will call this leader “Jeff.”

Even though Jeff has completely turned around a struggling store and his efforts have taken sales and profits to an exceptional level, his actions outside of work could potentially place the company at risk on a number of legal issues. If more associates become uncomfortable with his actions, the high level of productivity will start to decrease and the store will go back to its low level performance.

As leaders of the company we have the accountability for sales and profits, but also have the responsibility to protect our associates against unwanted advances or pressures. Jeff will need to sit down with me and have a very serious discussion on these events. Here are some of the immediate actions that would be taken:

• After explaining to him that he is a valuable member of the leadership team and that his ability to manage a site to a high level of success is very much noticed and appreciated, I would lay out to him how his actions could place the company in harm’s way. We cannot have his leadership style causing some of his associates to be uncomfortable. As I want to retain Jeff as a leader, to work in our company he needs to understand that none of his extracurricular activity is condoned nor will it be tolerated, especially now that we have an employee that is uncomfortable around him at work.

• After our conversation I would remove Jeff from the store for a period of 2-3 days. During this time, the assistant manager or I would manage the day-to-day operations of his store. His associates would be notified that Jeff is working on a special assignment for me.

• During these 2-3 days I would interview all associates in his store, especially the associate that is uncomfortable with his actions. In these interviews I would be looking for their thoughts on how the store is operated using open-ended questions to solicit an honest response. I need to find out if there are more associates that are questioning his actions. Are there any motives? Is there or has there been any demands or inappropriate behavior on behalf of Jeff? Do they like their job and working for the company? I would leave them with my direct contact information and encourage an open door conversation on any way we can better the company.

Assuming these interviews uncover that Jeff is a great leader that likes to party and no other issues surfaced that would be in violation of company policy or legal wrongdoings. I would then proceed as follows.

• I would go back to Jeff with my findings, not using associates names though generalizing the situation and the uncomfortable position he is putting his associates in. I would coach Jeff on possible negative effects his actions outside of work could have on him and the company. As I encourage Jeff to enjoy his time outside of work, I would warn him that at no time can any employee feel pressured to participate in his idea of fun and the environment in which he chooses to reward his associates must not include alcohol. I would encourage Jeff to allow me to participate in these activities, such as bowling, pizza parties, etc.

• I would immediately sign Jeff up for various leadership classes—some I would attend with him, some his associates would attend with him. As this situation has the opportunity to surface at any store I would institute these training classes throughout the company.  

• I would attend his monthly meetings with his people, championing his efforts and the teams.

Given these actions, we are putting Jeff in a position to succeed and he will have to demonstrate he can mature as a leader.

Ted Roccagli, Retail Marketing Manager/Business Coach, Mansfield Oil Co., Gainesville, Ga.

The store sales statistics are strong and to make a change with these results would be dif
ficult on the front end, however, nothing good can come from the managers actions in the long run. Eventually, these actions will spawn other issues, especially since a female team member has already expressed that she is uncomfortable.
While retention and happiness exist at present, this management approach combined with a hard partying lifestyle away from work will eventually take its toll on operations, causing sales and retention to suffer dramatically.

I truly believe there are many good performers in the market today with much better morale awareness. Industry leaders shouldn’t be afraid to replace these types of managers as long as they have the proper hiring practices and sourcing solutions in place. This includes background checks, in-depth interviews and even a written test to make sure managerial candidates understand what is expected of them.

This type of management style being demonstrated will always destroy the business in the end and chains should not be held hostage by one employee that fails to abide by your very realistic expectations.

Mel Kleiman, President, Humetrics Inc., Sugar Land, Texas

This could truly become the employee from hell; a great employee when it comes to getting the job done, but one who routinely crosses the line and violates company policy—and is possibly even creating a hostile environment for some of your employees.

Here is my take on the situation and what actions I would suggest management needs to take.

Since this is an ongoing situation and management has been made aware of the problem  and the manager has been counseled concerning his behavior and understands he is in violation of company policy, there is really no option but to terminate the employee.

Management needs to recognize that the first time you have a problem with an employee you need to make sure that the employee has had proper training concerning the expected behavior. It should never be a training problem.

If the problem continues as it has in this situation it becomes a motivation problem. Whenever you encounter this scenario, sit the manager down and lay out the scenarios for him—either change your behavior and these will be the rewards or don’t change your behavior and these will be the consequences.

If it is not a training problem and not a motivation problem then you have a habit problem and it is almost impossible to get people to change habits, so you have to change the culture by removing these bad influences that permeate and destroy your entire business.

Nate DaPore, President and CEO, PeopleMatter, Charleston, S.C.
Employees are your No. 1 asset. They are also the face of your brand in the community. It is critical that each employee understands your company’s vision and stands by your values.

In this situation, you have a manager who has increased retention and overall team morale, improved sales and demonstrated “impeccable” decision-making skills in the store. The issue to be addressed is his ability to demonstrate the company’s values and behavioral expectations consistently in his leadership role.  
If the manager has already been spoken to about the company’s concerns, but not made changes to his behavior, it is time to take action. To tackle the problem, the HR and management team could implement a managerial leadership program. Designing or purchasing leadership training that aligns with your corporate views could help the manager realign his behaviors.

Combining the training with a leadership mentor program offers additional support. A mentor also provides a way for someone above the manager to track his behavior and keep a record of corporate efforts to help him improve his performance.

A managerial leadership program also allows the company to partner the financially successful manager with star employees who demonstrate strong corporate values and leadership skills. The goal is to have him train future managers to replicate his on-site performance. If the necessary changes do not occur in his behavior, someone will have been trained to step into his role.

Providing a managerial leadership program for all new managers helps set your company’s leaders on the right track from day one. Mentors provide a source of leadership, feedback and monitoring, allowing HR to be aware of potential issues like the one seen here before they become major problems.

Key metrics and participant performance can be tracked using an online training system. Executing this via an HR platform also enables a system of record to be maintained for future performance evaluations and succession planning.

Bill Scott, President and CEO, Scott Systems Inc., Jackson, Miss.

My opinion is that this is the wrong solution to the right problem. Before this manager came along, there was obviously something missing in this store and this person was able to use one approach that should open your eyes and give you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from it.

How would I handle it? Get closer to this person, acknowledge his qualities and techniques and make use of them before he quits you and takes all of your employees with him.
As you get to know the manager personally, you may find common ground that will help rectify the problem, but, in most cases, the manager is stuck in his ways and will not change.

You need to make a decisive decision that will limit your company from any potential liability and you need to do it quickly.

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