our teams are human first, and work is just one part of their lives
My most recent post was about how there is one skill that all great salespeople must possess; empathy. The majority of readers were in resounding agreement that focusing on empathy as a primary competency can create relationships with customers like no other. And while I believe that is absolutely true, what is even MORE important is the understanding that we as leaders play a critical role in supporting our team’s ability to do this, and our own empathetic approach to how we lead.
I discovered an article on Racked written by Sarah Jaffe last month entitled “America’s Massive Retail Workforce Is Tired of Being Ignored” (https://www.racked.com/2017/6/20/15817988/retail-workers-unions-american-jobs ) that is full of fascinating detail and highly recommended. It reinforced for me what we should already know; that the employee experience is almost always directly impacted by poor manager decisions that are in our own control, and it is critical that things change.
For example, in one suburb in the San Francisco Bay Area there is something called the "Fair Workweek Ordinance" being written that will require large retailers to give their employees their schedules two weeks in advance, and requires extra "predictability pay" for employer related schedule changes, as well as orders employers to offer any open hours to existing employees before hiring new workers.
My challenge to all of us is this…. why do we need a city to pass an ordinance requiring these things? We have the privilege to provide our teams with reasonable schedules in advance, taking into consideration things like child care and personal priorities when casually changing the schedule, and most importantly it is our responsibility to take care of our teams financially in the greatest possible way either with hours that are available or internal promotion opportunities.
If we are not doing these basic things, using empathy as our own first competency, then how can we expect our teams to do that with our customers?
Here are a few other facts from Sarah Jaffe’s article: “Nationwide, retail jobs account for 10 PERCENT of all employment. Despite its major role in the economy, retail - which makes up half of all consumer spending- tends to be a low-wage and high-turnover sector.”
“Even when the stores aren’t closing, they are laying off workers or cutting hours. That has customer service consequences. If people are spending less time and money in brick and mortar locations, that if they then also start to experience less customer service, less attention because a corporation makes a staffing decision, that creates a vicious cycle that drives consumers to look for other options. In other words, slashing staff in order to maintain profits may in fact be hastening the decline of retail stores.”
I have personally been in that situation where declining business equates to lower payroll hours, and it IS a vicious cycle, but I would challenge all of us to think differently when you can, challenge upper management in a professional way to” take the smart risk” and hire one additional headcount or put one more amazing sales person on the floor on Saturday that is full of empathy, pride, and energy. I can guarantee that they will pay for themselves in sales but more importantly, they will create positive momentum that can break a cycle, increase conversion and create customer brand advocates. On the flip side, how can we expect our sales teams to be genuinely empathetic when we are not taking these risks to support their own employee experience?
There are also class action law suits and changing laws today about scheduling call-in shifts which required employees to call two hours before their scheduled shift to confirm whether they were needed. The employees said in the suit that they were subject to discipline if they failed to call in, were late getting to the store after being told to come in, or were otherwise unavailable to work a call-in shift when directed to do so. In one company alone, 28,000 associates were affected.
The traditional "old” view of retail managers is to drive results at all costs, be hard on employees and they will perform, make your goal or you are out, that employees lives do not matter as they have nothing to do with work. Today's workplace calls for an evolved way of leadership. Our teams are human first, work is just part of their lives, and we must acknowledge and incorporate social emotions essential to performance. We have an obligation to see things differently today in this challenging environment and lead with new skills.
Empathy and management are powerful together, and we cannot survive without them working side by side. Be the leader that considers empathy as one of your primary competencies, and do not wait for your team to sign a petition to pass a city ordinance before you take care of them the way you can and should.