The Delstar Group has developed a one-page review sheet to ensure that sales personnel get the guidance they need and to help supervisors learn how to give it
Carol Gleason has seen it many times. People who are good at their jobs get promoted to supervisory or management positions. All too often, however, they have no idea how to do their new jobs, and no one tells them. "Supervisors and managers think all the other supervisors and managers know what to do," says Gleason, director of training and development for the Delstar Group, a 21-store retailer based in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The Delstar Group knows that problem well. The company, which has twice won awards in the Arizona Entrepreneur of the Year program, is growing rapidly -- and has a steady need for new supervisors. But like any retailer, it hires lots of entry-level employees. For those employees who get promoted, managing people is often a brand-new experience.
For most of her 20 years in business, Delstar founder Pam Del Duca or her managers trained new supervisors informally. But when the company grew substantially in the late 1980s, Del Duca hired Gleason, an experienced trainer.
Today Gleason trains all new Delstar salespeople. She also has designed a class, which meets over three months, to teach management basics to new supervisors.
Much of what Gleason has to say is about communication -- about listening and giving specific praise and clear direction. She likes to cite a number of surveys, dating from the 1940s to the present, that have compared what managers think employees want from their jobs with what workers say they want. Year after year, managers get it wrong. They say employees are motivated by money; meanwhile, employees report that the intangibles, such as "appreciation" and "feeling in on things," do the trick. "For 45 years workers have been saying, 'Pay attention to me, love me, give me something interesting to do, and I will produce,' " Gleason argues. "And for the past 45 years managers have been saying, 'We don't have the money.' "
So Gleason's first task is to get new supervisors to praise their employees regularly for specific achievements. To do that, she gives her students on-the-job "homework." The first assignment requires each supervisor to pick an average salesperson and think of something that person does well -- even if it's as mundane as always being on time or folding the T-shirts neatly. Then the supervisor calls the employee aside for a private discussion.
Instinctively, the employee expects the worst. As a result, the supervisor's formal praise, thanks, and expressions of confidence have more impact. Once supervisors see the effect praise has on employee attitudes, Gleason says, they use it regularly. "It's an eye-opener for our supervisors," she says. "We've had times when the associates break down and start crying during the meetings because nobody has said anything nice about them for so long."
Once supervisors have gotten used to praising employees, Gleason moves on to the next step: helping employees achieve performance goals. To make inexperienced supervisors comfortable with the process, Gleason has put together a checklist for reviewing goals with an employee. During class Gleason explains the procedure and then asks the supervisors to practice by role-playing.
Armed with blank copies of the checklist, the supervisors return to their stores to practice with an employee. Afterward they fill out the form. At the next class Gleason collects their reports, and the supervisors discuss the results. The aim: to give supervisors a formal process to follow while they are learning, one that should eventually become automatic.
While neither Del Duca nor Gleason can quantify the training's payoffs, Delstar continues to do well. "Everybody asks me why we are a success," Del Duca says. "The bottom line is, our business grows because our people grow." As the company gets bigger, Del Duca's reliance on formal training to improve her managers' skills grows, too.
Carol Gleason explains how the performance-goals checklist works:
ACHIEVING PERFORMANCE GOALS
Date of Discussion:_____
What did you expect associates reaction to be?_____________
Did you follow the suggested formula:
- Give the Associate an overview of the project goal and explain the rationale behind it. YES/NO
- Mutually decide on and write down the Associate's goals that will contribute to the achievement of the project goal. YES/NO
- Discuss the steps to be taken to achieve the Associate's goals YES/NO
- Indicate your confidence in the Associate's ability to achieve the goals. YES/NO
- Set up a review session YES/NO
Did the Associate identify any steps to achieve the goal?
What was the Associate's reaction to the discussion?
Would you do anything differently?
Were you able to use empathic listening?
1. [Preparation Section] I ask supervisors to write . . . [the associate's name and the date of the discussion] down because I want to remind them that they're being measured. They need to know this exercise isn't something they can put off and do at the last minute. This is homework that helps their development, and I want them to take it seriously. Asking them to write down the details reinforces that message.
2. [I ask the supervisors to write down how they expect the employee to react to the discussion because] one of the skills I'm trying to teach supervisors is how to read people. Any little thing I can do to get them to think about how the other person feels, helps. That's understanding people, which is good management -- and good selling, too!
3. [Supervisors give employees an overview of the performance goals and the rationale behind them.] Performance goals motivate people; they like to achieve things. All of our people sell toward sales goals; you'd be amazed how many retail stores don't do that. And when you take an associate aside formally to talk about the reasons for the sales goal, that person is learning more about the company -- and feeling a lot more important.
4. [Supervisors set up a review session.] One of the things I see lacking in management is follow-up. Setting up a time to review the associates' performance toward the goal is crucial; without that, the associates will feel as if nobody cares how they do. In the end, management is simple: all you need to do is tell people what to do and see that they do it. But what most managers do is tell people what to do -- and then go away. They go eat lunch. They go eat tuna salad. They don't need more tuna salad. What they need is more discipline and to provide more follow-up.
5. [Supervisors discuss and write down the associate's goals] I want the supervisor to take notes as the associate is talking. The minute you start writing down what another person is saying, you make that person feel important. You also make him or her feel more committed. If your boss started writing down the things you were saying, wouldn't you make sure you got them completed?
6. [ "Discuss the steps to be taken to achieve the associate's goals. Did the associate identify any steps to achieve the goal?"] As a supervisor, you know how to achieve the goals, because you're more experienced. But I want the associates to be able to think about ways to achieve the goals. I tell the supervisors, "Ask people what ideas they have to achieve the goals. And I don't care how far out you think the ideas they come up with are; I want you to say, 'That sounds like a great idea.' Then you can add your suggestions of other things they might try." But if I, the associate, come up with my own suggestion, I am that much more likely to make things happen. If I tell my supervisor that I think I can sell more T-shirts by displaying them over here, then I, by golly, am going to make sure I sell more T-shirts. Being asked also makes the associates feel important -- and some of the ideas they come up with are wonderful.
7. [ "Were you able to use empathetic listening?"] What I have to do in a lot of my classes is teach people how to listen. In retail, people are very talky, but they're not always good listeners. Empathic listening is a technique I stress in class, and I put this question on the form as a reminder to supervisors to practice it. In empathic listening you try to sense what the other person is feeling. You don't have to agree with it, just understand it. Basically, you try to paraphrase what the person said, playing it back -- but adding some type of feeling word that describes how you sense the person feels. It can be as simple as "Sounds as if you're afraid you won't make the goal, Sally." Empathic listening makes other people feel important and understood -- even if you go on to disagree with them.