Expertise Events
Expertise Events
Expertise Events
Goto your account
Search Stories by: 

Feature Stories

The key to motivating and managing your retail staff

One of the most crucial elements of business is managing your employees – but the task must be handled with care, writes retail expert PETER RYAN.

Everything about the way a modern retail business approaches its people is fundamentally flawed. We see them as a ‘cost centre’. We call them ‘human resources’. We process manage them. We formalise ‘reviews’. We cover the ‘risks’ associated with them.

Could we possibly get more transactional or patronising?

Is it any wonder that most people put up with their ‘jobs’ as a means to an end rather than something they love?

I’ll admit my bias right up front: I love great retail experiences – both delivering them and experiencing them. There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than being immersed in the joy of human beings when something just ‘works’ for them, and 99 per cent of those experiences are about human connection on a physiological level.

"Not only does retail not need to be purely transactional, it cannot survive being purely transactional"

It takes great people to deliver them and the right environment to magnify their impact.

Retail is a human, multi-sensory, physiological experience where the time spent doing it is as much of the reward as what is in the bag – and because of that, the profit margin is higher. Not only does retail not need to be purely transactional, it cannot survive being purely transactional.

What emerges from that evolutionary pond is a ‘supply to order’ world that is best served through efficient warehouses and fast distribution from a catalogue of options.

The dialogue with our staff must change if we are to deliver the kind of customer experiences that have the power to pull retail out of the downward spiral that leads to the monochromatic world of ‘cheapest’.

Motivating people requires empathy. They are not resources; they are our team, and the most important members of a retail team are the ones who face the customer every day.

They are not a cost to be minimised so that management – or in some cases, shareholders – can make more money at their expense.

A retailer with fewer, yet better performing, staff members will beat a retailer with an army of unmotivated people on any battlefield you care to name.

If there is one great initiative Qantas CEO Alan Joyce brought into that company, it was sharing profits with all employees – the people who actually created those profits in the first place.

The company negotiated fair base remuneration and conditions that allowed employees to have peace of mind; they could focus on contributing their best, rather than worrying about their families’ livelihood.

The formal review is another management ‘technique’ that needs to be annexed to the history books as yet another bad idea that is more about protecting middle management than it is about the kind of dialogue that produces win-win outcomes.

Good managers know their people like a family member. They know their ambitions, how to motivate them as an individual and what their strengths and weaknesses are every day – not once a quarter.

And just like any parent, they know each of their ‘kids’ are different and require different methods to get the most out of them, and to ensure they grow and prosper to meet their goals.

What are we doing to our people?

The sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, once famously said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

"Modern retail businesses are indisputably becoming over-burdened by a mixture of political correctness and intellectual blindness"

Contemporary retail leadership teams talk a good game around these kinds of sentiments, but some of my recent encounters with large and small retailers make their claims sound increasingly hollow, resulting in three types of employee reactions.

Modern retail businesses are indisputably becoming over-burdened by a mixture of political correctness and intellectual blindness – often the outcome of theoretical processes created by people who have never run retail businesses, nor had to deal with the pragmatism needed in the workplace to make it function, let alone become optimised.

Risk management, legal, governance, procurement and human resources departments make up the major culprits.

Many of us are yet to see a risk evaluation process that entirely removes risk from a business; a legal process that eradicates legal threats; governance that eliminates issues like those we have seen in the Royal Commission into financial services; procurement processes that are foolproof; and human resources departments that truly enable a productive, harmonious workforce from top to bottom.

The employees that actually create the outputs frequently try to do the right thing by their business, following the guidelines and plans laid out by ‘managers’ in these five departments.



Three types of employees

Play politics; rise through opportunism and exploiting the system
Do the best they can despite the system; prone to ‘burn out’
Fulfil basic duties to ‘bank the cheque’; system offers no incentive to improve


Frequently, they are left frustrated and stymied by disconnected roadblocks that in many cases seem to have no idea of the working realities, strategies or goals of the very businesses for which they work.

Often creating mini-fiefdoms and power plays, these ‘managers’ take decisions away from the very people businesses talk about ‘empowering’.

The truth is that every employee working in a retail business is a manager of risk, legal, compliance, procurement, and motivation and interaction with fellow human beings – every single day of their career.

We have allowed a system to evolve that slows us down, adds complexity and cost and increases risk. That is, it creates the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. And the reason we have allowed it to happen is grounded in fear.

As a result, our employees have three reactions – they become ‘Gamers’, ‘Survivors’ or ‘Plodders’:

  • The Gamers – these employees play politics for self-gain.

They can achieve promotions within the company, but they do not materially improve the business; rather, their rise comes through opportunism and clever navigation of internal processes.

  • The Survivors – you’ll notice these are the employees that turn up each day and do the best they can in the circumstances, which is often less than their true potential.

Frustration is the hallmark of these workers. They can feel burnt out and frequently end up leaving the company when they are not recognised, rewarded, or able to affect positive change.

  • The Plodders – these staff members keep a low profile and are focused simply on ‘banking the pay cheque’.

While they are not necessarily disengaged or underperform their everyday work, they aren’t motivated to improve.

None of these employees optimise the business or make it more productive, because they are beaten into submission or distracted every day by the systems and processes they are forced to work within.

In today’s retail environment, fear must take a back seat and retailers must become optimised and productive, or they will fail. That means taking the best from well-intentioned theories by adapting them in a pragmatic way that works for your business. It means truly empowering your people and trusting them to make the business better.

Most of all, it means working hard to maintain a culture that gives and rewards its staff for taking real, productive responsibility. It is true that not everybody is honest or has integrity, but 99 per cent of your workforce does, and the other 1 per cent has no place in any business – let alone yours.

Retail is human-centric, and human-centric means people. People come in all sorts of packages with all sorts of personalities and as a result, require different forms of motivation. Build a human-centric business and take the time to really know your people.

Involve them.

Trust them.

Let them all share in the team outcome, rather than pitting them against one another, and you’ll build a business that can not only withstand the economic pressures of multi-platform retail, but prosper in a connected world that uses technology to enhance the physical rather than become a cheap, shallow replacement for it.

When properly motivated and inspired, you’ll be shocked at how productive your staff members can be.

Peter Ryan

Contributor • Red Communication Australia

Peter Ryan is the owner and operator of one of Australia’s leading retail strategy consulting businesses, Red Communication Australia.

Peter W Beck

Monday, 01 June, 2020 09:14am
login to my account
Username: Password:
Skyscraper 2
SAMS Group Australia
© 2020 Befindan Media