Friday, November 25, 2011

Why Retail Management Just Doesn't Get It

Since we have cognitive abilities and are learning right from wrong, we are taught to work hard, to work effectively, and to always be diligent in our tasks. Why? Because the hardworkers always come out on top, receive the best rewards, and have an increased and well founded self worth. Truly it paints a wonderful picture. But an accurate one? Not so much.

There's at least one industry I'm fully aware of, I'd say perhaps one of the most important pillars of a nation like the one we live in, that aims to pulverize every ideal we had about our work. Granted, it may be not be life or death that you helped some elderly lady find the right color cardigan, but it's a job worth doing right, and feeling honorable for it. So why do retail giants squeeze the life out of their employees? Here's why they're still NOT getting it.

1) They believe praise is poisonous and noneffective.
You know, sometimes associates are not asking for a whopping $.50 added to every hour worked. Sometimes they just want to be recognized for going the extra mile. When I served my time in retail, I did a job that required normally three people, every single day I worked.  However, all I got was urged to work faster and harder. Never a pat on the back, or a simple word of approval or recognition. (Raise? What's that?)  And when that job required creative thinking or problem solving, and I managed to pull off satisfied big dollar clients, again my work was simply swept under the rug. But when I made an honest mistake or forgot to complete a simple technicality, I was reprimanded on spot. I'm not sure why Retail Managers have an archaic mindset that praise is anti-productive. After all, we're not slaves in the stone age. But I am sure that it definitely contributed to the high turnover rate of employees in the 6 months I worked there.

Praise. It's not that difficult. You don't have to write a speech with three main ideas and two supporting details for each. A simple statement of approval alongside an brief explanation of what we did well and why will suffice. And will probably keep your happy people working harder, longer.

2) They stifle creative thinking.
Retail Management believes all employees fit in a mold of sameness- a typical standard "Associate" mold. We are assigned numbers, we are assigned identical tasks. And we are "trained"- and I apply that term in the loosest of meanings- according to "the Company" or "the Store's" way of doing it, nothing else. Even if we arrive at the same destination, we are expected to take the same route. Always. However deficient or counterproductive it may be. It reminds me of when I was organizing the highly cluttered and complicated pile of different card-stock and glossy printing paper our design center contained. I cut out pieces of each, labeled them, and put a binder ring through them so that every time a costumer asked to see what kinds of paper we offered, I'd simply show them the 4 x 6 booklet and let them choose. You'd think they'd already have something like this- kind of like how Home Depot has samples of colors instead of having their associates running around the store like headless chickens searching for every 823979 variation of colors they have. But no, if there wasn't some strict policy on it there was no need for it to be done.

3) Customers are treated worse than the worst associate. 
I'm not sure how or why, but the employees with the least motivation and initiative are the ones that survive in retail the longest. I think it's because the rest of us, that actually want to feel productive, can only take brain waste so long before we snap. After personally having to step in save our store a call to the District Manager, I realized how indifferent the managers were towards upset customers with a valid reason. Granted, sometimes customers think that by being a loud enough squeaky wheel they can single-handedly change corporate laws. As much as I'd like to, I can't give you color print jobs for free.  However, I can understand you want to be checked out in a timely manner and with courtesy and that's something I believe anyone exchanging money for goods or services deserves. It's a simple concept. But watching angry customers walk off time after time again after waiting countless minutes for a simple design job, or watching a cashier deliberately walk off on break as soon as they saw an overstuffed cart approaching, I realized how retail stores don't really care at the end of the day. Even customers become accustomed to the careless treatment they deserve.

I know my articles won't change the world- and that's not their purpose. But if Retail ever wanted to pinpoint the reason why they can't keep an associate with brains and initiative longer than 6 months, they should probably start listening.

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