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The Professional Store Manager Leadership Forum, the first of what should be standard industry practice, illustrates that effective change requires insight plus action.
In this case, the insight stems from the second Food Marketing Institute Store Manager Survey, collaboratively developed in early 2014 by supermarket retail specialist Harold Lloyd, principal of Virginia Beach, Va.-based Harold Lloyd Presents, and The Retail Feedback Group.
The first Store Manager Survey was fielded in 2012 ?in order to provide our independent operator members a glimpse into the psyche of a store manager. The results offer insights into their career goals to compensation,? says Dagmar Farr, SVP, FMI member services. ?Given the benefit of the findings, the survey grew to include all store managers in 2014 and will be conducted on a yearly basis.?
A key finding is that more than 90 percent of store manager respondents ?love their job,? but store managers said they were often challenged to find a ?healthy balance? between work life and home life. ?By understanding managers? job perceptions ? what works well and what needs improvement ? we can take steps as an industry and at our own companies to improve the engagement and performance of the men and women who are running our stores,? according to the survey.
Lloyd presented the thought-provoking findings of the survey at FMI Connect and aired his idea of hosting a forum for top-level store managers. ?I wanted to work through the life of a store manager and enrich it in both the eyes of the industry and the public,? he says; attendees expressed support.
As a follow-up, ?I contacted 40 of the best retailers in North America and received a positive response from more than 30 of them,? he says. In the end, 27 retailer banners were represented by 36 store managers at the first Professional Store Manager Leadership Forum (PSMLF), held in December 2014 in Virginia Beach.
The forum was a remarkable example of industry players working to ?lift all boats.? ?I want to share as much of [my store?s best practices] with you as I can,? a North Carolina store manager told fellow attendees as he introduced himself. ?We want to grow the industry.?
Pain and Gain on the Agenda
The forum agenda included four key elements: sharing business challenges; store tours; a Harold Lloyd Presents seminar, ?Am I the Leader I Need to Be??; and an exchange of best practices. Many of the key issues addressed in the FMI survey were also topics raised at the PSMLF, including work-life balance, communication, performance evaluation, celebration/recognition, job/business/career, mission/goals, and training/development.
The two-day forum kicked off with a supportive networking exercise; managers shared their key issues and peers offered to help with their solutions. Lloyd facilitated next steps for connecting smaller groups to work through issues post-PSMLF. Topics raised, and which had others offering to help, included:
- ? ?How do I get my department managers to engage in weekly meetings? Unless people are called on, they don?t participate.?
- ? ?As a young store manager, how do I get buy-in from the meat cutter who?s been there for 40 years??
- ? ?The way I?ve led in the past ? spank hard, hug hard, push and recognize ? doesn?t seem to be working [with Millennials].?
- ? ?How do I get a very experienced assistant manager to acknowledge her daily inconsistencies are holding her back??
- ? ?How can we get the kids who work for us to view grocery retail as a career??
?Facilitating next steps allows the attendees to take responsibility and accountability, but the beauty of the exercise is that it levels the room. One manager might come from one of the biggest chains in the country, and another might be a manager at a three-store chain, but after sharing these problems, everyone is an equal,? says Lloyd.
Communication: No Problem
Communication was a key issue addressed in FMI?s Store Manager Survey. Just 5.4 percent of store manager respondents reported that department manager meetings aren?t engaging and productive. The remaining 95 percent either agreed (62.1 percent) or strongly agreed (32.6 percent) that these meetings are engaging and productive. Many managers and the PSMLF shared their strategies for successful employee engagement.
A British Columbia-based store manager and facilitates weekly meetings with his department managers. He sends out the meeting agenda three days in advance so all will be prepared. Department managers take turns recording meeting minutes and sending them out within two days of the meeting. ?It?s an opportunity for everyone to be involved and set goals openly and honestly with the leadership team,? he said. ?I?ve seen very shy, introverted managers grow in confidence through the relationships they?ve built during these meetings.?
A manager from an Ohio-based chain ?slowly? walks the aisles of his store each day, engaging with each associate on duty. ?It?s a great connection,? he said. ?I ask how things are going and often have personal conversations if appropriate.?
Many managers organize daily huddles ? some twice daily ? to set goals and collaborate among departments. ?We have meetings at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.; at the afternoon meeting, we can see how much progress has been made,? one manager noted.
?Frequently, departments work together to get the entire store in the best shape possible.?
A Fine Balance
Work-life balance was a key topic of the survey and the forum, with the difference being that PSMLF attendees wanted to address the balance experienced by their associates, rather than by themselves.
More than 30 percent of store manager respondents to FMI?s survey disagreed with the statement: ?I have a healthy balance between my work and home life.? This is the lowest level of agreement for any statements; just 17.3 percent strongly agreed.
?Coming up through the ranks, I missed a lot of important events in my children?s lives because these events didn?t matter to some of the managers I had. You were scheduled to work, and you were expected to be there. I was bitter and resented management for this, and told myself that when I become a store manager, I would not do this,? an Indiana-based manager said. This manager created an environment that supports important events. Department heads and key personnel populate a shared calendar; not only does the manager schedule accordingly, but peers step up and cover for each other willingly. ?It makes the staff happy because they know I care about them and [respect] their personal life,? the manager explained.
?By working around these important events, I feel I?m getting the most productive and flexible managers,? he said. An added bonus is the teamwork and cross-training that occurs throughout the store. ?People are learning different jobs to help out as needed,? the manager observed.
A Reason to Celebrate
Respondents to the Store Manager Survey gave mixed reviews on the degree to which they?re recognized or celebrated. Nearly 15 percent of store manager respondents to FMI?s survey disagreed that their company does a good job with celebration and recognition of achievements. Nearly 30 percent strongly agreed with the statement, and 56.2 percent agreed.
Rather than looking to corporate headquarters for directives, store managers seem most willing to create their own programs.
A number of retailers send birthday cards to each employee. One manager mails handwritten ?moments? cards to associates? homes. Recognizing the efforts of often young and inexperienced workers enhances loyalty and may be the catalyst for a deeper commitment to the grocery industry. ?Employees are more likely to stay with your company, be more productive and motivated, and feel valued,? a manager said of birthday cards and notes.
Performance Reviews, Mapping Success
Most store manager respondents to FMI?s survey think they?re very qualified to give performance evaluations: 59.4 percent strongly agreed and 38.5 percent agree. Lloyd challenged the group to rethink the traditional performance review, starting with the name. ?Success plans,? he said, are more forward-thinking. ?It?s all about the goals and creating impactful game-changers.?
Lloyd also stressed the magic that occurs when three people participate in success plan meetings: ?The employee being reviewed likes having the boss? boss there in case there?s a barrier to success; it can be worked out right there and he can impress up the chain of command. The manager wants to show how well he?s developed the direct report over the past year, and the big boss can see the level of talent within the company.?
Anticipating the Next Forum
Many of the elements of the PSMLF were designed as next steps for 2015. Attendees were tasked with reporting back on successes and changes implemented, based on ideas from this first forum. Lloyd has also received feedback from attendees that they?d like to spend more time discussing problems and challenges on-site.
Lloyd and FMI are optimistic about the future of the forum. ?The freedom to share ideas and the detail of the ideas mean that not one manager participating in the forum left unchallenged to go back and improve something in his or her store,? says Lloyd.
?I think the event allowed for a greater sense of community and respect for the profession,? says FMI?s Farr. ?I appreciate any opportunity to celebrate the store manager. They are the backbone of this industry.?
?The freedom to share ideas and the detail of the ideas mean that not one manager participating in the forum left unchallenged to go back and improve something in his or her store.?
?Harold Lloyd, Harold Lloyd Presents