5 Things I have learnt as a new manager in 6 weeks

Training
Companies just don’t do this properly. Why? Why is it so hard to write and conduct a comprehensive training schedule for any new member of staff, let alone a manager? My training was chaotic and ill implemented despite there being a quite comprehensive training manual. Irrelevant of whether the person taking the job has considerable retail (in this case) experience or little, it is quite simple in my view.

There are two allocated weeks for training new managers and assistant managers, so it should go something like this: 3-4 days as sales assistant, learning how the company operates, getting used to the tills, learning the stock, doing deliveries and basically getting yourself acquainted with your training store; next should be a week learning the management ropes which means how to cash up the tills, do the banking, start the tills in the morning, process delivery discrepancies, doing rotas, all the back office procedures, weekly conference call and so forth. The last few days should be spent going through the induction manual to ensure that you have covered everything in there, you understand specific management functions such as the wages, audit procedures, HR procedures in store etc.

I know as well as the next person that one cannot ever learn everything needed in such a short space of time, that much will be learnt on the job. Fortunately, every manager I have spoken to in other stores has been incredibly helpful, answering what I am sure seem like silly questions from me but are a gap in knowledge at that moment.  I am also lucky in that my assistant manager has been the manager in this store for over a decade so is a good source of information.

It is not just my present company I have found lacking in training; one large supermarket chain conducted a weekend training for all staff, xmas temps included, which was mostly an induction into their way of operating. It actually felt like a weekend of brainwashing with very little training at all.  I take training very seriously, ensuring that any new member of staff knows their job well before they are let loose as it were. If necessary, I write them crib notes on how to use the till as a reminder, or how to process certain things such as loyalty card discounts through the till in case they don’t do it that often to start with.

So please, retailers, can you put a little more thought into how training is actioned, especially when you have an HR department that has spent considerable effort creating a comprehensive training manual and if your HR department hasn’t done so, then make sure they do. Independent retailers – it is YOUR responsibility to ensure that your employees know  their jobs. You know what you expect of them and what they should know, don’t expect them to tell you there are gaps in their knowledge, they might not always know there are gaps.

Gut instinct vs Facts & figures
Like most managers, I receive weekly information on how my store is performing. It tells me my sales mix to sales space ratio, how I compare this week to last within store and in terms of the company as a whole, what stock I have in store and a whole host of other information. I’ll admit right here and now that I am not that good at deciphering all the information in these reports. I basically look at one set of numbers – what is selling well or badly and by how much.

This entire report is geared to helping me decide how to set up my sales floor, what I should prioritise and what the company best sellers are, thus where they should be placed within the store. But these do not and could not ever take the place of gut instinct. I know, from being on the shop floor, replenshing product and observing customers, what is and isn’t selling, and what needs a boost by changing its location within the store. Forunately the sales have borne this out and my regional manager is happy with my decisions. I am also lucky that our company isn’t so prescriptive with store layout that this level of independance is disallowed (unlike another large retailer I could mention!).

Staff input is crucial
Whilst my official title is manager and yes, I do have to manage the store, I consider myself to be a leader, leading a team who’s input is crucial to the profitability of the store. Without them, the store would be nothing.

I lead by example and my enthusiasm and drive has filtered through, encouraging all the team to follow suit. I don’t dictate what should happen, I discuss with whichever member of the team is with me that day whether the proposed change is the right one, and what opinions and ideas they have. All of us have some level of creativity, so I encourage each of them to tap into theirs, sharing their views because I do not have the only creative vision, they see things I don’t. I’m good at big picture, others are more detail oriented and I need that to get all the facts before a final decision is made.

Yes, the final decision is mine, that’s part of being a manager but if one of my team has an idea, then I’m all ears. This way they are very much invested in the store and as such, are more likely to put a lot more effort into their work. They feel satisfied with their jobs, they are more positive in their interactions with customers and feel more able to approach me with new ideas. They also help me to do my job better.

Lead from the front line
No manager can lead from behind the scenes, at least, not effectively. I know it seems obvious to say it but I have worked for and known management that think they can sit in their office, making an appearance to demand something of their staff, only to retreat back to their office. This simply isn’t good management.

It relates entirely back to my point above about staff being valued and invested in the business through your leadership. My team know that there isn’t a job in the store that I cannot nor will not do, whether that’s hoovering the floor, cleaning the loo, breaking down the boxes for recycling, dusting the mirrors, serving on the till or indeed anything.

Nor can any manager really know what is going on with their business if they aren’t on the front line for a good proportion of their time. Personally, I spend as little time in my office as possible, even though some days all I want to do is sit down in a warm room (it can be damned cold with the shop door open at times!) to rest my arthritic knees or aching feet.

A good relationship with your boss is vital
My regional manager is very good, I like her enormously. She’s worked in retail for years, managed small to large stores, become an area manager and now a regional (we did have area managers but no longer do).  She knows her stuff, praises but doesn’t criticise rather using constructive comments and will get practical with changes she wishes you to implement.

It is vital to have a mutually respectful relationship with your senior because it can detrimentally affect your entire management of the business, potentially fostering animosity along with a whole host of other negativity.

I have never approached any area or regional manager with wild ideas, they just don’t respond well. But if presented with a fact based logical argument for a change that isn’t quite to company plan, most will reasonably agree if shown the commercial benefit.

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