At first glance, one might think investing in employee training during economically challenging times would be counter-intuitive because it requires a significant monetary investment. The truth is training must be an ongoing priority in any retail business.
By Howard Riell, Associate Editor.
Building a sense of teamwork among store employees will make them more productive, keep them in their jobs longer and ultimately increase sales.
So, build a sense of teamwork.
“The key element of a successful team is having a clear goal,” said Glenn Parker, principal of Glenn Parker Team Building Consultant in Skillman, N.J. “What do we want to accomplish? There are a lot of ‘maybes’ and ‘could haves’ in this field of teamwork, but having goals is a must. Lots of research has been done on what differentiates a high-performing team from one that’s run of the mill or just doesn’t succeed. What differentiates success from failure is setting goals.”
Beyond that, Parker finds that teamwork is always enhanced by having a leader of the team. “In the c-store environment that would be a store manager who is able to pull together a group of people and get them to focus on that goal.” For clues on how best to do that, he turned to his experience as a customer.
“I look at every business experience in terms of, ‘What does this say about teamwork?’” he noted. “Quite frankly, I am a big fan of Wawa. I’ve been in a number of their stores, and I’m just incredibly impressed by how well they’re run. In fact, I’ve asked the people there a couple of times, ‘You all seem to be happy. Why is this the case?’ The answer is, ‘We are treated very well.’ I believe there is some kind of incentive, beyond just the salary, that goes along with it.”
Train with a Purpose
From his informal study of Wawa stores, Parker said he can discern the signs of some very good cross-training among store staffers. “The result is that somebody who is a food preparer making the hoagies is perfectly able, when it gets really busy or the lines back up, to walk over and assist customers at the cash registers. I have actually seen them do that.”
Another major plus among staffs that gel as teams is a manager who is willing to roll up his sleeves and go to work alongside the others. “That,” Parker pointed out, “goes a long way toward showing other team members that ‘we’re all in this together.’”
Parker, the author of Team Players and Teamwork, suggested that there are different ways of being a team player. For example, one of the best things a team player can do—and something that should be encouraged by the manager, but often isn’t—is making suggestions that might be perceived as criticism. “For instance, ‘It slows up the lines if we do X,’ which may be an established protocol in the store. If the manager is open to overcoming these obstacles, it ultimately benefits the entire business.”
Too many c-store operators, Parker postulates, remain unconvinced that fostering teamwork will bolster their bottom lines, and hence they won’t take the time to address team issues. “Building teams takes you away from the classic employee negative mentality, which is ‘That’s not my job; I’m a cashier, so I have some kind of elevated status, so I don’t get olive oil on my hands.’ That is a teamwork killer. It’s a union, craft mentality, which is a team killer.”
What else works against the creation of teamwork?
In a retail environment like a convenience store, said Parker, what can often steal momentum and kill progress is competition among the employees. “This is kind of an archaic one, but there are still some companies that use it: Employee of the Month. He gets eight hours off with pay or something. That, to me, does not foster teamwork. In many cases it fosters competition, jealousy, back biting and the like.”
Something to Offer
“My first belief about teamwork is that everybody has something to offer,” said Susan De Grandpre, the principal of Collaboration Consulting in Scarborough, Maine. “Everybody has got a piece of brilliance. It doesn’t matter how educated or not they are, there is something that they are really good at. So the first thing that any manager needs to do is to get to know those people and learn all their strengths. Even if their jobs are kind of routine, get to know how people are bringing different skills, different strengths, different aspirations to those jobs.”
Next, get store associates to share those strengths by helping each other. De Grandpre confessed to being a big proponent of workplace mentoring.
“If Person A is wonderful at customer service, but maybe not so hot on the cash register, and Person B is really good with the cash register, but not so hot with the customers, put those two people together,” she said. “Let them work together, let them share strengths with each other and let them learn from each other.”
Another important ingredient for a team member is knowing what’s in it for them—how they will benefit by working on a team. Thus, rewards, tangible and intangible, should be structured around teamwork elements, such as sharing knowledge and skills.
De Grandpre, the author of Common-Sense Workplace Mentoring, pointed out that in any organization there needs to be a vision of what it wants to be, what it represents. “What pulls in the customers? Do some work around sharing that vision or those goals with the people who work there,” she said. “Encourage them to find ways to take co-responsibility for making their store a success. Help them care. Help them see that this isn’t just some boring job selling beef jerky.”
Explaining the role that the store plays in the community can embed that sense of mission in employees’ minds. “This store is important because customers are looking at this company as another citizen—a good corporate citizen—and there is a certain amount of trust that needs to be maintained there. What’s the image that you want to be portraying to the customers? Help your employees contribute to that.”
Storeowners and operators need to feel confident that the time and trouble to which they go to instill that sense of teamwork among associates will have an ROI, and according to De Grandpre they should. “They have to put the measurements in place because teamwork is goal-oriented.”
Goals should be specific and shared with employees. “Tell your people what you really expect, not simply coming in and doing the hours. Really say, ‘I want you to have this level of customer service. I want you to have that level of productivity,’” she said.
If possible, have team members help create those measurements. “Part of that measurement should be a productivity lift or attracting more customers to the store because it’s such a great place to go,” De Grandpre said.
Convenience store executives seem to agree that building teamwork is a worthy endeavor. “So given this level of investment you should let your people share in the process,” De Grandpre said.
“Let them participate so that they can say, ‘This store is doing really well because of what we did.’ People love to feel important and when they feel like they are contributing to the success of the business, they feel important.”