A retail business is only as good as its staff. The good news is it’s possible to increase the productivity of your staff with proper coaching. We spoke to Doug Fleener, president and managing partner of Dynamic Experiences Group, about how staff coaching can increase a business’ bottom line and got some tips on how to do it right.
Small Business Center: What is staff coaching and how does it differ from training?
Fleener: While most owners and managers think they’re coaching, they’re really just teaching or training. I see teaching as the transfer of information. Training is both the transfer of information and practicing the application of the information into a new skill. Coaching is the sharing of a manager’s experience, knowledge, and observations in order to develop and improve an employee’s performance and, ultimately, a store’s performance. It’s proactively giving employees feedback to help them become better.
What benefits can small business owners get from coaching their staff?
The benefits are huge. I run a couple of programs on leading and coaching frontline retail and hospitality staff. In each of them we focus on two areas. The first is elevating the staff’s performance to meet the standards that have already been set. In most cases, the staff isn’t meeting these standards because their leadership hasn’t expected them to. By focusing on key areas and proactively coaching the staff’s on-floor behaviors and actions, we’re able to quickly increase the average sale and conversion by anywhere from 10 to 20 percent or more. This is growth without additional marketing or payroll.
Next, if a staff is already meeting the retailer’s on-floor standards and expectations, we work to elevate their performance by teaching and coaching behaviors and actions that not only improve the customer’s experience, but also increase average sale and/or conversion.
As an example, we worked with a toy store teaching associates to always suggest multiple items to customers who were shopping for a birthday gift and how to encourage customers to purchase more than one item. This isn’t something store leadership had asked their staff to do before. As a result of the manager’s coaching and the team rising to the challenge, the store improved their average sale by 15 percent. That, of course, translates to an immediate 15 percent increase in sales.
How does coaching affect employee morale?
Morale definitely improves for most employees. People appreciate the extra attention from their manager, they like the coaching because they want to do a better job, and they like that all employees are being coached and held accountable to the same performance. But from time to time you encounter an employee who doesn’t like the additional focus and coaching. They don’t want to be held to a higher standard or to do what they’re being coached to do. The good news is that most employees get over the initial reaction and go on to perform at a higher level. If they don’t, they need to be replaced by more committed employees.
What are some tips for making a coaching program more successful?
The first thing you should do is to invest time in observing your team. Small business owners often spend so much time running the business, they don’t make enough time to work with and observe their staff. If you struggle to find the time, I recommend that you actually schedule it on your calendar. Next, focus on the employee’s behaviors and actions and not on the person. You should also focus on your desired behaviors and actions and not on what the employee did wrong because that causes the employee to become defensive and not open to feedback. By focusing your conversation on future behaviors and actions, they will not only be open to hearing it, but you are also setting a new expectation. Finally, it’s important to have your team apply your feedback with the next customer or opportunity. The faster employees apply what they learn and then receive additional feedback, the faster they learn the skill and benefit from it. After giving an employee feedback, the best thing you can do is to ask them to apply it immediately.
How important is follow up in the process?
It’s extremely important. In the long run it isn’t the coaching and feedback that improves performance, but the application of what’s been taught and expected. Following up ensures that it happens. It also gives the manager an opportunity to recognize a person for their efforts.
Should business owners give employees rewards for achievements during the process?
They may choose to from time to time, but you have to be cautious about becoming overly dependent on rewards to drive changes in performance. The key to using rewards is to combine the focus on behaviors and actions as well as the desired results.