Keep It Simple, Leaders Straightforward Management Training Tips

Let me share a scenario from the front lines on how poor communication and management misalignment creates the dysfunction that so many employees suffer the consequences.

But let me credit where it is due. Navigating the role of a manager in a retail store is akin to being the conductor of an orchestra. Just as a conductor must harmonize the different sections of an orchestra to create a beautiful symphony, a retail manager must synchronize a diverse array of tasks, people, and challenges to ensure the store operates smoothly.

I was in retail for a very long time. I started as a store employee, moved to sales, and moved to assistant manager, store manager, district manager, regional manager, regional VP, regional VP of Sales, regional VP general manager, and director of stores. I grew up and grew my career, so I know what I share. I use this story as an example relevant to any industry and any management level.

Transform this story to your world and industry.

First off, retail management is not for the weak. You must wear many hats. There’s the people management aspect, which is like trying to tune instruments that have their own opinions on what note they should be playing. You’ve got a team with varied personalities, skills, and levels of experience. Each member requires a different approach to motivate them, much like how a string section differs from the brass.

Then, there’s the customer service component. Imagine trying to conduct a symphony for an audience that’s walking around the orchestra pit, asking questions, and sometimes even demanding a completely different genre of music. Managers need to ensure that each customer’s experience is harmonious, addressing their needs and complaints with the grace of a maestro managing a live performance.

Inventory management is another critical aspect, akin to ensuring the orchestra has all the right scores and instruments. A retail manager must keep track of stock levels, anticipate demand for different products, and orchestrate restocking and markdowns. It’s a delicate balance, much like ensuring the flute section isn’t drowned out by the trombones.

And let’s not forget about the behind-the-scenes logistics, similar to setting the stage for a concert. This involves scheduling staff shifts, managing budgets, and dealing with suppliers. It’s the equivalent of making sure the stage lights are correctly focused, the sound equipment is working, and every musician knows their cue.

In essence, being a retail manager is about creating a masterpiece of customer satisfaction, employee harmony, and operational efficiency, all while the audience (aka customers) is part of the performance. It’s a complex role that requires patience, adaptability, and a keen sense of timing—much like the conductor of an orchestra, ensuring every note lands perfectly to create a memorable shopping experience.

Imagine you’re in the world of retail, a realm where the customer is king, and everything else… well, it seems to fall into a realm of chaos that only the bravest dare to navigate. Now, let’s dive into this tale, not with the heavy cloak of managerial woes but with a light-hearted, user-friendly approach.

This is the story of when employees were told to focus on customers, and oh boy, did they focus, letting the world around them turn into a mountain of hangers.

In this maze, you’ve got two types of guides: the managers and the supervisors. But here’s the kicker – they’re not exactly on the same page. It’s like one of them is reading from a map of Paris, and the other is navigating through Tokyo. Confusing, right?

Enter our protagonist, a frontline employee who’s just trying to make sense of it all. They’re told, “Customers first! Focus on the customers!” So, that’s what they do, with the zeal of a knight on a quest. But here’s the thing about quests – sometimes you get so focused on slaying the dragon that you forget to feed your horse. And in this tale, the “horse” is the ever-growing pile of hangers.

(Thanks to Twisted Sifter for the story and inspiration).

The Story: Business Told Key Employee To Focus On Customers, So They Did And Let Everything Else Just Pile Up

Business Told Key Employee To Focus On Customers, So They Did And Let Everything Else Just Pile Up.

In the voice of the employee /victim.

Working retail is not for the faint of heart. In fact, some days, it’s not even for the strong of heart.

Working with customers is only half of it, too – because you also have to work with managers.

This happened a couple of years ago with my last job. I used to work for a pretty popular retail store. I got hired on as a cashier in a town with very few clothing stores.

So this particular store was always packed!

As soon I started working, I realized the management sucked! The supervisors always told you one thing and the managers another.

They never talked to each other, and expected you to do what you were told. I tried listening or explaining whenever what they said contradicted each other, but things always got worse because I was “talking back.”

So I stopped and started always saying, “yes ma’am!”

One day it was extremely busy. The person who cashiered before me failed to put away their hangers. (The store reused hangers and made it a big deal to put them away.)

The manager who trained me told me between customers, I could put away a handful of hangers just so I didn’t get overloaded.

So that was what I was doing when, over the walkie, I hear; “Register number two, get back to your register! Don’t put away hangers when there are customers!”

She did what she was told last and let other work pile up.

Fine. I won’t then. I worked for over three hours straight without a break in the line, so the hangers piled up.

Under the register was flooded and crammed with hangers. On the counter was a huge pile of hangers. Customers were having trouble putting merchandise on the counter.

Finally the manager who trained me walks over to me and looks so annoyed with it all. She asks why I wasn’t putting hangers away between customers? “I was told not to. Costumers come first.”

She rolled her eyes as she starts to untangle them. “Yea, but this is unacceptable! There’s so much!”

Today has been busy. And the person before didn’t put away their hangers before they went home. So these are two shifts worth of hangers. I tried putting them away when so and so yelled at me to get back to my register.

Here, I am caught in the middle. I can’t win for trying to please.

It took us over an hour to finally get the hangers put away, with 2 of them working at it.

The Problem

This, my friends, is a classic case of miscommunication, a comedy of errors where the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing or in this case, what it’s saying. It’s a scenario that’s not unique to retail but is a universal theme in the grand narrative of work.

Now, let’s not point fingers or roll our eyes too hard. The truth is, this isn’t rocket science. It’s about communication, clear, concise, and considerate communication. Managers need to be on the same page, singing from the same hymn sheet or at least coordinating their playlists.

And when things go awry, as they inevitably do, it’s worth taking a leaf out of Ferdinand Fournies’ book, “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do and What To Do About It.” Spoiler alert usually boils down to communication, understanding, and alignment.

Download the 16 Reasons Employees Don’t Do What They Are Supposed To Do.

Then go Spend Some Time With the Mirror

So, the next time you find yourself in a situation where priorities seem to be as aligned as planets in retrograde, take a step back. Think about how you’re communicating, what you’re prioritizing, and whether you’re truly making things as simple and clear as they should be.

What are your fellow managers prioritizing? How do they cross-pollinate communication? Do you all speak the same priorities? Are you two on the same page?

Because at the end of the day, whether it’s designing a user-friendly website or managing a team, simplicity, clarity, and empathy go a long way. And maybe, just maybe, we can keep those hanger mountains in the realm of mythology, where they belong.

Are Your Planets Aligned?

Alright, let’s dive into the world of effective communication and self-accountability for managers. But let’s keep it simple and straightforward because, as I often say, the best approach is usually the most intuitive one.

In the spirit of keeping things simple and intuitive, let’s talk about how managers can communicate with each other to ensure the whole team is on the same page. After all, we want to avoid the all-too-common scenario where the right hand is blissfully unaware of the left hand’s actions, leading to confusion and inefficiency.

Confused Employee

Here are some tips….

… served up with a side of straightforwardness and a dash of humor because, let’s face it, we could all use a little more of that in the workplace.

  1. Establish a “Homepage” for Communication

Think of your team’s communication strategy as a website. Every website has a homepage, a central place where you can find everything you need to know.

Managers should establish a “homepage” for their communication. This could be a regular meeting, a daily 5-minute stand-up, a shared digital workspace, or a communication tool where updates, decisions, and strategies are clearly posted and easily accessible. Make it the go-to place for managers to get caught up and stay informed.

  1. Use Clear, User-Friendly Navigation

On any well-designed website, navigation is key. You want your users to find what they’re looking for without getting lost. The same goes for manager communication. When discussing projects, strategies, or issues, be clear and direct.

Use bullet points, headings, and straightforward language to make your points easy to follow. Think of it as designing a user-friendly interface for your conversation.

  1. Implement “Breadcrumb Trails”

Breadcrumb trails on websites help users understand where they are and how they got there. In manager communication, this means always providing context for your decisions and updates. Don’t just tell your fellow managers what’s happening; explain the why behind it. This helps everyone understand the bigger picture and how their piece fits into the puzzle.

  1. Conduct Regular “Usability Testing”

In web design, usability testing involves getting real users to test your site to identify problems. In the context of manager communication, this means regularly checking in with each other and the rest of the team to ensure the communication strategies are working. Are messages clear? Is everyone on the same page? Use feedback to tweak and improve your communication methods.

  1. Optimize for “Mobile”

Websites need to be mobile-friendly because you never know what device someone will use to access them. Similarly, manager communication needs to be adaptable to different styles and situations.

Recognize that not all managers communicate the same way. Some may prefer detailed reports, while others want quick bullet points. Adapt your communication to fit the situation and the manager, ensuring your message is always received loud and clear.

  1. Keep the “404 Errors” to a Minimum

A 404 error on a website means someone was looking for something that wasn’t there. In manager communication, this translates to making sure you’re not leaving gaps in your information sharing.

Ensure that all managers have access to the same information and that no one is left out of the loop. Regular updates and check-ins can help minimize these “errors.”

  1. Remember the “Human Factor”

Finally, just as a great website is designed with the user in mind, great communication is tailored to the people involved.

Remember that behind every manager title is a human being. Be empathetic, listen actively, and be open to feedback. A little understanding and humanity can go a long way in making communication more effective.

By applying these web usability principles to manager communication, you can help ensure that everyone is working together seamlessly, with no hand left wondering what the other is doing. Keep it simple, clear, and user-friendly, and watch your team’s efficiency and morale soar.