3 Tips for Retail Leaders to Fix Performance Problems

As retail leaders, we all get frustrated when a member of our team isn’t performing the way we expect them to perform. That frustration is even greater when we are certain that the expectation has been clearly communicated to the team member. Here are my three tips to fix these performance problems:

  1. Establish a new frame of mind for yourself. Yes, yourself, not the team member.  Your new frame of mind is to accept the truth that most people (and that includes our employees!) want to be successful at whatever they are doing. They may have different levels of drive that they will put into being successful, but it is the rare employee indeed who shows up to work with the intention of looking bad and sabotaging the company which employs them. Once you accept that the team member with the performance problem is most likely not failing intentionally, you should be able to move past the frustration. When you move past the frustration, you enter “solution” mode, and your purpose and communication style take on a positive tone which is more likely to bring positive results.
  2. Assess whether the “performance problem” is actually a training issue in disguise. Admittedly, they can look very similar. In both cases, a team member will be falling short of expectation in some way. A “training issue’ is when the team member has never before demonstrated the ability to perform at expectation, while a “performance problem” is when the team member has demonstrated successful ability to meet the expectation in the past and is now not meeting the same expectation. It’s common for the two situations to be confused, so it’s a good idea to stop and ask yourself whether you have seen the employee meet the expectation in the past. If the employee has not performed the task successfully in the past, it is a reflection of some flaw in the training (or an absence of training altogether!), and that means it isn’t really the employee’s fault. Therefore, it’s not fair to hold them accountable. Of course there are situations where training is fully sufficient and the employee is just not able to learn the skill. That’s a different story and must be handled as a performance issue. But, the majority of training issues, if viewed as training issues, can be fixed with additional training and/or modified training that is adapted to the unique needs of the individual team member in question. By identifying those “performance problems” that are really training issues, you will automatically take on greater responsibility for solving the problem and helping the team member to be more successful.
  3. If you determine that the situation truly is a performance problem and you accept that the employee most likely wants to succeed, your empathy and intellectual curiosity should guide you to the third tip – determine the root cause. There is no point in taking a punitive approach; the team member doesn’t need to be punished for falling short of an expectation. If you truly want to fix the problem, you need to be in “solution mode,” not “punishment” mode. The first potential root cause is that the employee is not be aware their performance has slipped. So, the first step in solving the problem is to make the employee aware. The second potential root cause is that conditions have changed. For example, a cashier may have demonstrated over their first five months on the job the ability to accurately handle transactions, provide good service, and keep their till balanced. But come Friday after Thanksgiving, things fall apart.  The cashier is no longer balancing their till accurately, and cash shortages and overages have become a new pattern. The root cause may be that the increased pace of business has changed conditions so much that the cashier can no longer perform at the same level. There is almost always some changed condition at the root of a performance problem. It could be difficult personal circumstances outside of work that are impacting focus, it could be change in the other team members around the employee, it could be additional tasks or priorities which take time away from the task in question, it could be loss of motivation due to something that happened at work, etc. Your job as leader is to ask enough questions to get to the heart of what the relevant change is. And you must ask the questions with a sincere desire to learn and understand. When you find the root cause, you will be in a great position to address it with the team member in a positive, productive way.

All of these tips are aimed at the same general thing – get yourself into “solution” mode. It is true that the solution in some performance problem situations may be to move the employee out of the business. But that step should come only after you have done your best to try and solve the performance problem. By resetting your own mental context from frustration to solution, you will be best-positioned to fix the performance problem.


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