The first installment in this series of articles that began in the June/July issue of Furniture World examined how the hyper competitive sales environment and constricted economy is impacting retail profits. The article also suggested that given these conditions, if you want to achieve a competitive edge, you should consider developing a strategy to staff your store with a team of experts, a team of the industry’s best. Furthermore, your Dream Team must be proficient in the three skills necessary to excel at sales, including, mastering the fundamentals (product knowledge), being a team player, and “wowing” the crowd (customer service skills).
This time we will provide insight into how you can help your team to fully master the second of these critical skills, “Being a Team Player.” To successfully master this skill you must develop and maintain a healthy working environment as measured by four criteria.
Before examining these criteria, let’s begin by defining the phrase internal customer service. Internal customer service looks at how people treat each other within your organization. How managers treat employees, employees treat each other, even how vendors are treated. In other words, how our team functions. These are the measures we can use to see if our team members are really being team players.
The concept of internal customer service often gets passed over in favor of its flashier cousin, external customer service. Organizational morale has a tremendous ripple effect. That is why it’s so important to ensure that your team members are working in a symbiotic manner and continually honing their team skills. I’ll share more about that later, but first we will examine the four criteria needed to maintain a cohesive team.
I previously introduced three concepts to consider when evaluating the overall morale of your sales team or what I like to call Team Player Criteria. In this segment we will revisit these criteria along with a new addition called “Walk The Walk”. We will look at the concepts and then discuss how to create the best possible conditions.
The first step is to evaluate existing employee attitudes.
- Are they positive?
- Again, ask yourself “Do team members show up on the court (or sales floor) with a smile on their face and leave their personal problems at home”?
- Remember, if an employee’s attitude is consistently negative, he or she is probably unhappy and not a good fit. Deal with this sooner rather than later.
- As owners and managers, we must work to ensure we are creating an atmosphere in which positivity can flourish.
- Hiring: When hiring sales professionals, do your due diligence by checking references and asking questions that qualify your team member. It’s important that you are comfortable that this person will bring a positive attitude and energy to your workplace. Most of you know when someone is a good fit for your organization. When you may get into trouble is when you rush to fill a position and choose to overlook red flags.
- Acquiring: Upon hiring, express expectations clearly. During the hiring process have candid conversations with potential employees regarding your expectations for team relationships and conduct. You may go so far as to establish a code of conduct. Work to create a culture that includes frequent discussions about the importance of positivity.
- Developing an atmosphere of fairness and value: As an owner or manager you can work to provide a healthy environment by handling situations with consistency and fairness. Build an environment of fairness and a place where employees feel valued. This will go a long way to encouraging positive attitudes.
- Retention: Employees are more likely to stick around when they feel there is trust and cooperation. Observe the ways in which team members work together and take steps to improve communication, cooperation, trust, and respect in those relationships.
Remember, it is the responsibility of managers and staff, to make a positive contribution to achieving a positive work environment.
#2 - Connection Via Communication
This criteria is designed to evaluate both employees and management contributions.
It looks at whether managers show employees appropriate appreciation and if people within the company work to understand and listen to each other.
Communicating important information should be an ongoing, vital component of daily retail operations. A culture of quality, open communication is vital to a well-functioning team and an empowered workforce. When looking at connection via communication there are four elements to consider:
- Communication Styles: Miscommunication is at the root of most conflict, so it is important to train employees to embrace the value of communication skills. Sales professionals should be involved in activities that help them to learn about different communication styles. For example, one sales professional may be an outgoing, demonstrative communicator and a co-worker may be more reserved and convey a higher level of detail. A simple communications style profile (easily found online) can help to give your people the information they need to understand their style of communication and also how they can better relate to their co-workers’ styles of communication.
- Sharing: Encourage team members to share information and look out for the team members who are not willing to “pass the ball.” In other words, team members who seek power by not sharing information. Emphasize the importance of each team member's contribution and demonstrate how all of their jobs operate together to move the entire team closer to its goal.
- Listening: Encourage more listening and less talking.
- Setting an Example: Facilitate communication. Remember that communication is the single most important factor in successful teamwork. This goes beyond just holding meetings. Set an example by being open to suggestions and concerns, also by asking questions and being available to help solve problems.
- An environment in which sales professionals communicate clearly and courteously will help to create a harmonious workplace. When team members feel valued, they perform better and in turn maximize opportunities by providing genuine, enthusiastic customer care.
#3- The Fun Factor
Continue to examine if your team members are encouraged to enjoy their roles? Is there a place for fun in your store? How are you cultivating this environment?
Our external customers love coming to a place where the positive energy is contagious.
Team environment requires more than working in the same building.
Relationships have to be developed. The reality of employees socializing may be unattainable, but we can encourage them in the workplace to see each other on a more human level. In addition, to establishing these connections, light-hearted activities are great opportunities for brainstorming and process improvement.
- Encourage a little healthy competition: A great way to energize the team is to work fun activities and games into weekly meetings. Sales professionals who are secure in their space are more likely to produce, and less likely to cause problems.
- Allow for fun: Look for opportunities for team members to spend some time together off the sales floor. In-store promotions also present opportunities to demonstrate great internal working relationships.
#4- Walk the Walk
Walk the Walk is a new addition to the Team Player Criteria. Don't just talk about outstanding internal customer service being important... demonstrate it.
Determine if you provide outstanding customer service both externally and internally a part of your organizational culture. If not, consider taking the following corrective actions.
- Establish clear standards: As we discussed with product knowledge, you want to be certain what your standards for success are. This should be accompanied by concise time frames and certainty that team members understand their responsibilities.
- Set goals for team play: Be sure to establish team values, set goals and evaluate team performance.
- Exercise your peacekeeping abilities: Owners and managers should look for opportunities to resolve minor issues. Continually refer back toward the team's goals and organizational values.
By using these criteria for developing your team you’ll experience greater success, improved moral, enhanced customer service and more.
The Payoff Four Your Furniture Store
Happy employees don’t just improve morale. You can count on them having higher productivity, better retention rates and on doing a better job of serving external customers. As an owner or manager, you want to recognize this value and make it a top training priority. And as discussed in the first installment, happy employees equal happy external customers and happy customers (internal and external) equal a healthy bottom line.
The University of California, San Francisco’s Guide to Managing Human Resources suggests some ways having a strong team can benefit your organization:
- Improved productivity & creativity.
- Team members motivated to achieve goals.
- A climate of cooperation and collaboration.
- Higher levels of job satisfaction and commitment.
- Higher levels of trust and support.
- Diverse co-workers working well together.
- Clear work objectives.
- Better operating policies and procedures.
Building a Dream Team is an ongoing process. It takes commitment and good information to build and maintain it. When sales teams are highly functioning and free of inter-store drama and distractions, they are also highly productive. It is this level of higher productivity that puts points on the board and money in the bank.
Rene´Johnston-Gingrich is Vice President of Training Development for the Profitability Consulting Group, specializing in delivering the programs Design Trac: Design Skills for Retail Sales People and Sales Trac III: In Home Selling. Rene’ has owned and operated an interior design firm for 17 years and now works with organizations to ensure they have the best possible team environment.
Rene´ served as a regular columnist for The Lewiston Tribune Business Profile and is an adjunct faculty member of Lewis-Clark State College’s Business Division. Rene' has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Planning and Design and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other articles by Rene´Johnston-Gingrich