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Turn Furniture Supervisors Into Retail Leaders

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Bad things can happen when retailers promote top salespeople to sales and store management positions. But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Help For Retail Operations by Ron Wolinski


One of the business areas of great concern to our industry is the lack of focus, time and attention that furniture retailers devote to the area of developing leadership and management skills in their organizations. Leadership skills directly impact the attitudes, productivity and quality performance of employees.




At times though, it appears that store owners feel that the people they put in place as supervisors are born with natural leadership and management skills.  And this, quite frankly, is folly.  Certainly there are individuals who have leadership and management talent, but these aptitudes must be sharpened and honed. Time and effort must be spent helping retail managers to perfect leadership and management skills, so they can reach their full potential in retail furniture organizations.


This situation is played out over and over again at retail when store owners promote top salespeople to sales management or store manager positions. When this happens, owners often get poor managers and lose good salespeople.  The skill-sets necessary to be a leader  are quite different from those required of a top salesperson.


Recent studies by Profiles International  determined that there are five management Tactical weaknesses and five Strategic weaknesses that adversely affect management performance. After reviewing these quickly this article will look at several  techniques retail managers can use to influence, guide and correct employee performance while simultaneously helping retail workers to feel good about their jobs,


Tactical Weaknesses

  • Poor interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Inadequate leadership skills.
  • Resistance to change.
  • Inability to deliver expected results.
  • Inability to see beyond their functions.

Strategic Weaknesses   

  •  Lack of understanding of the role of leadership and human dynamics.
  • Lack of understanding the difference between compliance and commitment.
  • Not placing value on people as human assets.
  • Not understanding that you lead people.
  • Not understanding that you manage things.

Objectives of Management Skills


Let’s now take a look at the Objectives of Leadership through Interpersonal Skills

  • Create a work environment in which people are more likely to work to their full potential.
  • Benefit from ideas, suggestions and knowledge that people have to offer.
  • Develop increased trust, cooperation and commitment from people.
  • Establish harmonious relationships with department members.
  • Solve problems before they become too big to handle.
  • Overcome counter-productive behavior.
  • Prevent problems that arise from misunderstandings.
  • Build teamwork and cooperation.
  • Utilize communication skills within all interpersonal activities through a thorough understanding of their principles.

Traits Of Successful Managers


In addition to these objectives let’s review the traits that successful managers and leaders have.

  • They effectively delegate and help people grow through accomplishment.
  • They coordinate the efforts of team members in accomplishing goals and objectives.
  • They are good listeners because they understand communication skills.
  • They look for the good in people rather than the bad.
  • They Constructively Criticize and Complement individuals for growth and improvement by using the principle of Balanced Feedback.
  • They create enthusiasm through their Commitment.
  • They are good role models.
  • They have high expectations and are a model for them.
  • They illustrate open-mindedness.
  • They maintain personal high goals towards growth and professionalism.

Why employees feel good or bad about their jobs


All the traits of successful managers, that were mentioned earlier, have a distinct affect on the attitudes and overall performance of their associates.  Additional research and polling of several hundred workers across many industries found five major factors are mentioned most often by employees that cause them to feel good about their jobs. These five factors are:

  • Achievement.
  • Recognition.
  • The work itself.
  • Responsibility.
  • Advancement.

In contrast to these positive factors, there were also five major factors mentioned most that cause employees to feel bad about their jobs. Let’s review those factors.

  • Lack of organization    policies and administration
  • Lack of clear communication.
  • Lack of technical supervision.
  • Being void of any interpersonal relations.
  • Inadequate salary.

Skill Sets For Effective Retail Managers


The best retailers effectively teach their managers to work with subordinates in ways that help employees to feel good about their jobs. The remainder of this article will look at skills that will allow managers to accomplish this important  objective.  These skills can be divided into two categories.  The first category is designed to maintain and enhance performance. The second category is designed to encourage employees to change unacceptable performance.


Maintain and Enhance Performance


Every communication must begin with an understanding that communications between managers and associates should be a two-way street. One of the major traits that a successful manager or  leader must possess is the ability to be a good listener.  This can only happen when managers truly understand the communication process.  Generally, people do not listen effectively if they have a vested interest in their own opinions and value systems.  At retail, managers express this lack of skill when they shortchange associates by cutting them off in the middle of a sentence if they believe they’ve “heard that all before” and don’t wish to waste time. Perhaps they are rushed or impatient, but what they communicate is that, “you are not important and we don’t value what you have to say”.  To help your managers/leaders begin every communication process effectively, you must teach them to understand how to listen and respond in ways that do not cause employees to feel “bad” about their jobs.




If the process of communication is to be useful, managers must make an effort to understand both the what and the why.  Often, managers understand what was said or what happened. But if they don’t understand why it was said or why it happened, they only have half the story and any action they take will probably have unintended and negative consequences.


When a manager has an impulse to disagree with, reject or ignore a subordinate, or is being called upon to commit to a course of action or make a decision, she should take one of the two actions listed below:


1. If the manager believes that she understands what was said and why it was said, she should first ask for Confirmation. 


2. If she does not understand what or why, she should ask for Clarification, then ask for Confirmation. 


The skill of Clarification is based on the utilization of open probes that generate discussion and encourage a dialogue between a manager and an associate.  These open probes begin with open-ended questions (as opposed to a question that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”) starting with the words: what, when, where, who, why, how, explain and describe. The utilization of these words allows the manager to obtain additional information to clarify his or her understanding of the situation so they can truly focus on the what and the why.


Here are some examples of using open probes to get clarification.


Manager Says: “Why do you say that? Tell me more.”

Manager Says: “What really happened?”

Manager Says: “Why do you think that happened?”

Manager Says: “What do you mean?”

Manager Says: “Who's responsible for that?”

Manager Says: “When did this take place?”


The skill of Confirmation allows managers to confirm their understanding of the what and why by utilizing closed probes which will generate a “yes” or a “no” response. The skill of Confirmation  allows the manager/leader to tie down and reaffirm his or her understanding of the situation, action or suggestion.


Here are some examples of using closed probes to get confirmation.


Manager Says: “So what you're saying is...”

Manager Says: “If I understand you correctly...”

Manager Says: “So the issue is... Is that right?”


Another skill utilized to maintain and enhance performance is the skill of Crediting. This skill is often misused, underutilized and often misinterpreted by associates. Crediting is the use of recognition for performance well done. When it is used, it is often used poorly, which is the cause for the misinterpretation. That’s because Crediting must be specific, valid and used for the right reasons.


Crediting should be used only when work:

  • Exceeds expectations.
  • Consistently meets expectations.
  • Is usually below par, but he/she does meet established standards.

The proper and effective utilization of the skill of Crediting should follow this format:

  • General reference to what you are crediting for.
  • Specific example of the idea/work being credited.
  • Mention personal qualities contributing to the success.
  • Indicate benefits to the department and to the organization.
  • If appropriate, indicate personal benefits to you.

The third skill utilized to maintain and enhance performance is the skill of Building. The premise here is that the manager/leader wishes to build on a subordinate’s idea or suggestion. This skill is a form of recognition as well. The idea here is to encourage subordinates to continue to contribute ideas, thoughts and feelings, yet give them credit for the idea if the manager utilizes it in one  form or another. Here’s how this works.


When a manager sees a way to increase the usefulness of an idea/suggestion, she indicates the connection between the subordinate’s idea and what she says.  She then indicates an additional benefit or advantage and  suggests a modification or a different application.  If she modifies her subordinate’s idea, she should check to make sure she doesn’t distort the original intent.  The key idea here is to make sure credit is given to subordinates for their original ideas to avoid misunderstandings and bad feelings.


Skills That Correct Poor Performance


The second major skills category you want your managers to develop is associated with encouraging employees to change unacceptable performance.  The first of three techniques we will discuss is accomplished by having the manager confirm his understanding of the situation, then give constructive criticism followed by balanced feedback.


The prerequisite for doing this properly is to first make sure that your managers understand that their objective is not to provide punishment or to vent, but to provide help and give direction for improvement.


When managers have concerns about subordinates’ work or ideas, it is useful to first try to make sure that the subordinate understands that the manager is not narrow in his vision, but is looking at ”both sides of the coin”. To do this, first specify the merits. Second, illustrate areas of concern, keeping the following points in mind.

  • Put the merits and concerns in the correct order. 
  • Be specific.
  • Comments should be task related. 

Then, explore ideas by inviting suggestions/comments from the subordinate while giving constructive criticism and balanced feedback in response to the comments they make, if necessary. At this point the manager can add her own suggestions on how to retain the merits but eliminate the areas of concern.


Here is an example of Constructive Criticism/ Balanced Feedback:


Manager Says: “Mary, I really liked the way you probed  to attempt to identify the real needs of the customer with very intelligent questions. Please continue the process. And you could be even better, if you gave the customer a little more time to answer your questions without jumping ahead. Let's continue to review your selling skills so you can continue to grow.”


The second technique utilized by the best retail managers who want to encourage or change unacceptable performance is called “Discussion Skills”. This is utilized when open discussion and dialogue between a manager and associate is called for.  Begin with a general reference to the topic or topics to be reviewed.  End by summarizing the agreements and action steps to be taken so the associate leaves the meeting with an action plan, a mission and a clear understanding of what was discussed. A discussion that is open and encourages ideas will follow these rules:

  • When the manager invites a suggestion, she should give her reaction. 
  • When the manager makes a suggestion, she should invite a reaction.  When the manager uses or builds on the ideas of others, acknowledge the connection to their thoughts or ideas. 
  • And when the manager needs to be innovative or imaginative, temporarily alter or remove restrictions to create free discussion. Removing restrictions generally provides a “green light” to the associate to explore the possibility of handling the situation in any way that he or she chooses.  This often creates meaningful discussions.


Here are a few examples of Discussion Skills Techniques:


Manager Opens Discussion:  “Lets spend some time discussing and exploring ways to make the sales floor more exciting and interesting for our customers.”

Manager Removes Restrictions: “If you could change the floor around in any way you wanted with no limitations, What would you do?”


These techniques are to be used on a daily basis with all associates to create an environment that is conducive to people wanting to be as good as they can be and committed to excellence, not only to compliance.


A third technique that has been developed to deal with conflict that can arise when managers intervene to change unacceptable behavior is called “Managing Differences”. This technique is effective in discussions that address a difference of opinion, by allowing the subordinate to understand that the manager truly wants to understand the situation and complete a resolution that is fair to both people. The technique is often implemented as follows:


1. The process begins with the manager attempting to understand the what and the why of the situation.


2.  If he does not have enough information to respond to a disagreement between two salespeople, for example, he should ask for clarification and confirmation to get a better idea of the subordinate’s needs and concerns. 


3. If after discussion, the manager is still uncertain about the subordinate’s objectives and unable to identify any alternatives but wants to continue the discussion, she should then state what’s important to her, and ask again what is important to the subordinate and why. This is accomplished through the utilization of clarification and confirmation.


4. If the manager is willing and able to consider alternatives to resolve the situation she can then discuss the difference of opinion or conflict and explore ideas to find alternatives. 


5. If the manager is unwilling or unable to consider alternatives to reach a mutually acceptable decision, she should acknowledge the subordinate’s right to his or her feelings and opinions. Then she should explain what he or she has decided and why.


In summary, the role of the leader in retail furniture organizations cannot be overestimated. The quality of leadership skills impacts every employee, in a way that directly affects attitude and productivity. That, my friends, affects how your people interact with their customers.  The net benefit of using the skills discussed in this article is to enhance customer loyalty. That’s because your employees’ attitudes, productivity and feelings affects everything they do. We are still in a People Business and our people are our greatest asset.


Ron Wolinski is VP Performance Groups for Profitability Consulting. His expertise in management stems from the positions he has held such as Manager of Training for Art Van Furniture, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Contact Interiors, Training Consultant to Thomasville and formed the Thomasville University, President of Behavioral Dimensions, Director of Sales Education for the Simmons Company, National Director of Education and Development for Value City Furniture and most recently, Director of Education and Retail Services for La-Z-Boy, Inc.


He consults with retail organizations internationally on Consultative Selling, Communications, Leadership Skills, Organizational Development, Interviewing and Recruiting, and Customer Service. Questions relating to this article or to other related topics can be directed to  rwolinski@furninfo.com.  Read more of his articles posted to the www.furninfo.com website .