Sunday 19 November 2017

Problem solver: How do I get a manager to stop relying on me and take responsibility for decision-making?

In order to get an employee to take more responsibility start by sitting down with them and telling them what you expect. Stock image
In order to get an employee to take more responsibility start by sitting down with them and telling them what you expect. Stock image

Feargal Quinn

Q: I have a challenge in getting a manager I employ to take responsibility and to make decisions. She is a really good person, but stops short of taking full responsibility and relies on me too much.

A: Being put in charge and trusted can really empower employees but sometimes, especially where the founder is also still part of the business, there can be a natural reaction from the manager to refer back to the owner for all key decisions.

At one point in Superquinn, I had a similar challenge. We had a great group of managers, but I had a sense that they were not challenging the norms enough and I needed them to be more proactive.

Before one of our annual conferences, we sent a photographer out to photograph the exterior of each of our shops. Then we digitally removed the Superquinn name from over the shop and superimposed the manager's name over the door of the shop. We had these printed and put in a large frame.

At the end of our conference, where we emphasised managers taking greater ownership of their own shop, we presented each of them with the photograph of their own shop and their name over the door.

The reaction was instant and this symbolic gesture left none of the team in doubt. We really wanted them to take ownership and add to what they had already being given. In the following months, the level of innovation and new ideas soared and we were able to create a new sense of energy within our management team.

Start by sitting down with your manager and telling her what you expect of her. Also emphasise that you will fully support her even when things go wrong. Make a point of sitting with her once a week to look at new initiatives she has put into place and you will quickly find that her approach changes when she sees that this is a core focus for you.

Q: I run a ladies' fashion shop. It has been 15 years since the shop has been renovated and I am debating whether I should spend some savings on revamping it. Can you provide some insight?

A: Obviously your customers come to you to buy the great fashion items and brands that you source. On the surface, the shop itself shouldn't play a big role in whether they shop with you or not and if you have a unique range and excellent customer service, the theory is they will continue to shop with you.

When a shop gets tired however, you are at risk of a new fashion shop opening up nearby and customers perceiving it as being more modern and in touch with their needs. I don't like encouraging anyone to spend money they have saved, but in this instance I would encourage you to view it as protecting your business.

The most cost efficient things you can do are paint the shop, change light fittings to the modern LED ones which will immediately brighten up the shop and talk to your key fashion brands to see if they can supply you with photographs and images of models wearing the garments.

These three steps in itself shouldn't cost you a lot of money. If you have a little bit of budget to spare, I would encourage you to talk to a retail visual merchandiser who would help give some other tips to enhance your offer.

Think of this as investing in your future and protecting the next 10 years of trading rather than just an expense in isolation at this point. Once you have completed the revamp, call this message out at every opportunity through your marketing programme and perhaps consider a mini relaunch where you would invite your customers to look at the changes you have made, along with the opportunity to purchase some items.

Q: Do you have any tips for keeping staff constantly focused on the importance of the customers?

A: Many decades ago, I visited the US retailer Stew Leonard. His shop was a rather unconventional supermarket and was built around an original dairy. When the supermarket was built, glass walls were placed between the shop and the dairy which still continued to fill milk cartons, etc, much to the amazement of kids who accompanied their parents on shopping trips. It was a really energised shopping environment.

I asked Stew how he kept his staff so motivated as they all seemed to be very focused on the customer. What he told me next influenced me for the rest of my career.

With every customer Stew saw coming in, he would imagine there was a $100,000 sign printed on their forehead.

In other words he had calculated that if each customer typically spent $100 a week with him and if he and his team did a great job to keep them coming back, they would spend over $5000 that year.

Assuming that the customer remained living in that area and remained shopping with them for the next 20 years, that was a lifetime value of more than $100,000.

Stew used this reference constantly when talking to his staff and was also part of the introduction service training. Staff were shocked when they heard the value of a customer. That made them realise the importance of keeping the customer, but also made them even more focused on the risk associated with losing a customer.

Try working out the lifetime value to a customer for your business and start focusing this with your staff.

It could make an enormous difference to how they look at the customers from there on in.

Send your small business questions to himself@feargalquinn.ie

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