Written by: Meghan B. Biro
Yes: we’ve just been through a polarizing election whose impacts we’re scrambling to understand — from business to staff. Will it be business as usual? Will it affect regulations like the DOL’s new rules on overtime? How will it impact consumer spending? But this is a culture defined by disruption, and we’re getting used to cycling through one epic shift after another: globalization, digitization, the IoT, social, mobile. The next disruption is days away: Black Friday.
Even the disruption of Black Friday is being disrupted: formerly a one-day retail frenzy, then extended to Cyber Monday, it’s now stretching even further with no true boundary. But with 30% of retail sales occurring between Black Friday and Christmas, Nov. 25 still signals retail’s own do-or-die version of a presidential election — complete with bitter accusations of a rigged system, intelligence leaks, a fired-up populace, and the people who have to run it all. There’s a lot we can learn about managing employee motivation here. Some tactics apply in far more situations than shopping insanity.
Here are four key leadership takeaways:
There’s no trick to this. While we spend most of the time talking about how the old motivational rules no longer apply to managing employees, Black Friday is not one of those times. Black Friday is a simple concept: sell as much as you can to as many people as you can by pricing it as competitively as you can and turning a sale into a national holiday.
The entire idea relies on one thing: customer service — which hinges are really engaged employees. Effective managers — and leaders — inspire engagement by being engaged themselves. They give the Peptalk: impassioned and over the top (humor helps). Consider the clip of Scott of Target motivating his team that went viral. His speech works because it’s utterly human, passionate, and transparent. We all want to work for a Scott.
Retail is in the business of selling things already. What motivates employees to sell even more, and give great customer service in the face of the madding — really, maddening — crowds? Back to basics again: employees work to make money. The rewards needn’t be monetary. Even a shout-out can boost engagement. They needn’t wait for a big day: some smart retailers imbue the company culture with recognitions and bonuses — such as Victoria’s Secret.
But it should be frequent, and it should be agile. There’s useful tech to facilitate and calibrate recognition programs, whatever the occasion. They can make the work of motivating employees across multiple locations or a big workforce easy, with multiplatform functions, and peer-to-peer recognitions as well as from managers and leaders. It’s easy to imagine how recognition software could mitigate an entire big box store’s resentment that they’re at work while their relatives are hanging out watching football in L-triptophan comas, or grabbing up deals next door. For the rest of us, it’s an incredibly powerful metaphor.
This is an era when ethos counts for a lot — as does an organizational culture that clearly values its employees. CBL, a major mall operator, will shut the doors at 73 locations on Thanksgiving; stores like Nordstrom will also be closed. The policy is a morale booster that pays off in engagement points.
As is often the case in best-practice employee management, the move may actually help retail business: there’s evidence that keeping stores open dilutes the event-based zeal that fuels the shopping spree, with slashed prices slashing profit margins and doing nothing for customer loyalty, an increasingly elusive holy grail in retail. When diving into an onerous season or project, consider how to spare the employees the worst of it. It may be worth more to focus on the investment already made in the employees — from recruiting to hiring to training — than in pushing them to the brink for momentary gain.
I remember watching a store clerk have a meltdown during one Black Friday melee — a bright-looking young woman in her blue smock suddenly realizing she was about to be in the midst of chaos. Her face went from a chipper may I help you to a pale run away. Would she take off the uniform, quit and never come back? Would she snap at the customer waving that gotta-have-it toy in her face — and spark a nasty review on the company website?
I wasn’t the only one watching: a manager was too. He took the waving toy out of the customer’s hand, patted the clerk on the back, and pointed for another staffer to take her place. When an employee can’t take the heat, it can affect everyone. This was an in-the-trenches instance of triage, a preemptive strike against the contagion of plummeting morale. And I’ll bet it worked.
Black Friday is a compelling example of many of the worst pressures wreaked on a workforce, distilled into one specific occasion. It’s also an opportunity to identify best practices for leading and motivating workforce — and demonstrate that we value the people who drive the profits. And if Scott of Target can do it, so can we.