As a retail business owner, you know the important role your staff plays in customer relations. They can make or break experiences – create lasting impressions good, or bad. Here’s how you can build and maintain a positive, self-motivated retail team.
You know them well. These are the shop assistants whose eyes light up when you enter their store. They meet you with bubbly enthusiasm and professional, efficient service that is so remarkable that you can’t help but tell other people about it.
But, we’ve all had experiences where a disinterested cashier, who is involved in a discussion with a co-worker, fails to greet you or even make eye contact for the duration of your interaction with them. Examples of store clerks like these make it easy to understand how positive, engaged employees can boost business profits while disengaged individuals can wreck them.
The State of Employee Engagement in South Africa
According to a recent 142-country study conducted by Gallup on the State of the Global Workplace, only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. The research shows that employee engagement is even lower in South Africa, sitting at a mere 9%.
- Approximately 1 in 8 workers are ‘engaged’ at work – meaning they are psychologically committed to their jobs and are likely to be make positive contributions to their organisations.
- The bulk of South African employees – 46% – are ‘not engaged’, meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest discretionary effort in organisational goals or outcomes.
- Alarmingly, 45% of South African employees are ‘actively disengaged’, indicating that they are unhappy and unproductive at work; and are most likely to actively incite negativity amongst co-workers.
The Role Managers Play in Employee Engagement
Additional Gallup research indicates that as much as 70% of the variance in the employee engagement of teams can be traced back to the influence of the manager.
The Gallup findings on the impact of managers on employees indicate that:
- When senior management (owner, CEO and/or senior executive team) is highly engaged, the organisation's frontline managers are 39% more likely to be engaged.
- When frontline managers are highly engaged, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged.
- As such, at each level in the organisation, the ‘on-the-ground leader’ has the ultimate influence over how to communicate expectations, whether employees have a chance to do what they do best, whether individuals have opportunities to develop and whether people are able to see how their work connects with the company’s overall mission or purpose.
How to Guide Employees Towards Greater Positivity and Optimism
Reports by Gallup and Harvard Business Review show that an employee’s happiness has a direct impact on their workplace engagement, which in turn affects the customer experience they impart.
Shawn Achor knows a thing or two about optimism. He is the best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage and his TED talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work, has raked in over 15 million views. When he’s not travelling the globe (he’s consulted in over 50 countries) helping business leaders focus on employee engagement, you’ll find him leading a series of courses on ‘21 Days to Inspire Positive Change’ with the Oprah Winfrey Network.
According to Achor, training your brain to be positive is not so dissimilar from training your muscles at the gym:
“Recent research on neuroplasticity (the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood) reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire your brain. Engaging in one brief positive exercise every day for as little as three weeks can have a lasting impact.”
Adopting Just One Positive Daily Habit Can Make a Significant Difference
Achor worked with a group of managers to see if he could train them to be happier at work by having them adopt positive habits. He asked them to choose just one of the following five activities:
- Jot down three things they were grateful for
- Write a positive message to someone in their social support network
- Meditate in a quiet place at work for two minutes
- Exercise for 10 minutes
- Take two minutes to describe in a journal their most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.
The participants performed their chosen activity every day for three weeks. Afterwards, Achor evaluated both the participants and a control group to determine their general sense of well-being and happiness.
The Findings: Increased Happiness and Optimism
“On every metric, the experimental group’s scores were significantly higher than the control group’s scores,” Achor says. “When both groups were tested again four months later, the experimental group still displayed expressively higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction.”
With just one quick exercise a day, the managers were happier for months after the training programme had ended. Happiness had become habitual to them, which led to greater engagement when they liaised with clients.
How Independent Retailers
Can Apply These Learnings
1. Hire for Positivity
While work experience, qualifications and a positive employment record remain important focus areas in any interview – so too is identifying the clues that point to optimism.
Purposefully plan and incorporate questions into your interview process that seek to uncover a candidate’s propensity towards optimism or pessimism.
A simple discussion on a topic as mundane as the candidate’s daily commute can uncover their attitudes – positive or negative.
Remember, it is always easier to harness the energy of an optimist than it is to reform a pessimist.
2. Encourage Employees to Adopt and Maintain a Simple Positive Daily Habit
Take a leaf out of Shawn Achor’s book. As his study (outlined above) shows that when employees maintained one simple positive daily habit over an extended period of time, their overall happiness at work and general life satisfaction improved.
The difficulty in this simple exercise lies in its continuity. As we know with any new resolution, enthusiasm and commitment can easily wane. Your responsibility as owner or manager will be to maintain your staff’s commitment to this practice, day-in, and day-out.
Introducing a 10-15 minute daily or weekly standing meeting before your outlet opens provides a regular structured format in which you and the team can:
- Identify and share aspects of their lives that they are grateful for.
- Discuss any challenges your employees experienced in-store the day before, and how they feel these challenges were dealt with, in a positive manner.
- Share positive feedback on actions or behaviours observed in their colleagues.
- Acknowledge personal development areas that staff need assistance, or training, or coaching to resolve. Also, make a commitment to invest time and energy in your interactions with them.
- Highlight growth areas in which they feel they have improved and developed month-to-month.
A whiteboard in your back-office can be used to capture these statements and track progression on a weekly or monthly basis.
3. Acknowledge Your Manager’s Key Role in Modelling Positive Behaviour
As the Gallup research indicates, as much as 70% of the variance in the employee engagement of teams can be traced back to the influence of the manager.
Positive behaviour is a two-way street. So, while managers observe employees, employees in turn observe their managers – taking cues from their behaviours on what is acceptable conduct.
Have you been to a restaurant or store recently and noticed how positive and proactive managers are generally supported by teams that exhibit similar characteristics, while outlets led by stressed or un-enthusiastic managers tend to be surrounded by lackluster employees?
Be the role model. Be cognisant of what and how you are communicating in your behaviours, attitudes and your verbal and non-verbal communication.
Make an effort to offer positive encouragement and constructive coaching while holding your employees to high standards.