It was Sabrina’s first day as the newest district manager of the mid-level retailer that she had represented for the past three years. She sat down at the desk in her private office, the transition from sales floor to corporate was surprisingly alienating. She wanted to be back in the stores, but in her district she had 13 locations spanning over five different states, and to spend too much time in one store meant neglecting 12 others.
Next to six of her locations were red exes, these were considered “nonperforming locations”, these locations were managers she had come to know and love over the years. When she called them they turned from ally to embittered, and their burn out was transparent. All of them complained about being abandoned, ignored, and not prioritized. They complained about district managers who didn’t listen, didn’t spend enough time in the store, didn’t give them anything more than write ups and complaints.
They were saying things Sabrina had perhaps thought herself from time to time as a store level manager, but now that she was behind this desk she wondered how she could satisfy these needs that wouldn’t neglect other locations,and would still allow her some time with her family at home.
Here are four simple actions Sabrina could implement to allow her store managers to feel heard and give her insight and direction as where to focus next as their leader.
This biggest struggle as a district manager is playing middle man from storefront to corporate. The communication she passes down is vital to the store’s ability to keep the company vision, mission, and goals in sight.
As a new or seasoned district manager it’s smart to sit down with some director level member of store operations to receive a full rounded understanding of the organizational goals and how that applies to your team.
What is the vision of the company?
- What can my store managers do to make a difference?
- How can I communicate to my store managers the achievements they are personally accomplishing towards this?
Where will the company be 1 year from now, 5 years from now?
- How will the product/storefront/atmosphere change?
- How much will the company grow?
- Will the over all goals alter?
What goals of the company are consistently not being met?
- And what on Earth can my team do about it?
- Exactly what sort of increases in sales and customer service need to be met by my district?
Open to Insight
As soon as you can, find an app online that will allow you to distribute an anonymous survey while still being secure enough to keep any proprietary information of the company that may come up confidential. With this app conduct two evaluations:
First conduct the initial evaluation, not on them, on you.
- asking managers what their expectations are of you, what unique training they seek, and where they feel they could use the most help.
- Receiving these answers with no names will give you a more well rounded view of what your district needs really are, and how you can earn trust while implementing positive change.
Second conduct a two month later evaluation, again not on them, but on you.
- Be sure that by the time this evaluation is sent out that you have had time to visit each location and divulge in an honest face to face conversation with every store manager.
- This evaluation should focus on how well you are doing in meeting their expectations of an effective leader.
- For the best results be sure you are implementing changes based on the results from evaluation one within a week of it being completed.
- After this you can choose to distribute a check in quarterly or biannually.
Communicate Clear Expectations
With the power of now understanding the company’s plans and your store manager’s needs you can now develop a list of expectations that will clear up any ambiguity of your expectations of your staff, and ensure security and productivity.
Develop the Expectations:
- The list should be no less than 8 and no more than 10 expectations.
- The expectations should be clearly communicated and to the point.
Present the Expectations:
- Schedule a conference call to introduce the expectations and their purpose verbally before distributing it in an email.
- Be sure your managers have time to ask questions.
- The expectations should be sent as a PDF across the district and posted in the stores.
Spend a Night with the Team
Before offering insight on any store’s appearance, customer service, or sales, I liked to spend a night incognito with the staff, not the manger.
- This isn’t a gotcha opportunity. This is an opportunity to get a real life picture of the store’s operations and affect on its customers. Dressed in civilian clothes the night before my planned store visits I would wander the shop for a good 30 minutes to an hour.
Stock, Remerchandise, Talk to Customers
- After the secret shop I would introduce myself, kindly. I wouldn’t offer any criticism or critiques, instead I would dive right into ‘on-the-floor’ training. Whether it be restocking, merchandising, sales approach, whatever was proving the weakest link in the performance that night.
- Followed by my asking them for their insights on the store’s performance. The employees always appreciated the individualized attention.
Be An Expert in What they Need Not What You Know
Don’t come into the store offering tired commentary like, “what is the story with this display?” or “How are you turning shoppers into buyers?” If you are asking these ambiguous questions, as opposed to offering straightforward and effective feedback the managers and staff will only grow more frustrated rather than empowered.
Use What You Do Know
- Consider the company’s goals, the evaluation results, the night shift spent with the staff members, and the store’s sales statistics, and utilize this information to develop an individualized approach that will help that store improve.
Include the Manager in the Conversation
- If you don’t know the solution to a problem, like insufficient store traffic, that’s okay, look it up. Or include the manager in a brainstorming session, approaching not as the expert, but as the boss that wants success for their employee.