Strong leaders know that they are only as strong as the team surrounding them. Effective leaders take time to coach those under them, which ultimately improves operations and the company’s profitability.
John Kotter, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School and an expert on leadership and change, has said that successful corporations don’t wait for leaders to come along. Instead, they actively seek out people with leadership potential and expose them to career experiences that will develop that potential.
Jim Goetz, president of Goetz Companies, knows that he is only as good as those around him. “Surround yourself with those people who have that same passion and drive and don’t be intimidated. You want people to have a similar vision but they don’t have to share the same way of getting there,” he said.
Operators told Stop Watch that finding and building a strong team takes work but is worth the investment. “Developing people, I think, is the best part of my job, but it can be the most frustrating too. You have to have patience and be willing to allow them to make some mistakes, like we all do. But when you get there, it sure makes for a happy group of people,” said Lisa Beach, retail operations manager at Stamart Travel Center.
Operators shared their inside tips on how they work to cultivate their employees and the company’s leaders.
1. Hire Right:
Building a great team starts with hiring the right employees. Martha Leon, general manager of Sacramento 49er, said she takes time to hire great employees, even in areas where she knows the company will have high turnover, such as the truck wash. “Even if the employee will only last for a year, we know that employee will be a good employee and will make a difference,” she said. “We don’t hire employees on the first interview and we will usually do two or three interviews.” [Learn more hiring best practices in Investing in Employees at Coffee Cup Fuel Stop].
Retail expert Doug Rauch, former chief executive officer of Trader Joe’s and a featured speaker at The NATSO Show 2015, said that Trader Joe’s would not hire people if they didn’t make eye contact and indicate some element of pleasure within the first 15 seconds. “The average retail interaction is very short,” he said, adding that it is necessary for those in retail to connect right away.
Behavioral interviewing techniques can aid in the hiring process. “The very poor leader makes a hiring decision based on the resume,” said John Egan, owner of WorkForce Solutions and an expert in leadership. He added that asking certain questions can reveal more about a candidate. “You can ask, have you ever been in a situation where the customer was angry?”
2. Create Guidelines:
“I think you need a company handbook that makes sense for your company and you need to follow it and expect your people to follow the rules, hold them accountable,” Beach said.
3. Take Time To Coach:
When employees and managers aren’t performing like the company would like, taking time to coach them can improve the situation while also keeping employees engaged. “You’re doing them a disservice if you’re not coaching them out of a situation. They can’t be happy in the role they’re leading if they’re not performing,” said Herb Hargraves, director of retail sales and fuel operations at Cash Magic.
4. Be Persistent:
Developing a strong team takes time. “Sometimes I run into managers wanting to give up on someone we identified as a future leader too soon. Many times we find it just takes a little more time and direction. As long as they are following policies and trying, we keep working with them,” Beach said. “In our area, good people or just people are hard to come by and sometimes you need to create them.”
Beach added that it is important to keep expectations in check. “I believe we want them to be good right away and we don’t take the time to make them good leaders,” she said, adding that she understands it can be challenging to spend time working with employees when there is still a job that needs to be done.
5. Invest In Training:
Leon said, “A couple of my managers have never been in a leadership position. With them I stress that they can read books and I’ll buy them books. I will also send my managers to leadership training at the Fred Pryor Institute. I put myself in my managers’ shoes to see where they are lacking and what they need.”
Leon said her managers are receptive to her suggestions. “They know I am trying to help them get better and they appreciate that,” she said.
6. Connect Face-To-Face:
When working with newer managers, Goetz meets with them weekly. “I would try and organize goals and objectives and strategies for that department and share a little bit about how I would approach things,” he said, adding that it is also important to let them create their own strategic plans.
Leon meets with her managers one-on-one once a week and provides an annual evaluation where she can point out where they are exceeding and what they can do to improve.
7. Gradually Increase Responsibility:
Operators said they are careful not to give employees too much too soon. “What I try to do is hand them small little decisions that they can be victorious at. There are mistakes, but then we talk about the mistakes and that helps them grow without losing confidence,” said Dan Alsaker, president of The Broadway Group.
Once Beach has identified individuals who she thinks are ready for a leadership position, she starts providing them with greater and greater responsibilities. “The way we usually start is by giving them an area and certain number of employees to be in charge of, such as the health and beauty section of the store and the 3–11 shift. Give them clear direction on what you expect and the tools to do it. Then tell them you will measure how they are doing in one week or two weeks,” she said.
Then, Beach measures how they performed. “Depending on the person, if they did excellent, give them more responsibility and a possible wage increase. If you see some benefit, keep working with them giving them another area and expand their responsibility with their employees such as written warnings, raise evaluations, ordering, etc.,” she said. “You don’t always know or always get it right, but you have to try and make them into a good leader.”
8. Engage Employees:
Trader Joe’s, Rauch explained, has attracted and retained employees by being able to step back and look at how to create an environment where employees are treated with respect and fairness and have a voice. Beach suggests operators take time to listen to their key people, ask them open-ended questions and make good decisions based on what they are saying.
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Photo Credit: Ira Wexler/NATSO
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