Research has shown that across all business organizations, people development activities as a growth initiative occupy a critical position. My performance study research concluded that this is true for home furnishings retailers as well. In fact, the development of people, leadership and management are the top challenges faced by companies in our industry.
At the root of people development are the practices of coaching and mentoring.
Although these words are often used interchangeably, for business purposes, a clear distinction should be made between the two. Coaching in home furnishings retail is a process where one or more coaches guide one or more employees (coachees) in an effort to continually improve their ability to perform. Coaching is usually used to focus on the development of a specific skill or job function. For example, an internal or external coach may focus on improving the selling process by developing customer engagement skills. Mentoring, on the other hand, describes a relationship where a senior person/employee (the mentor) helps a junior person/employee (the mentee). These relationships are usually geared toward career and business development.
Both coaching and mentoring play important roles in leadership, people development and business success. The following are some ways Furniture World readers can use coaching and mentoring to improve business performance.
Pursuing team goals and targets. The failure to achieve company goals and objectives is a problem for many home furnishings retailers. That's because retailers must meet sales, margin and expense targets to maintain decent profitability and long-term retail viability. Coaching can help businesses in the pursuit of their targets. It helps teams collectively move toward achieving objectives set by management. A useful coaching tool developed by Sir John Whitmore is the GROW model: Goal, Reality, Options, Will.
GROW Model Case Study
Let's look at an example of how a fictionalized furniture store operation, XYZ Home Furnishings, used this model. XYZ Home Furnishings failed to meet its sales targets for 2018. As a result, its profitability suffered. Management became aware that a major cause was that XYZ's sales department had not been properly focused on achieving organizational sales objectives. To remedy this situation, the company engaged in active and ongoing coaching activities using the GROW Model to develop an action plan.
Goal Question: What is the team sales goal?
Answer: $10 million annually is the goal.
Reality Question: Is the goal realistic?
Answer: Yes, with the right actions and task accomplishment. Ten percent higher is a realistic goal.
Option Question: What are the options for getting to the goal?
Answer: The top six options for getting to $10 million in sales (summarized) are:
Efficiency is the practice of doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. If a worker is effective and not efficient, he/she will likely be less productive.
- Increase advertising spend.
- Constant monitoring of sales to goal progress.
- Continual monitoring of the selling process, feedback and skills improvement.
- Better customer follow up.
- Lay off weak salespeople and seek to hire new employees.
- Decrease commissions for poor results.
Will Question: What will the team focus on?
Answer: Summary of actions they will perform:
- Continual monitoring of the sales process, feedback and skills improvement.
- Better customer follow up.
- Constant monitoring of sales to goal progress.
Power of the GROW Model
The power of the GROW model comes from managers becoming more involved with their teams. For XYZ Home Furnishings, asking the right questions and listening to the team helped develop skills and facilitate actions. XYZ's manager was able to add clarity and structure to her employees' work-lives. She succeeded because salespeople became aware of where they were going, believed that they could achieve results, knew how to get where they wanted to go, and were now responsible for achieving sales results. The team became part of the improvement process. This in turn encouraged them to take ownership of a process that led to their own success.
Using the GROW model effectively depends on the coaches' ability to ask the coachees questions that create realization, motivation and ultimately action to move performance.
Increasing individual employee productivity.
Productivity typically increases if employees become more efficient and effective at performing tasks. Efficiency is the practice of doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things. If a worker is effective and not efficient, he/she will likely be less productive. For example, a salesperson may achieve good close rates and average sales but spend too much time on each customer interaction, resulting in low overall volume. Or, the opposite may be true if a salesperson sees too many customers but closes poorly and has low average sales.
In either case coaching, done well, improves operational productivity – both effectiveness and efficiency.
The Coaching Process
XYZ Home Furnishings' sales manager improved employee productivity using the “Cascade of Change” process, developed by David Clutterbuck and David Megginson. This model outlines steps for the coach to guide the coachees through the following five steps to increase productivity:
The mentor may purposely lead a new salesperson astray or cause them to feel unaccepted and uncomfortable.
Awareness. The object is to determine strengths and weaknesses. Individuals are monitored through the five parts of their selling process: customer engagement, understanding the situation, presenting solutions, closing and follow-up.
Awareness and Understanding. All salespeople were measured against various key performance indicators. The results were communicated individually and to the team groups.
Positive Feedback. Feedback and opportunities were highlighted.
Commitment. The sales manager, individuals and the team as a whole were asked and expected to demonstrate a willingness to improve themselves.
Plan of Action. Ideas for realizing positive change with regard to selling techniques were encouraged among individuals and teams.
Implementation. Techniques that needed improvement were identified by salesperson. For example, some needed to speed up their presentations, while others learned and practiced techniques to better understand the needs and personal situations of their customers.
Continual Positive Feedback. Continual measurement and evaluation of successes and failures were acknowledged. The sales manager encouraged everyone, including herself, to keep an open mind, be supportive and work to implement change for the better. She did not accept pessimistic attitudes.
During this seven-step process, the sales manager tried not to tell the salespeople what to do, but instead asked them how they might solve challenges themselves. This is indicative of a solutions-focused methodology, as opposed to a top-down directive approach.
Helping owners keep focus on their business objectives and goals through increased self-awareness. It is often said that behind every great achiever is a team of supporters and partners. Many retail home furnishings organizations have a single CEO owner, alone at the top of the organization, often without a board of directors to provide feedback and direction. In companies such as these, CEO's can benefit from soliciting advice from a mentor or group of mentors, external to their businesses.
The single CEO owner at XYZ Home Furnishings, Mr. XYZ, struggled with profitability for a number of years. Even though his business produced decent sales volume, expenses always ate into profits. Eventually, he decided to bring in professional outside help. He was advised to spend more time working on the business and less time working in the business. Certain responsibilities were delegated to managers to free up time to focus on driving company objectives and goals.
Choosing a Mentor
A mentor may be a paid consultant or a knowledgeable, unpaid but trusted advisor. Often, someone who has been in the business for a long period of time and has seen many challenges and economic cycles can be of immense help to a new (often younger) owner. This type of relationship can prove to be valuable to both parties. Each will likely be able to apply something learned from the other to their own businesses.
Powerful examples of using a group of mentors are common in our industry within the various performance groups.
Providing employees with guidance that increases their chance of success while decreasing turnover. According to the National Retail Federation, turnover in the retail industry is slightly above 60 percent. In 2018 this resulted in lost productivity with $19 billion in associated costs. This echoes what I have witnessed with my clients in the retail home furnishings industry. Turnover ranges between 20 percent and 100 percent. It is a major challenge that can be addressed by internal employee mentoring to help boost performance.
Businesses that have a program matching new employees with seasoned employees, in mentee/mentor types of relationships, generally experience benefits due to increased retention. Some of these benefits include:
- Allowing the new employee to feel accepted by organizational peers.
- Decreasing the learning curve in job skill development.
- Understanding organizational goals more clearly.
- Getting to know the corporate culture.
David Clutterbuck noted that, “In the war for talent, any reduction in employee turnover is a major benefit and mentoring has been shown to play a major positive role in retention.”
Be wary, because downsides to internal mentoring may also occur. If a new employee/mentee, is matched with an undesirable experienced employee/mentor, the result can actually increase turnover. If an experienced salesperson feels threated by a new salesperson, rather than act as a positive example the mentor may purposely lead a new salesperson astray or cause them to feel unaccepted and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this kind of behavior is all too common in retail home furnishings.
The 'Cascade of
Change' process developed by David Clutterbuck and
David Megginson outlines steps for the coach to guide the coachee through five steps to increase productivity.
HelpingGetting employees productive sooner. Retail home furnishings is a challenging business, not only in sales and management, but also in the areas of operations and logistics. The time to onboard, train and get new hires productive, can take several months. Mentoring can help new hires get up to speed faster, improve business performance and increase profitability.
For example, delivery crews that match a mentor-driver with a helper-mentee will produce faster deliveries with fewer damages.
Providing top quality and frequent sales coaching to increase sales per guest (customer). Many in our industry would agree that sales per guest (total sales dollars divided by the number of customer interactions) is the critical overall measure of sales effectiveness. However, to say that coaching alone is a way to improve business performance is misleading. The quality, frequency and the acceptance of coaching by salespeople are critical elements that help determine success or failure.
I've observed that aggressive, directive, verbose and negative approaches to coaching, that expect salespeople to just listen and do, may produce sluggish revenue, lower profits and higher employee turnover. Optimistic, motivational, consultive and visionary coaching styles are often more effective.
Aside from the quality of coaching, frequency is important. You can have the best sales leader coach in the industry, but produce zero results from a one-off coaching session. Coaching must be repetitive and ongoing to produce results. A coach needs to be constantly watching interactions between salespeople and their customers, not sitting in an office looking at reports.