Communication: Not Always a Hard and Fast Rule

Leaders need to modify their thinking and actions in order to truly unleash the human spirit in their store managers.

By Tonya Brown

Over the last 11 months, I have seen four District Managers (DM) take reign. Now of course, given that this is the retail industry, it was hardly a surprise. They came and went for a number of reasons; some overt and some covert. The retail industry has always had a sense of drama embracing it. It is often hit with high turnover, involves long hours, provides little praise, and comes with minimal pay; at least in comparison with salary averages of other industries.

With the revolving District Manager or DM door, come constant changes in management styles, attitudes, and COMMUNICATION. Differences in communication was always the most frustrating experience because in my view, open and direct communication is always prudent, but it became very clear, that some managers preferred to communicate via phone, some in person, and some preferred non-direct communication via the method of emailing.

I assumed that all three of these forms of communication would be utilized as evenly as possible, but clearly different managers married a larger percentage of one form over the other. These district managers had many differences, but one thing that they had in common was that they were all male. Obviously there have been studies done on the differences between how men lead versus women and even how they communicate in some differing ways, but I thought that it should be noted that communication could be distinguished across cultures as well.

Now in an attempt to achieve diversity or to avoid the issues of diversity all together, some tend to believe that, at least in the world of business or retail, to be more specific, communication and its value cannot nor should not be reduced to race, ethnicity, or even gender. Escaping this topic of conversation may seem logical in achieving inclusion, but it in fact ignores the value of a multicultural business environment.

I have seen this happen no more so than in the convenience store industry. Not only is there a lack of diversity when it comes to the district manager role, but there is even more when it comes to senior management roles. I believe that district managers; because they don’t represent a diverse group, often fail at their ability to communicate effectively to store managers. They depart often times from understanding the individual store manager and will attempt to operate with a one-track mind.

Embrace Diversity
Effective, innovative management demands that DMs change with its growing marketplace. The convenience store consumer base is very diverse and while c-stores are clearly focusing on marketing to Hispanic, Asian, and African American markets by offering products that reflect these groups’ cultures, the leaders in charge have lost their ability to connect internally with these individuals that make up these groups and more. I have experienced district managers who operate with iron fists; some smother lines of communication because they lack the ability to “talk” to people. They chastise and eradicate chances of collaboration or open communication and instead of breeding loyalty, they breed contempt.

Some people don’t excel in environments with in your face communication, some individuals don’t like being communicated directly in the eyes and some individuals feel threatened when someone speaks to them while standing too closely and there are groups who desire to be communicated at least in part, in their own language, for example, Spanish. DMs have to be versatile and flexible and recognize that the landscape is constantly changing and that staying chained to any one idea can be detrimental to business and to careers.

Along with the modifications that come with the new and exciting products that the convenience store operator is becoming famous for, management and leadership have to modify their thinking and practices, in order to truly unleash the human spirit in their store managers.

The use of “Gullah” was born in the South and is embedded in the rich and somewhat troubled history of the state of South Carolina. There have been many debates about the language and whether it is a true or proper form of communication. Whether you agree or disagree as to whether it should be allowed in the workplace or in schools, one thing is very clear, it exists, and the fact is, you might be must better often becoming comfortable with understanding and therefore communicating with individuals or groups of those individuals that you come across in public, at work, in schools, etc.

What’s the worst thing that could happen to a district manager or even a senior executive; the worst thing; they might actually learn about a culture other than their own, and they sustain effective communication resulting in hopefully, employee engagement, low turnover, and higher profits. So, communication, when placed in a bubble, hinders the free exchange of words and ideas and births contempt, frustration, disloyalty, high turnover, and low profits.

The way, I see it, in the long run, company’s and particularly convenience store operators better hire managers and leaders who operate with the realization that the art or science of communication is not perfect and that it should be honed daily and changed with every given situation in order to achieve the best results possible for those involved. Take a chance, and set out of the box.


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