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Lessons learned: Building a better staff can pay big dividends

April 1/8, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 22

By Tom Jennings

 

Due to both growth and turnover, many retailers are finding the need to add new hires to blend into their staffs. My experience tells me that too many managers treat new staff members as a necessary evil. When a rookie first walks in the door, too often all they see is the amount of time it will take to get them “up to speed.”

Management too often will pass these duties to another more senior salesperson. The conversation usually goes something like: “Just shadow Susie for a few days. She’s been in the business for over 20 years and has seen it all.”

There are several problems with this scenario. First of all, does Susie even welcome the new staff member addition? Many times competitive sales staff can view new faces as somewhat of a threat. Often Susie is a commissioned salesperson who understandably has her own agenda. How long do you think it will take for Susie to begin to influence the new hire with her prejudices? Does Susie have any experience in properly training, or was she largely self-taught when she began? Then, predictably, management will complain when this recent hire begins to flounder. They will question the rookie’s efforts. Perhaps they will place blame on Susie, who was told to do a task she was likely neither properly prepared for nor well suited to do.

Then comes staff turnover. Next comes the manager com- plaining that you can’t find good people to hire today. Then the process is repeated.

Too often, the primary initial emphasis of training is placed upon product knowledge. When responsibility for training new staff members is delegated to a fellow salesperson, or a vendor’s field sales representative, you can almost be certain of this approach. While expertise in this area is required, it is secondary. The most important first task for management is making sure the new employee understands the organization and his or her role within it. He or she must know the firm’s mission and develop a belief in it. It is imperative the new hire be able to connect what he or she does with why it is done.

Remember that we all had a first day on the job—just as we had a first baseball game or piano lesson when we were young. Many of us had a teacher or a coach who believed in us and encouraged us to practice and improve. If you didn’t, you probably soon lost interest and gave up. The same is true when building sales knowledge and ability.

Successful sales trainees must have a mentor who monitors their progress, offers encouragement and celebrates their victories as their careers grow—not a peer who they may ultimately be measured against. All too often, though, novice salespeople are shoved into the deep end of the pool and told to swim. It is simply unfair to expect people to self-motivate and self-train in any industry.

As Mary Kay Cosmetics founder Mary Kay Ash famously stated: “Praise people to success.” She realized she was selling her associates on the concepts of beauty and self-confidence. Once her staff believed in their mission, the cosmetics sales would follow. Selling beautiful flooring is no different. With each new associate come fresh ideas and a new avenue of growth. Having the opportunity to build a better staff is exciting—don’t waste the opportunity.